Consumer Cellular Offers Cheap, No-Nonsense Access to AT&T’s Cellular Network

Consumer Cellular is great. I asked for a T-Mobile SIM, which is what you want if you go overseas. You want to make sure they turn on visual voicemail, hotspot, international, and wifi calling. It took a call or two to get those turned on. And if you belong to AARP you get a few bucks off. As was mentioned, you can get either an ATT or a T-Mobile SIM.

Don’t confuse the two things. Wi-Fi calling is entirely independent of SIM/eSIM — all it needs is carrier support. If your carrier supports it and you turn it on in settings, your iPhone will show you something like “T-Mobile Wi-Fi” at the top when you’re connected to a wifi network of sufficient quality. Once you see that, you can send/receive calls and messages as if you were at home even if you’re 8000 miles away.

SIM vs. eSIM on the other hand is really just the option to use your phone with two different SIM cards at the same time, IOW with two different phone numbers. It can be convenient for travel since you could still receive calls/texts on your own number, while using the other local SIM to place calls without incurring expensive roaming fees. Some people also use the setup to be able to take personal and biz calls using the same device. Wi-Fi calling can work in such a setup as well, but it’s entirely independent of it.

If you want to be able to take/make calls on the cheap abroad, Wi-Fi calling is great. An additional local SIM (i.e. a foreign SIM) is a good work-around if you’re not certain you’ll always be on wifi. And using eSIM here is especially nice because it means you don’t have to choose which phone number to be available under at any given time as you don’t have to disconnect your home number from the network just because you want to plug in your local SIM.

Finally, Wi-Fi calling can also be great in situations where you don’t have cell coverage, but you still want to make calls or receive texts. Part of my work happens in a heavily shielded environment. There’s tons of thick concrete walls with plenty rebar. There’s zero cell signal, but we have wifi repeaters all over so I never drop out of coverage as long as I keep wifi turned on on my iPhone. Another example is air travel. Some carriers will offer fairly decent wifi, usually at a fee of course. On some of those connections Wi-Fi calling has worked so I was able to actually receive calls or texts when up in the air without any usual cell coverage.

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Good advice here. You can also use FaceTime via WiFi calling. It’s great for sharing events, vacations, etc.

I’ve been with CC for seven years now, always with an iPhone (5c, then SE, now SE 2nd gen).

I’ve almost never used CC’s voicemail directly; I listen to (and read) voicemail on my iPhone itself.

I have had CC with a single phone for several years and generally pleased with them. My mobile phone bill went from around $50/month with other providers down to less than $30/month, often below $25 despite increased usage. I know of someone who dropped their AT&T bill from $200 to under $30. What is little known is that with CC you get access to a number of mobile service providers through them for the same price, as CC does not have its own mobile services but contracts to the major provider for them. In my case due to the lack of proximity of AT&T mobile services towers in my area, mobile services were not available inside my home. So, CC switched me service through them to T-Mobile and now it is great. All it required was changing the SIM card in. my phone.

Also, Consumer Cellular’s support is first rate.

While its support is far better than other mobile or communication providers I have encountered, considering the few occasional issues I have had with it over the years, I might be somewhat reluctant to describe it as first rate.Instead I would discribe it as much better than most when relating to other communication providers and above average when considering customer support from outside the relm of communication industry.

I am not sure how you “read” the voicemail since there is no voice recognition feature.

Like I tried to say, it depends on how you use email. I need to be able to see who called and when, without playing back the messages.

You read it by turning on the speaker.

Thanks for the detailed description, which included more than my restricted scenario. I don’t think I was confusing the Wi-Fi calling with SIM and eSIM, although my phrasing might have suggested I was.

I meant that I would get an eSIM for overseas use, both phone calls and data (mainly tethered). But since it’s an eSIM, I wouldn’t remove the CC SIM. Since the CC SIM would still be in the phone, I could make a (local) call to a USA number if I had decent Wi-Fi, by choosing the CC network over Wi-Fi. I think you confirmed that, but it is all new to me and it seems too good to be true. Are we saying the same thing?

However, you seemed to take it a step further. Is it correct that I could receive a (local) call from a USA number on the CC SIM while I am overseas, if I’m connected to a Wi-Fi network?

Yes and yes.

Just beware that in general, being on wifi is not sufficient. You’ll want to make sure your iPhone is actually displaying something like “T-Mobile Wi-Fi” at the top.

The reason I say this is because I’m sometimes on wifi that’s either poor, or has crucial ports blocked so that wifi calling won’t work even though wifi data traffic is otherwise ok.

I believe that your carrier still knows that the call was made from overseas, even if you are on Wifi calling. A few years ago, I asked AT&T about a scenario where I had Wifi calling activated, was overseas, and turned on my AT&T SIM to check Visual Voicemail. They said that that would count as an International call under their International Calling Plan (where you pay a set fee for each day the number is used internationally). My workaround for checking voicemail was to use the VOIP app on my phone (associated with my landline) and check voicemail by calling in.

Ever since Apple has provided phones with eSIMs, I have used an eSIM for my local carrier. In traveling overseas, I buy a short-term SIM for the SIM slot and switch my phone to using that number for all services until I return home. One of advantages of this is that I don’t need to fumble with the SIM slot on the plane returning home; I just need to change the cellular setting to point at the eSIM

@aforkosh makes a good point. This could absolutely depend on your carrier. I only know that if I take or place a wifi call abroad on T-Mobile it will be for free, or rather, considered included in my unlimited calls. It’s of course entirely possible that’s different with another carrier.

Really?

When I visited Italy several years ago, I used Verizon’s Wi-Fi calling from my hotel. All of the calls were billed as if they originated from my home state.

If AT&T is billing for that, it sounds very sleazy to me. It’s not like an international roaming phone call because no foreign mobile operator is involved with completing the call. As far as their network is concerned, their cost to complete a Wi-Fi call from the US is identical to the cost to complete a Wi-Fi call from anywhere else in the world.

I’d like to see this tested in a city during a busy weekday. MVNOs and the prepaid plans offered by carriers are de-prioritized compared with customers on full-cost plans. This means when it’s busy, you may get a full 4-bar signal, but be unable to use the Internet. Speeds drop to a crawl, if you can get through at all. (The exception are speed-test services. Carriers usually whitelist those from throttling.) This is less of a problem in rural areas. It really depends where you live.

So, here in rural north western Vermont I dumped AT&T a few years ago, thinking their service was getting worse, and chose Verizon. Their service is just OK. To be clear, I’m only describing their local cell phone service.
Inspired by Josh’s article I posted a request to our local Front Porch Forum and got 6 or so responses. Every one said that AT&T service still sucks.
Looks like geography and corporate neglect trump what sounds like excellent service from Consumer Cellular.

Yeah, it’s hard for me to strongly recommend a certain network because it’s all so region-specific. And coverage maps tell you very little. Best to ask locals or get a SIM to try out for yourself.

I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m in a city on a busy weekday, but I’m hoping that will be a long time from now :slight_smile:

I tried Consumer Cellular and had to stick with AT&T for one reason: microcell. My house had aluminum siding and roof and so the signal in my house was zero. I had to get a microcell for my phones to work and Consumer Cellular basically said AT&T wouldn’t let CC use their microcells. So I had to stay with AT&T.

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Be aware that not many European operators support eSIMs yet. None in Italy, for example, except TIM, which is a nightmare in every possible way—avoid them at all costs. So put your U.S. service on the eSIM and get a physical SIM outside the country.

The cost of cellular service in Europe is far, far lower than in the U.S. For example, I get 150GB of 5G/4G-LTE data with unlimited calls (including all of Europe, USA, Canada, and a bunch of other countries) and texts for €8/month from Fastweb in Italy, because there’s intense competition. We need more competition here!