You can't get premium cell phone coverage without paying premium prices, right? Wrong!
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, at much lower prices.
Compared to the big four, these smaller carriers offer several advantages:
- Save Money: With lower costs to handle, MVNOs can offer you much lower rates. In other words, expect good deals from these MVNOs that you wouldn't find anywhere else. For instance, because Republic Wireless has only one physical retail store, it is able to charge a minimum of $15 for its plans.
- Customized plans: The big guys' main offerings are based on unlimited data. Sounds ideal, but the average smartphone user goes 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 mobile data you need - and pay for. In fact, some MVNOs allow you to build your own plan, letting you save not only on mobile data but also on minutes and texts.
- No contracts or credit checks: All low-cost carriers offer prepaid plans. If you're unhappy you can leave anytime you want. You won't have to go through a credit check or get roped into a two-year commitment.
- Keep your freedom: You can keep your phone, too. MVNOs welcome - and often require - bringing your own device. Those payment plans for the newest smartphones are tempting but they add $10 - $30 to your monthly bill.
- Plenty of incentives: Many MVNOs offer fantastic incentives attached to their phone services. Some of these carriers offer include free international calls and text messages, plans with taxes and fees incorporated, data maximizers, data roaming, HD video, free Wifi hotspots or mobile hotspots, rollover data, unlimited calling for long distances, and more. For instance, MetroPCS offers free phones when you switch, and FreedomPop offers free data!
T-Mobile MVNO vs T-Mobile Price Comparison
|Carrier||Network Coverage||Data Limit||Monthly Price||Annual Price|
|T-Mobile||T-Mobile 4G LTE||Unlimited*||$70||$840|
|Mint Mobile||T-Mobile 4G LTE||8GB||$20||$240|
|* Avg. T-Mobile unlimited plan customer uses 5GB data|
It's common to save over $500 a year without sacrificing network coverage by switching to an MVNO.
Want to save more? If you're planning on upgrading your phone, compare cell phone prices to ensure you get the best deal.
It's also worth considering buying a refurbished phone as you can save up to 50% off MSRP and still get the peace of mind of a warranty.
Best Verizon MVNOs
With some justification, big carrier Verizon claims that it offers the best nationwide 4G LTE network, but while it offers an unlimited plan – though you'll simply receive lots of data with "soft data caps," meaning that after you reach a certain amount of data, your speeds may be throttled to 2G data levels – you'll be paying an arm and a leg for that plan.
Your best bet is to select an MVNO that uses the Verizon network, so you won't be paying Verizon prices for such a high-quality network.
The best Verizon MVNOs – otherwise known as the carriers that offer you the greatest value for your dollar – have been limited to the following, thanks to our analysis:
Twigby is a wireless carrier that supports both Verizon and Sprint phones, is perfect for light users and medium users. Talk and text plans start with no data – otherwise known as Wifi only – and 200 minutes, though you can select unlimited calls and texts as well as 4GB of data.
All prepaid service plans include unlimited texting for smartphones and basic phones, an introductory rate for two months, 30 days satisfaction guarantee, and free overage protection.
US Mobile offers some of the cheapest unlimited data plans. Not only are the initial plans customizable – as in you can build your own plan, making US Mobile the carrier for some of the best MVNO family plans (as well as the best MVNO for data) – but you can also select from a variety of unlimited data plans if you have a phone compatible with its Super LTE plans rather than its GSM network plans.
Unlimited 4G LTE data plans are sorted by download speeds, beginning at over half of what you'd pay for Verizon unlimited.
This wireless carrier offers lines with unlimited text and calls, but all plans include free unlimited international calls to over 70 select countries, retainment of your existing number, your choice of an English or Spanish customer service agent.
Best Sprint MVNOs
In terms of ranking using Rootmetric's data, once more, Sprint falls in third place. However, like AT&T when compared to Verizon, the differences between the networks are rather minuscule, so you won't notice a difference when staying on Sprint's network when switching to a Sprint MVNO.
You'll find some of the best Sprint MVNOs:
Tello offers some great deals, where you can build your own plan or select from one of the available ready-made plans. You can select up to 10GB of data with Tello.
Twigby is a great option for senior citizens, who may not require as much data as a young adult. Plans range from just a few minutes and no data to unlimited minutes and up to 4GB of data.
TextNow is the go-to option if you're looking for unlimited data at an affordable price. Their plans range from a free Wi-Fi only plan to their completely unlimited plan that will cost you almost half of what you'd pay for the same plan on one of the big four networks.
Best T-Mobile MVNOs
T-Mobile may fall in 4th place in terms of overall network performance, but that doesn't mean it is far behind in the pack. T-Mobile is just a few points behind Verizon (95 versus 86.5), so you should still enjoy great coverage.
Several T-Mobile MVNOs have made it onto our list, including:
Mint Mobile is, hands down, one of the best MVNOs in the wireless industry. Why? Because you can pay in bulk and save a lot more money. Available plans can be purchased at 90 days, 180 days, or 12 months. To pay the same amount for 10GB of data for about the same as what you'd normally pay for just a couple GB of data is downright amazing.
US Mobile is not only best for build your own plans but also for families, who will be able to select the amount of minutes, texts, and data they need. They can also opt for, depending on the network, unlimited 4G LTE data plans.
Best AT&T MVNOs
AT&T's network falls in second place if we're going by Rootmetric's data for the second half of 2017. However, it is just a few points shy of Verizon's network (92.8 versus 95) so you'll still be receiving quality with an AT&T MVNO.
Here's our pick for the best AT&T MVNO:
Red Pocket Mobile
Red Pocket offers plenty of data plans that are suitable for light, medium and data users, with plans ranging between 500 minutes, 500 texts, and 500MB of data to unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and potentially over 10GB of data.
Do You Really Need Unlimited Data?
The average data usage of a customer on an unlimited plan is only 5GB. So why pay for unlimited data if you don't need it? It's like paying for 200 TV channels but only watching 10!
If you're with one of the big four, chances are you are on an "unlimited" plan, with unlimited talk, text, and data. Think seriously about how you actually use your phone. If you aren't a heavy user for talking or texting, then you should opt for MVNOs, as you can choose a 4G LTE data plan with less data usage and save money.
However, keep in mind that quite a few MVNOs, such as US Mobile, offer heavy or unlimited data plans at affordable prices, so you don't need to stick with a major carrier if you don't want to for your unlimited plans.
With the rising costs of cell phone plans among the big four carriers, as well as the lack of variety, it's difficult to justify paying over $80 for a cell phone bill.
There are so many MVNOs emerging in the wireless industry offering cheap cell phone plans, eager to help you save hundreds of dollars each year, without causing you to sacrifice any of the cellular coverage you've grown to love. Check out MVNO user reviews before you signup.