Your smartphone is your lifeline, but despite its utility, service can be costly. If you feel like you’re paying too much for your cellular service, consider using a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) instead of the more expensive major mobile vendors. MVNO carriers offer the best of both worlds with the same quality of coverage but at a lower price than the major carriers. That’s because they use the same networks as the Big Three — AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile — while providing a hugely diverse product range. Best of all, these pay-as-you-go plans offer a chance to ditch the large bill while still getting the most from your mobile device.
The best MVNO carrier for unlimited data
Metro by T-Mobile
Metro by T-Mobile offers three major plans to fit your budget, backed by an expansive LTE network. In addition to providing nearly blanket nationwide coverage, Metro by T-Mobile offers additional perks on certain plans. Google One is included for customers on the $50 plan, and customers on the $60 monthly plan now get Google One and an Amazon Prime membership. An even cheaper, stripped-down plan that includes 2GB of high-speed data per line is now available for $30 per month. Metro customers also can access T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network. You can enable automatic bill pay for a $5-per-month savings and add a plan for your tablet, hotspot, or another connected device to your current service for $10 to $35 per month. Stateside international calling for $15 per month extra is available alongside a large selection of discounted phones.
Metro by T-Mobile
The best MVNO carrier with lots of coverage
Straight Talk, a partnership between retailer Walmart and TracFone, has proven durable over time. The MVNO offers coverage across the Big Three, while Straight Talk’s monthly plans range from a basic $30 per month, which includes unlimited text, 1,500 minutes of calls, and 100MB of data, to $60 per month, which adds unlimited talk and text, plus unlimited data with the first 25GB at high speed, then at 2G. New plans let you add on 1GB or 2GB for $5 or $10 per month, respectively, which does not expire, activates only when you have used your data allotment, and rolls over if unused. Straight Talk doesn’t offer group plans, but it does have great international data options. Since Straight Talk works across all four major carriers, it’s compatible with most unlocked phones.
The best Alternative MVNOs
Google Fi relies on a combination of Wi-Fi hot spots and three networks — Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular — for service. It is one of the most innovative and easy-to-use MVNOs available. Flexible plans start at $20 for unlimited talk and text, while Unlimited plans start at $60 for a single line. Data is a flat $10 for 1GB of 5G LTE, but you only pay for what you use. The company’s bill protection feature means you won’t be on the hook for additional data charges once you hit 6GB. Data used over that limit gets throttled.
Other perks include fee-free tethering, which lets you use your phone as an internet hotspot, and free texting and access to high-speed data at $10 per 1GB in 200 countries around the world. Google Fi is compatible with most phone brands and platforms, though Apple’s iPhone and some Android handsets do not support Google Fi’s key feature of switching between carriers — but you can check Google Fi’s phone compatibility tool to check.
Mint Mobile has a nice way of letting you try out the service before committing. Test Mint Mobile’s service with a three-month contract before making the decision to climb on board for a year or more, which breaks down the cost to $15 per month for 4GB, $20 per month with 10GB of data, and $25 per month for 15GB.
An unlimited plan offers 35GB of high-speed and 5GB of hotspot data, with an introductory rate of $30 per month for three months and renewals priced at $40 per month. If you need more data, you can buy it at $10 per gigabyte. You can use your T-Mobile-compatible device and order a SIM card to activate it on your account. Mint Mobile also sells a wide range of phones.
Visible provides great coverage through Verizon’s network to offer a single plan — $40 for unlimited talk and text and unlimited data on an LTE network with no roaming. Also, it piles on the discounts as you add more lines to your plan. Visible saves you money with Party Pay, which lowers the cost of multiple lines, as each person gets billed separately. Two lines cost $35 per line, and three and four lines cost $30 and $25 each, respectively. Mobile hotspot speeds are capped at 5Mbps and limited to a single device at a time. Wi-Fi calling is available on some phone models. Most iPhone models are supported, along with a limited selection of some popular Android choices, like the Galaxy S21 series and Pixel 5 series. Or, just buy a phone directly from Visible.
Ting Mobile is an independent MVNO that piggybacks off Verizon and T-Mobile’s networks. Ting doesn’t lock you into a specific plan but instead bills you monthly for the least expensive plan based on your usage and the number of lines you have. All plans now include unlimited talk and text, starting at $10, and the company offers a number of data plan options including a 5GB plan for $25 and unlimited data from $45. You can add fast data in 1GB increments at $5 per GB to your plan at any time, which does not change your monthly plan. Fast data added but not fully used in a billing cycle carries over once to the next billing cycle. Ting’s service is solid, but it’s best for folks who do not have heavy data or text usage.
Cricket Wireless is owned by AT&T and uses AT&T’s network. It offers single-line plans that start at $30 a month for unlimited talk and text with 2GB of data and go up to $60 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data and a 15GB mobile hotspot. The carrier’s $40-a-month plans are eligible for the Cricket Wireless Group Save option, which extends a discount to subscribers with two or more lines. You can bring your own phone — check for compatibility on Cricket’s website.
As for plan extras, $55 per month gets you unlimited talk and texts from the U.S. to 37 countries, plus data, calls, and texts to and from Mexico and Canada. Alternatively, you can add one of Cricket’s two international packages to your monthly subscription. Cricket International costs $5 a month and adds calls to phones in 35 countries, and Cricket International Extra costs $15 and adds unlimited messaging to phones in 35 countries and 1,000 minutes of calls to 31 other countries. Cricket’s group plan offers substantial savings of up to $70 with five lines.
Republic Wireless was among the first MVNOs to offer calls over Wi-Fi. Republic Wireless uses Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s now combined cell networks. Republic Wireless’ My Choice plans start at $15 per month for unlimited talk and text (but no data). The priciest runs $25 per month for unlimited talk, text, and 2GB of data. All data plans include a mobile hotspot, but no roaming, and there are no international calls, group plans, or family plans. You can bring your own cell phone to Republic Wireless, but it does not work with most models of iPhone, and not all Android models are supported — check this list first to make sure.
Free Extend Home unlimited home phone service is now included with all My Choice plans, allowing your phone number to work across your cell phone and home phones, connected via an adapter. You can then alternate between phones at will when you are at home. Republic Wireless isn’t for everyone. However, if you don’t use a lot of data and your phone is connected to Wi-Fi most of the time, its two cheapest cell plans are worth considering.
If you’re looking for a multi-line plan for the family, Boost Mobile has you covered, offering discounts for each additional line, and allowing you to mix and match. There are also International Minute Packs you can purchase if you’re traveling abroad — they start at $3 for 90 days of service, which adds a fixed number of minutes for calls and unlimited international texting for select countries. Boost only works with specific smartphones, which is one of the few drawbacks to the service. Be sure to reference the compatibility checker before making a switch.
Customize the cell phone plan that works best for you with Simple Mobile. This provider utilizes the T-Mobile 4G LTE network for maximum coverage. The company can support unlimited domestic and international talk and text plans at a range of price points. It’s up to you to determine whether $25, $30, $40, $50, or $60 per month fits your budget. Among those different plans, you can also find specific data allotments, ranging from 3GB data to unlimited 4G LTE data, as well as a 15GB mobile hotspot. It’s up to you to determine what fits best for you.
If you choose to stay with Simple Mobile, the company offers small rewards for loyalty through its automatic renewal discounts program. You can count on their network and coverage to extend most places, and there are support plans available for folks who need international services. Upgrade plans offer a specific number of minutes for international calls, unlimited international text, and 4G LTE for 69 destinations.
If Simple Mobile sounds like a possible fit for you, talk to them today about potential options. You can bring your current cell phone to swap plans or consider upgrading to a newer model phone. Check out those phones right now on their website or by visiting one of their store locations.
Frequently asked questions
What is the best MVNO for families on a budget?
The best MVNO for a family on a budget is going to vary depending on your particular setup. If you’re a family with young children then you’re going to need a very different setup from a family with teenage children. However, Boost Mobile’s approach to plans certainly appeals for its flexibility. Want a young child to have basic cell phone access with unlimited talk and text but without much data, while you get all the bells-and-whistles? Or giving a teenager unlimited data while you get by on home Wi-Fi? Both are easily possible and encouraged.