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What is an MVNO?

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You can't get amazingly reliable cell phone plan without paying premium prices, right? Wrong!

You can stay with one of the "big four" networks (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) and still make massive budget cuts on your cell phone bills.

This minor miracle has been made possible thanks to the arrival of Mobile Virtual Network Operators or MVNOs for short. As you will see, you can stay on the same network, keep your phone, keep your number, and have greater flexibility by switching to an MVNO (and all at much lower prices).

How do MVNOs Keep Prices so Low?

The big four carriers own the towers that carry their service, MVNOs buy tower space from them in bulk and re-sell to consumers like us at much lower prices.

You may be wondering how they make a profit. It's all about costs, really. MVNOs don't have the huge advertising budgets that the big four have, and their overheads are much lower with few or no stores to operate.

Another way that the major carriers manage to charge you more is by selling you your smartphone in increments per month, which MVNOS don't usually offer. With MVNOs it's best to bring your own phone so you must own it outright from the beginning. Sounds expensive, huh? Not really - we'll tell you just how you can save in this area in just a little bit.

Once you own your own phone outright, you can choose one of the MVNOs that operate on your network and set up your own customized plan – at much lower prices.

Why Switch to an MVNO?

Compared to the big four, these smaller carriers offer several advantages:

  1. Save Money: With lower costs, MVNOs can offer you much lower rates.
  2. Customized cell phone plans: The big guys' main offerings are based on unlimited data. Sounds ideal, but the average smartphone user gets through less than 3GB per month. This means you're probably paying for a whole lot of data you do not use. MVNOs let you decide how much data you need - and pay for. Not sure how much you use? Try using our data usage calculator to see if you're overpaying for unlimited data.
  3. No contracts or credit checks: all low-cost cell phone carriers offer prepaid plans. If you're unhappy you can leave any time you want. You won't have to go through a credit check or get roped into a two-year commitment.
  4. Keep your freedom: you can keep your phone, too. MVNOs welcome - and often require - bringing your own device. Those payment plans for the newest smartphone are tempting but they add $10 - $30 to your monthly bill.

How Much Money Can You Save With an MVNO?

It's common to save up to 50% or more on your cell service. Say you're paying $60 a month for the T-Mobile ONE plan. Grab a TextNow SIM and sign up for the TextNow unlimited plan for $40 a month and put $240 per year back in your pocket (where it belongs!).

Where do you start?

If you are currently with one of the big four carriers and want to switch your carrier to an MVNO, it's much simpler if the MVNO you choose is on the same Major Carrier network.

For example, if you have a T-Mobile phone purchased from T-Mobile, and you are ready to leave T-Mobile for an MVNO, the new MVNO must be one that operates on the T-Mobile network.

If you prefer an MVNO from, say, Verizon, that MVNO will require you to get a Verizon compatible phone (so you'd have to buy a new phone).

Phones & Networks

What's the difference? Well the big four operate off of two major radio frequencies (CDMA and GSM). If you try to use a CDMA phone on a GSM network (or vice versa) and your service drops below 4G LTE, well, your phone will basically become a paperweight until 4G is restored.

So, the easiest solution – and the one that brings the biggest savings – comes from staying with your existing carrier's network and choosing an MVNO which uses that network. OR you can unlock your phone in which case your phone should operate on any network, still, we prefer to stay on the safe side.

Playing it safe won't limit your choices though. You'll still have plenty of choices, as you'll see from the listings below. For example, staying on the T-Mobile network gives you a choice of TWENTY-SEVEN different MVNOs!

If you don't quite own your phone outright yet don't fret! You can either pay it off to your carrier and then switch OR you can purchase a refurbished phone and pay half of that huge apple price tag (and get an apple phone).

One Last Thing Before You Start Comparing MVNOs

If you're with one of the big four, chances are you are on an "unlimited" plan, with unlimited talk, text, and data. Have a serious think about how you actually use your phone. If you aren't a heavy user for talking or texting, with MVNOs you can choose a plan with less usage and save money.

You may well be paying for unlimited data too. And yet the average smartphone user gets through less than 3GB per month. It's like paying for 100 TV channels and only watching 20.

MVNOs on the Sprint Network

MVNOs on the Verizon Network

MVNOs on the AT&T Network

MVNOs on the T-Mobile Network

Recap

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