A disposable cell phone is a cheap mobile phone intended for temporary use, with a prepaid service so the user does not need to maintain a contract. While many consumers associate such phones with nefarious activities on crime television shows, they have a number of entirely legitimate uses as well. Many cell phone providers offer a prepaid service, and it is also possible to go through a carrier that offers such services exclusively.
The disposable cell phone may be a very simple model with stripped down features, although it is also possible to buy smart phones and other more advanced phones with more options. Before the owner can use the phone, he has to pay for a set amount of service and get a phone number assignment. He can keep the number by paying for more service, or allow it to expire when he no longer needs it. It may also be possible to transfer memory cards between phones, allowing users to switch disposable cell phones as needed.
Consumers sometimes temporarily need a cell phone while traveling and may find a disposable cell phone suitable for their needs. They don't want to commit to a contract for a device they do not really need, and can buy just enough minutes for their purposes. Prepaid cell phones can sometimes be cheaper for consumers who use their phones irregularly, and may also be popular with people who have irregular income and may not be able to pay for monthly service.
The disposable phone can be quickly and easily programmed to change the number, add minutes, and perform other tasks. Some may have picture and video messaging capabilities along with basic calling and texting. When the user is finished with the disposable cell phone, the number goes back into a pool of numbers for reassignment to new customers.
Disposable cell phones often appear in story lines about criminal activity because of their flexibility. It is possible to buy numerous phones and program them for distribution to members of a criminal ring who can discard their phones when they are no longer useful, or to avoid tracking. Some nations have raised concerns about the possibility of using such phones to organize terrorism or other criminal activities, and have considered more stringent regulations on their use and sale to limit them to legitimate owners.
It may be useful for consumers to be aware that in some regions, all phones can call emergency services, even if there are no minutes left or a contract has expired. An old cell phone can potentially access an emergency hotline as long as it has batteries, by common agreement between cell carriers and government agencies. For consumers who want to keep a disposable cell phone in case of emergency, this means that the phone may still work even if they forget to recharge the minutes. Consumers should check on regional policies before assuming that an old cell phone will work in an emergency.