Cell phones have become a necessary part of our everyday lives. However, that doesn’t mean any of us want to spend more than we have to on cell phone service. Because of this, mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) have become increasingly popular over the past decade. With over 100 MVNO carriers out there, how can anyone know which one is the best? This list will help you choose the best MVNO option for you.
1. Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile is a relatively new prepaid wireless provider whose business model runs on the concept of “bulk buying.” It offers prepaid plans and uses T-Mobile’s network to provide 5G coverage to nearly any GSM phone.
Like most other MVNO carriers, Mint Mobile advertises cheap prices with coverage options that are similar to any of the major mobile phone providers. However, Mint Mobile only sells what it calls “bulk plans” in intervals or 3, 6, or 12 months – with the cheapest plans being the 12-month options. While this means Mint Mobile customers pay more upfront for their service, they ultimately save more by “buying in bulk.”
Mint Mobile offers a 3-in-1 SIM card with every plan. Like most other MVNOs, Mint Mobile gives customers the option to bring their own device or finance a new phone. All Mint Mobile plans include unlimited talk and text, plus 5G and 4G LTE data. Furthermore, you can use your phone as a mobile hotspot, enable Wi-Fi calling and text, and make calls to Canada and Mexico for free.
Unfortunately, the fact that Mint Mobile uses the T-Mobile network is probably its biggest drawback. T-Mobile’s coverage is far less expansive than the other big brands like AT&T and Verizon. That being said, Mint does offer a seven-day money back guarantee and provides a significant discount on its three-month plan to any new subscribers. This means you have plenty of time to test Mint’s service before you fully commit.
Mint’s plans start at just $15 per month (meaning $45 total upfront for three months), and the plans based on the amount of data you wish to receive: 4GB, 10GB, 15GB, or unlimited.
Here’s a breakdown of Mint’s plans based on the time frames.
3 Month (New User):
- 4GB Data = $15/month
- 10GB Data = $20/month
- 15GB Data = $25/month
- Unlimited Data = $30/month
- 4GB Data = $20/month
- 10GB Data = $25/month
- 15GB Data = $30/month
- Unlimited Data = $35/month
- 4GB Data = $15/month
- 10GB Data = $20/month
- 15GB Data = $25/month
- Unlimited Data = $30/month
2. Google Fi
Google Fi, formerly known as Project Fi, is Google’s attempt to become an MVNO carrier. While it started out as a way for Google to promote its own phones, that has changed. As Google Fi expands, it’s opening up the doors for users to bring their own devices (iPhones included).
Google Fi is an MVNO carrier that promotes itself as a “pay for what you use” service through its pay-per-gigabyte data plan and unlimited talk and text plans. With Google, customers who primarily use their devices within range of a Wi-Fi hotspot can save money. Then, heavy data users can opt for one of Fi’s higher-tier plans. In comparison to other MVNO plan options, this makes financial sense – especially considering that most of Fi’s customers are more tech-savvy individuals.
Unlike most other MVNO carriers, Google Fi also provides a unique offering in terms of its cell service. The company uses a combination of T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular to provide 5G and LTE coverage across the nation. In other words, Google Fi phones automatically switch between networks so that users receive the strongest signal based on their current location. All Google Fi plans include unlimited talk and text, and the majority of the plans include unlimited data as well.
One of the biggest draws of Google Fi is actually the security it offers. In fact, Google Fi is the only MVNO with end-to-end call encryption, which protects your phone calls from interception. Additionally, Google Fi offers a built-in VPN to protect your online activity and secures your phone number against theft through its enhanced security features.
Obviously, the two biggest drawbacks to Google Fi are also what some people consider to be its biggest perks. Because Google Fi is designed to promote specific Android devices (namely Google phones), its “designed for Fi” phone selection is quite limited. Additionally, Google Fi’s “pay-per-gig” pricing model often causes it to appear more expensive than its competition.
Google Fi starts out at just $20 per month with a $10 per GB pricing on its data usage. Otherwise, you can choose the Unlimited Plan, which runs $60 per month.
3. Boost Mobile
Boost Mobile is an MVNO carrier owned by Dish Network. The company offers a variety of cell phone and mobile hotspot plans. In fact, Boost claims to have the nation’s largest 5G network, which is an amazing selling point, given how reliant most people are on connectivity these days.
Formerly a part of Sprint, Dish Network now owns Boost Mobile, which means it operates on AT&T’s network. This is why Boost claims to have the largest 5G network in the nation, which is bundled into cheap monthly plan options based on your data use. This, combined with Boost’s hotspot offering with every plan, makes it a strong competitor in the MVNO world.
Unfortunately, this same “perk,” so to speak, can also be an issue for Boost. Because it is part of the AT&T network, users sometimes experience data deprioritization during peak times and in locations with a strong AT&T presence. Also, Boost doesn’t offer much in terms of family plan pricing, which makes it less than ideal for any customers who would like multiple lines on the same plan.
However, Boost offers some of the cheapest plans out there, especially for customers who only need a small amount of data. In fact, Boost Mobile offers a plan with unlimited talk and text plus 1GB of data for just $8.33 per month for new customers. In total, Boost offers nearly a dozen plan options between monthly prepay plans and bulk plan options similar to the ones Mint offers – it just depends on how much data you need.
In total, Boost has 5 plan options:
- 2GB Data = $15/month
- 5GB Data = $25/month
- 10GB Data = $35/month
- 35GB Data + 12GB Mobile Hotspot = $50/month
- 35GB Data + 30GB Mobile Hotspot = $60/month
4. Metro (by T-Mobile)
Metro by T-Mobile is an MVNO option offered directly from T-Mobile. While its meant to provide cheaper plan options for people who may want to take advantage of T-Mobile, Metro offers several unique perks that make it stand out as its own great cell phone service.
Metro by T-Mobile offers affordable cell phone plans with unique perks. These no-contract plans offer unlimited talk and text, plus options for limited or unlimited data. As a partner of T-Mobile, Metro operates as part of the T-Mobile network, which means Metro users get the same nationwide 5G and LTE coverage as those with T-Mobile plans.
In addition to affordable cell phone and data service, Metro offers its customers plan choices that include free Google One and Amazon Prime subscriptions, which is a handy perk for those who rely on Google Drive or Amazon’s shipping services. Additionally, Metro also brings “Scam Shield”: a tool for blocking certain numbers, avoiding spam calls, and texting your voicemails to you for a small fee.
While it’s still cheaper than a full-blown T-Mobile plan, Metro is one of the more expensive MVNO options out there, and they offer just a few plan options. In total, Metro offers a single limited data cell phone plan and two unlimited plans with caps on hotspot use.
These plans start at $40/month, with options to add additional lines at a discounted rate.
- 10GB Data = $40/month
- Unlimited Data = $50/month
- Unlimited Data + Amazon Prime = $60/month
Just like Metro is T-Mobile’s MVNO option, Visible is an MVNO affiliated with Verizon that offers unlimited talk, text, and LTE data for just $40 per month. Or, you can get the party started with Visible and save each time you invite a new friend.
Verizon launched its prepaid wireless brand Visible in 2018 as a way to dive into the MVNO market and compete with other top brands like Metro, Boost, and Cricket. Since then, Visible has gained a strong following because of its simple plan offerings and lack of data capping – a rarity in the MVNO market.
Since Visible operates off the Verizon network, customers get to take advantage of Verizon’s 4G LTE and 5G networks. This guarantees coverage in 99 percent of the country. However, like most other MVNOs, Verizon does deprioritize Visible customers during “high volume” times within the network, and Visible caps video streaming at 480p resolution.
Unlike most other MVNO carriers, though, Visible offers significant discounts and referral bonuses to its customers.
Here’s the plan breakdown:
- Unlimited Talk, Text and Data = 40$/month
- Visible Party Pay plan with unlimited talk, text and data = $25/month per user. If you refer a friend to Visible, and they decide to try it out, you each receive one month of service for just $5.
Cricket Wireless, AT&T’s prepaid wireless brand, offers a variety of affordable 5G plans to fit nearly any budget. Whether you want to bring your own device or choose from one of Cricket’s available devices, Cricket has you covered.
Cricket Wireless is one of the longest-standing MVNO carriers out there, and it’s certainly a name that people recognize. Cricket was purchased by AT&T in 2014, and the service has been using the AT&T network ever since. This means Cricket users have access to a large network with a lot of coverage – especially compared to all of the MVNOs that use T-Mobile’s network.
All Cricket plans include unlimited talk and text, 5G/4G LTE data, video streaming, and Wi-Fi calling. Also, since Cricket falls under the AT&T umbrella, its highest tier plan includes access to HBO Max. Plans with Cricket are eligible for optional add-ons for mobile hotspot support and international calling.
Unfortunately, Cricket isn’t the best choice for someone who plans to use a large amount of data, especially if most of that data usage comes from streaming, as Cricket only allows standard definition (480p) video streaming across all of their plans. Also, since Cricket operates on the AT&T network, the terms and conditions note that Cricket customers may experience “temporarily slowed [data coverage] until the network congestion gets relieved.”
Cricket offers a total of four monthly prepaid unlimited talk and text plans: two with limited data and two with unlimited data. All plans include 5G data coverage and support for Wi-Fi calling. Furthermore, Cricket offers discounts on their plans for each additional line you add and discounts for setting up auto pay.
Here’s a breakdown of Cricket’s plans:
- 5GB Data = $30/month
- 10GB Data = $40/month
- Unlimited Data = $55/month
- Unlimited + 15GB Mobile Hotspot = $60/month
7. Walmart Family Mobile
Walmart Family Mobile provides contract-free plans at low prices with no surprise fees. Like everything else available from Walmart, the plans are fairly affordable and cover all of the basics.
Walmart Family Mobile offers affordable plans with the option to bring your own device or purchase one of theirs. Switching is easy since you can pick up a SIM card or an entirely new phone at any Walmart. You can also order Walmart Family Mobile plans online.
However, Walmart retail locations do not offer any type of customer support for Walmart Family Mobile customers. Instead, users are stuck with the same issue they’ll encounter with pretty much any MVNO – long wait times for phone or online support.
Since Walmart Family Mobile is owned by TracFone, it uses the T-Mobile network. Although there aren’t a ton of impressive perks, the brand does allow Wi-Fi calling, international calling, and hotspot capabilities.
The brand offers a total of four unique plans, with only one of these offering unlimited data.
- 5GB Data = $24.88/month
- 8GB Data = $29.88/month
- 40GB Data = $39.88/month
- Unlimited Data = $49.88/month
- Unlimited Data (2-line plan) = $74.76/month
The plans also offer discount pricing to SNAP and Medicaid recipients. Furthermore, Walmart Family Mobile offers discounted pricing for customers who add multiple lines to their plan.
8. US Mobile
Although many people haven’t heard of US Mobile, it’s ranked 94th in the Inc 5000’s fastest-growing private companies. With a wide variety of plan options and an AI system that will tell you exactly how much talk, text, and data you use, it’s easy to see why more and more individuals are making the switch to US Mobile.
US Mobile is an independent MVNO that uses a combination of Verizon and T-Mobile’s networks to provide cell phone service and 5G data to its customers throughout the United States. Because Verizon and T-Mobile use completely different systems, though, US Mobile provides two different SIM cards to all new customers. However, you’ll be limited to one depending on the type of device you have.
Despite this, US Mobile’s big appeal is in its fully customizable plan options. In fact, US Mobile gives customers the option to choose how much talk, text, and data they want. This means customers can decide exactly what to put their money into and where to save with the plans. Additionally, the company also provides some pre-structured plans with unlimited talk and text plus various amounts of data.
However, the plans themselves aren’t the only thing that US Mobile has going for it. For anyone who selects one of the company’s unlimited plans and adds at least three lines of service, there are additional perks to choose from, like subscriptions to Spotify Family, Disney+, or Playstation Plus. There are a total of 10 of these perk subscription options. Furthermore, families who have four lines can add two of them to their plan – at no extra charge. This is a great deal for families with kids who have cell phones.
US Mobile doesn’t have the greatest selection or pricing on phones. However, this isn’t a huge deal since you can simply bring your own device. Besides that and the oddity of two SIM cards, US Mobile is a great option for anyone looking for a strong MVNO.
Here’s a breakdown of US Mobile’s plans:
- Unlimited Talk & Text = starting at $6/month
- 1GB / Unlimited Talk & Text = $12/month
- 5GB / Unlimited Talk & Text = $15/month
- 12GB / Unlimited Talk & Text = $20/month
- 18GB / Unlimited Talk & Text = $25/month
- 30GB / Unlimited Talk & Text = $30/month
- Unlimited All + 1 line = $45 per line/month
- Unlimited All + 2 lines = $30 per line/month
- Unlimited All + 3 lines = $25 per line/month
9. Red Pocket
If you haven’t heard of Red Pocket Mobile, that’s not surprising. However, this MVNO has been in operation since 2006 and shows no signs of going anywhere anytime soon thanks to its great coverage and affordable plans.
On the surface, Red Pocket seems like just another MVNO trying to grab a portion of the market. However, Red Pocket is unique since it uses a combination of all the major networks: AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. This is great for anyone who plans to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), since your current device will be completely compatible with Red Pocket.
Furthermore, Red Pocket offers families the option to build a family plan where each device can use a different network. This means you can combine someone who uses an AT&T compatible iPhone and a Verizon Android device on the same plan with no problem.
The major drawback to Red Pocket is its customer service. Many customer review sites list long wait times with phone or online support, which can be frustrating if your device is having issues or you’re trying to set up a new device. Unfortunately, though, that’s one of the drawbacks to MVNO carriers in general: there’s no store to go to when you have a problem.
In terms of plans, Red Pocket offers several monthly plan options as well as some annual plans. Furthermore, you can usually purchase a Red Pocket yearly card on eBay or similar for fairly cheap. In general, though, Red Pocket’s plans start at just $20 per month and go up from there depending on how much data you need.
Here are the plan breakdowns:
- 3GB Data = $20/month
- 10GB Data = $30/month
- 22GB Data = $40/month
- 50GB Data = $50/month
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How can I find out whether my current phone will work with a different carrier?
If you’re thinking about switching to an MVNO, you can check whether your current device is compatible with the service by performing an International Mobile Equipment Identity check (IMEI) on the new carrier’s website. Furthermore, you can obtain your phone’s IMEI by dialing *#06# from the device.
2. Why are MVNO plans so much cheaper?
Since MVNOs do not build their own network infrastructure and also don’t typically operate any retail stores, the overhead costs are much lower than that of companies like Verizon or AT&T. Therefore, they can pass these savings on to customers with lower-priced plans.
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