With a PrePaid card you usually mean a GSM card bought and used like a standard telephone card. You use it until there is no money left. The big difference is that with the GSM cards you get a phone number to receive calls (and of course, you need a GSM phone).
PrePaid GSM cards have been on the market since 1995. They first appeared at the German operator D1 and were called D1-Club, later also at the Swiss operator Natel, called "Easy". These cards where never a success and were mainly aimed at businessmen temporarilly in the country. The actual, real costs were more than 2.20EUR/min. On top of that, they were of the "through -away-type", which meant you couldn't recharge them.
In September 1995 the operator TMN in Portugal released a PrePaid service called Mimo, which was the first rechargeable service on the GSM market.
In January 1996 the Italian operator TIM launched it's first rechargeable PrePaid service called "Ready to Go"
At a telecom fair in Milano, Italy in september 1996, the state owned Italian operator TIM introduced a PrePaid Card that was to be the start of a triumphous sales campain which also helped spreading the concept of PrePaid Cards. It was an enormous success, even greater than expected. During the first three month more than 600.000 cards were sold in Italy. You can use this SIM card in all old and new GSM phones. In Italy the operators don't pay the shops any provision in connection with customers signing a contract (they do in many other countries). The PrePaid Cards were marketed in two different packages; A separate card under the name of TIM Card or together with a phone under the name of TIMMY. The phone was a Motorola or an Ericsson. TIM was awarded, by the GSM-organisation MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) for the best product of 1997.
About seven month later TIM's competitor Omnitel had caught up with TIM and introduces a similar product, Omitel Ricaricabile (free rechargeable). This card, though, only works in phones with some specific GSM Phase 2 functions. So there were only a few phones on the Italian market that were capable of using these cards. Furthermore, only persons and companies with italian fiscal codes were allowed to buy a Libero Ricaricabile card. This restriction was redrawn on the 25 June 1997. A real breakthrough in the GSM market was the introduction of "Valore Ricaricabile" card in October 1997. Since 16 December it includes international roaming in its full extent. The costs of calls in roaming are drawn from a credit card registered to the user of the "Valore Ricaricabile" card. No money is drawn from the GSM card when in roaming.
The Belgian operator Mobistar also introduced a card called "Tempo Card". It was a very big success from the very start. This cards has been replace by two different cards, namely "Tempo Classic" and "Tempo Freetime". The differences between the cards are the fees. The other Belgian operator Proximus has also got a card called Pay&Go.
As a direct consequence of the Italian and Belgian success the french state owned France Telecom introduced a "TIM Card-like" card called Mobicarte on the 19 March 1997. First, these cards were sold freely in the shops. The french secret service objected to the fact that there were unregistered phone numbers. It was said that they would be abused by terrorists and other criminals. Nowadays you have to present a valid ID card and register your name, address etc, when you buy a Mobicarte. SFR has also got such a card called "Entrée Libre".
Also in the United Arab Emirates an operator Etisalat offers a PrePaid card by the name of "Speak Easy".
Spain is also among the countries where PrePaid cards are sold. One is called "Activa" from MoviStar and has become very popular, even among tourists because you are allowed to make international calls. The Spanish operator Vodafone has got two cards, "Continua" and "Ahorro Tiempo Libre"
In neighbouring Portugal there are three PrePaid, "Cartao Mimo" from TMN, "Vitamina" from Telecel and Vodafone PrePaid.
In Sweden there are, for the moment (April 2006), many operators offering PrePaid cards. On the 21 March 1997 Comviq launched their card under he name of Comviq Kontant. It is almost an exact copy of the TIM Card with some minor details from Libero Ricaricabile. Comviq has had large intial problems. The software that Comviq is using was not quite ready when the card hit the market. These initial problems have now found their solutions. The card has, just like in Italy, become a big success. Already the first week more than 20 000 cards were sold. Comviq has added the possibility to make international calls. Swedish Vodafone released its "Easy" PrePaid card 24 Nov 1997. Now there is a Vodafone PrePaid. Swedish Telia has also developed a PrePaid card, "Refill", which was launched summer 1998. It is of the same type and construction as the other Swedish cards.
The Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten had an article on 5 januari 1998 with an interview with the chairman of the board of the Danish net operator Sonofon, Jörgen Lindegaard. The article revealed that Sonofon will be launching a PrePaid card of the same type as the TIM Card on 19 January 1998, but the card could be found in shops before that. The Card is called "TALE TID". In August 1998 the new GSM 1800 operator Telia DK introduced their "Telia Cash". In October 1998 the Danish marked saw two more PrePaid GSM cards, namely "MobilTid" from TeleDanmark and "Mayday" from Mobilix, today called Orange which was bought by Telia and doesn't exist anymore as an independent net.
In Norway, both GSM operators, Telenor Mobil and NetCom have each introduced a prepaid card, Telenor's is called "RingKontant", NetComs is called "Kontant". They are both following the TIM card concept.
The first GSM PrePaid service to appear on the east European market was the Lithuanian net operator Bite with a card called "Labas". In summer 1998 the other lithuanian operator Omnitel introduced their "EXTRA" card. Today there is also a Tele2 Pildyk
On 17 Febr 1998 the Estonian operator Q GSM, now Tele2, launched their card, called "Konekaart", now "Smart". An almost exact copy of this card was later launched by EMT under the name of "Simpel".
The Latvian operator Baltcom GSM, now Tele2, also introduced their PrePaid card called "Confidential" during the summer 1998. About half a year later they launch a second card of the same type called "Zelta Zivtina".
On the German market the GSM1800 operator E-Plus announced a PrePaid card, called "Free and Easy", on the CeBit Fair in March 1997, but it didn't hit the market until July the same year. D2 has a card called "CallYa" introduced on October 1st. There is a card from D1, now T-mobile, called Telly D1 Xtra, which very often is referred to as a PrePaid card, but it isn't. It's a normal subscription which you pay once a month in advance. That type of subscription was introduced a the GSM market 1994 by the Swedish Telia. On the CeBit Fair in March 1998 the German operator D1 finally introduce a real prepaid card call "Xtra". The lastest newcomer on the German market, VIAG Interkom, now O2, has got a simular card, "Loop".
In September 1997 the Austrian operator Mobilkom, which has started a close relationship with the Italian operator TIM, introduced a card of TIM Card-type by the name of "B-free". Not much later, in the middle of october, the operator max.mobil. launched its new card "klax.max.". From the operator One has has come a "Take One" card.
In neighbouring Hungary there are two new card since late 1997 from Westel called "DOMINO". and "Praktikum" from Pannon GSM.
Romania has also got two operators with prepaid cards. Dialog has got their "Alo" and Connex has got their "Connex Go".
The Czech Republic has also got three prepaid cards. Paegas, now T-mobile, has got the "Twist" card and EuroTel has got the "Go" card. And now there is a third operator called Oskar, taken over by Vodafone. Their PrePaid is called OsKarta.
In the UK the GSM1800 operator One2one, now T-mobile, has started selling their "Up 2 You" card. Even this card is of TIM card type. This card can be recharged by credit card over a special phone number. Orange has got a card too. It's called "Just Talk".
Eircell from the Ireland has got a PrePaid solution, too. It is called "Ready to go".
The Greek operator Telestet, owned by the Italian STET, offers a prepaid card called "B-free".
The dutch GSM operator Libertel also has a prepaid card called "Izi". The other GSM900 operator PTT-Telecom has two cards too, called "Hi" and "Chip". One of the latest actor on the Dutch GSM market, Telfort, has also launched a PrePaid card, called "Pak&Bel". Ben has also launched a PrePaid card, called "Ben Vrij".
In South Africa there is also a PrePaid card called "Vodago" from Vodacom.
On the Australian GSM market there are four prepaid cards. They are Telstra Mobile's card "MobileNet ZIP" , "Express" from Optus and two packages from Vodafone called "Standard Starter Pack" and "Business Starter Pack" which also contains mobile phones.
In India there are quite many GSM net operators. They are active in different Indian states. There are national roaming agreements between many of them, but not for PrePaid GSM SIM cards. Maxtouch, in Bombay, has a card called "Ace" and BPL Mobile has one called "Instacard"
In Indonesia Telkomsel has a "SimPati" card.
PrePaid cards can be found in a steadily increasing number of countries. Only during the first nine months of 1998 there were 111 new PrePaid cards. Common to most of these different cards are that they are only national e.g. no roaming. There are many cards, for example Eurotel's "GO Karta", Europolitan's "Easy", Comviq's "Kontant", MoviStar's "Activa", Etilsat's "Speak Easy", D2's "CallYa" and many more, that can be used for making international calls and be used in roaming, otherwise some cards are still only national. More cards are expected to allow international calls and roaming.
"Activa" from the spanish MoviStar can actually also be used in roaming in foreign countries, but only in a non-standard way, a sort of callback. Read the special article about international roaming with "Activa". The Italian card Omnitel "Valore Ricaricabile" has a special solution. Read the special article about international roaming with "Valore Ricaricabile". The Austrian "B-Free" card from Mobilkom and "klax.max." from max.mobil. and many many more have, nowadays, also got roaming possibilities.During the last 7-8 years there has been an explosion on the PrePaid market. Today it's almost impossible to keep tracks of all the variants of PrePaid cards in almost all countries. Most PrePaid cards are introducing more features, roaming, MMS, GPRS and so on.