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Best iPhone cellular plan... ever?

I like to joke that "Iowa is a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit." Residents often complain that there's nothing to do (other than milk cows and shuck corn). One can only stand so much antiquing.

But we do have a few things going for us: clean air, relatively light traffic, lots of space, and perhaps the best cell phone plan for the iPhone.

Recently, reader PC Drew, a US Marine living in Japan, sent us a note to let us know about the challenge he had in finding an iPhone plan while visiting his wife's family. A contract plan was out of the question, of course, because of his length of stay and the fact that he's still under a two-year Softbank agreement in Japan. And due to AT&T's, shall we say, "perplexing" lack of a prepaid plan for the iPhone, the official carrier in the States wouldn't help him.

He could have stopped by a Best Buy and picked up an O2 Universal SIM Card for less than $10. That would have provided the ironically-named PC with $0.17 per minute calls but that's it -- no data, no included text messages, and no tethering ability.

After searching a bit for a prepaid solution, he stumbled across the MEGAtalk Nationwide plan from regional GSM carrier, i wireless. This no-contract, no-credit-check offering gives the customer 30 days of unlimited calling, with roaming and long distance, for $49 plus taxes.

But wait, there's more! Not only did PC get unlimited voice minutes, but he also had unlimited SMS texting and, here's the kicker, unlimited data usage. And, with the proper hack, i wireless customers can tether their iPhones for free. Yes, you read that right... free tethering on an unlimited data plan!

Of course, getting a service plan from an unofficial carrier (read: non-AT&T, at least in the United States) requires your iPhone to be SIM-unlocked. This has become much easier over the past two years and most cell phone shops can perform the procedure if you're too nervous. PC had already performed the necessary steps, as he often finds himself in areas that aren't exactly covered by his Softbank contract.

Okay, now for the downer. Because it's a T-Mobile affiliate, i wireless doesn't offer iPhone-compatible 3G service. In fact, they only offer EDGE speeds in their Iowa-based footprint, unless you're traveling to an area with T-Mobile 3G. As a result, that unlimited data is a bit crippled speed-wise, but it's still a heck of a deal.

So, if you're planning on traveling to Iowa -- say, to Fort Madison for the 62nd Annual Tri-State Rodeo in September -- or if you're "lucky" enough to be stuck living here, you might want to take advantage of what's probably the most economical cell phone service plan available for the iPhone anywhere in the USA.

UPDATE: Quite a few readers asked if this plan is available outside of Iowa, so I contacted i wireless directly to find out more about its policy. Yes, you can sign up for this plan, even if you don't live in the i wireless footprint area, however, the representative I spoke with pointed out that this plan may expire at any time, which would seriously affect the customer's ability to use his or her phone effectively. If you are interested in further details, please contact i wireless directly.

DISCLAIMER: I own a computer and cell phone store that sells this particular prepaid plan. But the above story is absolutely true; PC Drew did contact TUAW to brag about his bargain find, without knowing me or my connection to the product.

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