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MVNO Carriers Compared: Find the Best MVNO Plan for You

Looking for alternatives to Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile? You might want to check out MVNO carriers, or Mobile Virtual Network Operators. These carriers piggyback on major wireless networks and are often touted for their cheap monthly phone plans – but can you really save money if you switch? Here, we compare some of the top MVNO carriers so you can see what they cost, what you get and how they stack up to major carriers.

MVNO comparison

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 22 alternative phone carriers based on the lowest cost plan that would net at least 10GB of data per line, plus unlimited talk and text.

CARRIER/PLANPLANMONTHLY COSTNETWORKS
Boost Mobile Unlimited Gigs35GB (then unlimited at reduced speed)1 Line: $50 2 Lines: $80 3 Lines: $110 4 Lines: $140Sprint
Metro by T-Mobile 10GB High Speed10GB (then reduced speed)1 Line: $40 2 Lines: $70 3 Lines: $100 4 Lines: $130T-Mobile
Straight Talk Unlimited Nationwide25GB (then unlimited at 2G speed)1 Line: $45 2 Lines: $90 3 Lines: $135 4 Lines: $180Verizon, AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile
Cricket High Speed Data 10GB10GB (then reduced speed)1 Line: $40 2 Lines: $70 3 Lines: $90 4 Lines: $110AT&T
Visible UnlimitedUnlimited1 Line: $40 2 Lines: $70 3 Lines: $90 4 Lines: $100Verizon
Consumer Cellular Unlimited Talk & Text10GB1 Line: $40 2 Lines: $80 3 Lines: $160 4 Lines: $240AT&T & T-Mobile
Net 10 Wireless 10GB Unlimited10GB (then unlimited at 2G speed)1 Line: $36 (auto-refill) 2 Lines: $72 3 Lines: $108 4 Lines: $144Verizon, AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile
Republic Wireless Unlimited Talk & Text 2GB Data + Additional 8GB Data10GB1 Line: $65 2 Lines: $130 3 Lines: $195 4 Lines: $260Sprint & T-Mobile
Xfinity Mobile Unlimited20GB (then unlimited at 1.5Mbps speed)1 Line: $45 2 Lines: $90 3 Lines: $135 4 Lines: $180Verizon
Ultra Mobile Unlimited32GB (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 Plan12GB (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) * Note: After first 3 months, the 1-line 3-month price is $45/month prepaid at $135. 6-month price is $35/month prepaid at $210. 12-month price is $25/month prepaid at $300T-Mobile
H20 Wireless 15GB Plan15GB (then unlimited at 128kbps)1 Line: $36 2 Lines: $72 3 Lines: $108 4 Lines: $144AT&T
Google Fi Unlimited22GB (then unlimited at reduced speed)1 Line: $70 2 Lines: $120 3 Lines: $150 4 Lines: $180Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular
U.S. Cellular BasicUnlimited (though data may be slowed at peak congestion)1 Line: $55 2 Lines: $105 3 Lines: $115 4 Lines: $120U.S. Cellular
Reach Mobile People’s Choice & All-in Unlimited12GB (People’s Choice) 20GB (All-in Unlimited, then reduced speeds)1 Line: $55 (People’s Choice) 2 Lines: $120 (All-in Unlimited) 3 Lines: $165 (All-in Unlimited) 4 Lines: $200 (All-in Unlimited)Verizon
Red Pocket 10GB10GB (then unlimited at 2G speeds)1 Line: $30 2 Lines: $60 3 Lines: $90 4 Lines: $120AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon
Tello Unlimited25GB (then unlimited at 2G speeds)1 Line: $39 2 Lines: $78 3 Lines: $117 4 Lines: $156Sprint
Twigby 10GB10GB (then unlimited at 2G speeds)1 Line: $35 2 Lines: $70 3 Lines: $105 4 Lines: $140Sprint, Verizon (talk or text when Sprint is not available)
Ting Unlimited22GB (then unlimited at 2G speeds)1 Line: $45 2 Lines: $90 3 Lines: $135 4 Lines: $180Sprint & Verizon
Simple Mobile 15GB15GB (then unlimited at 2G speeds)1 Line: $37.50 2 Lines: $62.50 3 Lines: $87.50 4 Lines: $112.50T-Mobile
Total Wireless 25GB & Family Plans25GB 1 Line (then unlimited at 2G speeds) 30GB, 60GB & 100GB shared (2-4 lines)1 Line: $47.50 2 Lines: $57 3 Lines: $80.70 4 Lines: $95Sprint, Verizon
PureTalk 10GB10GB (then unlimited at 128kbps speeds)1 Line: $35 2 Lines: $63 3 Lines: $89.25 4 Lines: $112AT&T
Note: U.S. Cellular runs on its own network, so it’s not technically an MVNO. It is included here because it is a popular alternative phone carrier.

Are MVNO 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, prepaid annually), while Verizon’s cheapest single line 10GB prepaid plan costs $45 per month (16GB) and their cheapest unlimited plan costs $70. T-Mobile and AT&T 10GB prepaid plans cost $40 per month, and their unlimited plans start at $60 and $70, respectively.

Looking for more ways to save money? Here’s how to negotiate your cell phone bill

What about multiple lines and family plans? Total Wireless has the cheapest 4-line plan we reviewed at $95 per month, but you have to share 100GB between 4 lines. That amounts to 25GB per line, which could be plenty for your family unless you stream a lot of video.

Mint Mobile’s 12GB plan comes in at $100 per month for four lines, but you must prepay for a full year ($1,200 for four lines) to get that price. However, Verizon’s Start Unlimited plan costs just $40 more at $140 for four lines.

Similarly, AT&T and T-Mobile have unlimited plans that start at $140 per month for four lines. You might consider the additional $40 worth it to get unlimited data for each line and avoid annual prepays, even if it adds up to $480 per year.

Many MVNO carriers advertise unlimited plans, but speeds are typically reduced once data thresholds are reached. For example, Mint Mobile offers an unlimited plan for $30 per month (prepaid for 12 months, or $1,440 for four lines), but speeds are reduced once you exceed 35GB in a month.

One notable exception is Visible, a Verizon-owned MVNO that offers unlimited data at $100 per month for four lines. A quick chat with a support representative confirmed that Visible does not limit data usage; however, speeds can still slow down during congested traffic periods and video streaming is limited to 480p. The alternative carrier also has a unique payment model, where each line joins a “party” and has its own account and monthly billing. Still, at $25 per line, Visible might be one of the best Verizon alternatives for families who want unlimited data.

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On the other end of the spectrum, low data users can save significantly by switching to an MVNO. For example, Mint Mobile costs just $15 per month for 3GB of data (12 months prepaid at $180). The major carriers can’t touch that: Verizon’s cheapest prepaid plan is $30 for 500MB, T-Mobile’s is $15 for 2GB and AT&T’s is $30 for 5GB (though AT&T now offers an 8GB plan at $25 per month when prepaid annually at $300).

Do the math, and it’s easy to see that some MVNO carriers offer inexpensive cell phone plans that rival or even beat major carrier plans on price, but there are always caveats. You’ll need to decide if data limits, speed reductions, multi-month commitments and limited streaming resolutions are worth it to get cheaper cell phone service.

Before you switch

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

  • MVNOs are prepaid, while many major carrier plans are postpaid (though major 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 typically 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 MVNO carriers, so you might not be able to bring your own phone. Or, you might be limited to phones sold by the MVNO. Check phone compatibility and your coverage network needs before you commit
  • Some MVNO carriers offer phone payment plans, some do not. That could factor in to your decision if you want an iPhone or other expensive flagship

MVNO carriers can be good options if you find a plan that has ample data, uses your current network and costs less than what you’re paying now – and if you’re willing to compromise on things like data limits and streaming resolution. Use the information provided here to help guide your decision so you can get a cheap cell phone plan that meets your needs.

Related Help

> Mint Mobile review: How it compares to AT&T’s cheapest options

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> How to know if your phone has spyware

> Can you get out of a phone contract or sell a phone you still owe money on?

> Where to get the most for your phone

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