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Alternative Wireless Carriers Compared

Want to get away from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile? You might want to check out an alternative wireless carrier, or Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). These carriers piggyback on major wireless networks and are often touted for their reduced rates – but can you really save money if you switch? Here, we compare some of the top alternative wireless carriers so you can see what they cost, what you get and how they stack up to major carriers.

Top alternative wireless carriers, compared

The average American uses 9.2GB of data per month. As a reference point, it takes roughly 1GB of data to stream one hour of standard video. HD video eats up around 2.5GB per hour. Given that, we compared each carrier based on the minimum plan that would net at least 10GB of data plus unlimited talk and text.

CARRIER/PLAN PLAN MONTHLY COST NETWORKS
Boost Mobile Unlimited Gigs 12GB (then unlimited at reduced speed) 1 Line: $50 2 Lines: $80 3 Lines: $110 4 Lines: $140 Sprint
Metro by T-Mobile 10GB High Speed 40GB 1 Line: $40 2 Lines: $70 3 Lines: $100 4 Lines: $130 T-Mobile
Straight Talk Unlimited Nationwide 25GB (then unlimited at 2G speed) 1 Line: $45 2 Lines: $90 3 Lines: $135 4 Lines: $180 Verizon, AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile
Cricket Unlimited Cricket Core Unlimited (limited to a maximum of 3 Mbps) 1 Line: $55 2 Lines: $80 3 Lines: $90 4 Lines: $100 AT&T
Virgin Mobile Unlimited 10GB (then unlimited at 2G speed) 1 Line: $45 2 Lines: $90 3 Lines: $135 4 Lines: $180 Sprint
Consumer Cellular Talk & Connect (build your own plan) 10GB 1 Line: $40 2 Lines: $80 3 Lines: $160 4 Lines: $240 AT&T & T-Mobile
Net 10 Wireless 10GB Unlimited 10GB (then unlimited at 2G speed) 1 Line: $45 (auto-refill) 2 Lines: $85 3 Lines: $125 4 Lines: $160 Verizon, AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile
Republic Wireless Unlimited Talk & Text 2GB Data + Additional 8GB Data 10GB 1 Line: $65 2 Lines: $130 3 Lines: $195 4 Lines: $260 Sprint & T-Mobile
Xfinity Mobile Unlimited 20GB (then unlimited at 1.5Mbps speed) 1 Line: $45 2 Lines: $90 3 Lines: $135 4 Lines: $180 Verizon
Ultra Mobile Unlimited 32GB (then unlimited at reduced speed) 1 Line: $46 (3 months prepaid at $138) 2 Lines: $82 (3 months prepaid at $276) 3 Lines: $138 (3 months prepaid at $414) 4 Lines: $184 (3 months prepaid at $552) T-Mobile
Mint Mobile 12GB 3 Month Plan 12GB (then unlimited at reduced speed) 1 Line: $25 (3 months prepaid at $75) 2 Lines: $50 (3 months prepaid at $150) 3 Lines: $75 (3 months prepaid at $225) 4 Lines: $100 (3 months prepaid at $300) T-Mobile
H20 Wireless 10GB Plan 10GB (then unlimited at 2G speed) 1 Line: $36 2 Lines: $72 3 Lines: $108 4 Lines: $144 AT&T
Google Fi Unlimited 22GB (then unlimited at reduced speed) 1 Line: $70 2 Lines: $120 3 Lines: $150 4 Lines: $180 Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular
U.S. Cellular Basic Unlimited (though data may be slowed at peak congestion) 1 Line: $55 2 Lines: $105 3 Lines: $115 4 Lines: $120 U.S. Cellular

Are alternative carriers a better deal?

It depends on your usage and the number of lines you need. For example, Mint Mobile has the best monthly rate for 10GB+ at $25 per month (12GB), while Verizon’s cheapest single line 10GB prepaid plan costs $45 per month (16GB) and their cheapest unlimited plan costs $70.
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What about multiple lines? Mint Mobile also has the cheapest 4-line plan we reviewed at $100 per month. However, Verizon’s Start Unlimited plan costs just $40 more at $140, and it offers unlimited data versus Mint’s 12GB. You might consider the additional $40 worth it to get unlimited data, even if it adds up to $480 per year.

In addition, Mint Mobile requires a multiple month upfront commitment. Other alternative carriers offer monthly plans and are still cheaper than Verizon for single lines, but if you need multiple lines you might find Verizon’s Start Unlimited is a better deal. For example, H20 Wireless is just $36 per month for 10GB of data compared to Verizon’s $45 single line prepaid plan and $70 unlimited plan, but it costs $144 for four lines – $4 more than Verizon’s Start Unlimited.

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Similarly, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile’s lowest-priced unlimited plans all range between $60 and $65 per month for single lines and around $140 per month for four lines.

This isn’t to say alternative carriers can’t be good deals. In fact, if you don’t need much data you’ll likely save significantly if you switch. For example, Mint Mobile costs just $15 per month for 3GB of data. The major carriers can’t touch that: Verizon’s cheapest plan is $30 for 1GB, AT&T’s is $35 for 1GB and Sprint’s is $40 for 2GB.

However, the reality is most Americans use nearly 10GB of data each month. If your usage aligns with that, you’ll need to decide whether it’s worth metering your data to save a few bucks or you’re better off going with a major carrier’s unlimited plan.

Before you switch

If you decide to switch, be sure to consider the following:

  • MVNOs are prepaid, while carrier plans are postpaid (though some carriers do offer prepaid plans)
  • MVNOs run on carrier networks, but they can be throttled if traffic gets congested
  • Alternative carriers might promote unlimited plans, but there are data limits and you’ll lose speed once you reach your monthly data threshold
  • MVNOs often limit data speeds for streaming and other activities; for example, they might limit your video streams to 480p
  • Not all phones are compatible with all carriers, so you might not be able to bring your own phone. Or, you might be limited to phones sold by the MVNO
  • Unlike major carriers, many MVNOs do not offer phone payment plans. That’s not a big deal if you need a basic phone, but if you want an iPhone with a $1,000 price tag it might give you pause

Alternative carriers can be good options if you only need one line or if you have relatively low data usage. However, if you need multiple lines and your data usage aligns with the national average, it might be best to stick with major carriers.

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