Two years can bring an astonishing boatload of volatile shakeups. In fact, your entire life could change in that amount of time, but major cellphone carriers still expect you to lock yourself into two-year contracts. Thankfully, there are a ton of lesser-known carriers known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators — aka MVNOs — each of which buys minutes and data from major carriers and allows you to ride the major networks contract-free.
For some users, these “remixed” plans allow greater flexibility than the traditional two-year contract given the low-budget options, restriction capabilities, and their sheer convenience when traveling. There are several setbacks to prepaid phones, most notably inconsistent customer service and hard-to-read terms and conditions, but they remain a viable option if you can overlook the potential pitfalls. Below our roundup of the best, no-contract cellphone carriers that offer month-to-month plans if you’re simply looking for a single line — along with the standard monthly prices for major the major cell phone carriers for comparison purposes. Surprisingly, some of the best deals on the market rely on prepaid carriers that remain largely unknown.
Note: All major carriers have low-cost affiliates. Sprint has Boost and Virgin; AT&T has Aio Wireless; and Verizon offers several pre-paid plans under the Verizon Edge moniker.
|Unlimited single line plan /mo.||$60 w/2GB, unlimited talk and text +$40 for 2nd line||$50 w/ 1GB, unlimited talk and text, + $30-50 for 2nd line||$65 w/1GB, unlimited talk and text, + $40 for 2nd line||$55 w /1GB data +$50 for 2nd line|
Republic Wireless (Runs on Sprint’s Network)
|Wi-Fi Only||Republic Plan||Republic + 3G||Republic + 4G|
|single line plan/ mo.||$5 w/ unlimted calling, texting, and data over Wi-Fi||$10 w/ unlimited talk and text (Wi-Fi and cell) + unlimited data over Wi-Fi||$25 w/ unlimited talk and text (Wi-Fi and cell) + unlimited data over Sprint’s 3G network and Wi-Fi||$40 w/ unlimited talk and text (Wi-Fi and cell) + unlimited data over Sprint’s 4G network and Wi-Fi|
Republic Wireless may not allow you to use your own device, but the company’s three smartphones offer more functionality than you might expect. The Motorola Moto G, Moto E, and Moto X feature hybrid calling, allowing users to place calls and send texts over available wireless networks, along with the ability to plug into Sprint’s cellular network at times when no network is available. Republic also offers two competitive baseline plans, most notably a $5 plan that allows you operate exclusively over wireless data. An additional $20 a month will also provide you with one of the most affordable unlimited calling, texting, and data plans on the market. The carrier does ride Sprint’s pokey 3G network — a notable downside if there ever was one — but the company features excellent customer service and a competitive return policy to boot.
Available at: Republic Wireless
Ting (Runs on Sprint’s network)
The fact is, most people can save money with Ting given the prepaid carrier only requires you to pay for what you use at the end of the month. Ting allows users to individually choose how many minutes, texts, and data you might need, thus allowing you to cater the plan toward different individuals. For instance, you could buy your high-school student a small batch of minutes, but an abundance of text and data. Moreover, Ting boasts a pretty terrific swap program as part of a partnership with online electronics retailer Glyde, allowing you to quickly receive credit toward a new device compatible with Ting (aka most Sprint devices). Some Verizon phones can even be used with Ting with a little hacking, but be forewarned, cell reception in some place can be spotty considering the carrier utilizes Sprint’s network. Still, talk and text plans begin as low as $6 a month with free tethering, voicemail, caller ID, and few other incentives.
Available at: Ting
H2O Wireless (Runs on AT&T’s Network)
|“Best value”||“Just Right”||“Most international”||Unlimited data|
|single line plan /mo.||$30 w/ unlimited talk and text + 500MB of data||$40 w/ unlimited talk and text, + 1GB of data||$50 w/ unlimited talk and text + 2GB of data, unlimited international texts||$60 w /unlimited talk and text + unlimited data, unlimited international texts|
Few prepaid carriers surpass H2O Wireless when it comes to international travel. Although the carrier doesn’t allow you bring your own device to the plan and smartphone prices are somewhat costly, some plans keep pricing the same for international calls to the United States and more than 50 countries (much like Giv Mobile). Monthly and pay-as-you-go plans also start at $10 and cap at $100, with a range of tier pricing and features in between. Moreover, the list of compatible phones is fairly robust, though outdated, with the newest offerings encapsulating everything from the iPhone 5 to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. It may not be the most affordable if you plan on purchasing a new phone or restricting your calls to the United States, but it does excel abroad. Plus, you can purchase “refills” at your nearest convenience store or set your plan to automatically renew once you hit your limit.
Available at: H2O Wireless
Giv Mobile (Runs on T-Mobile’s network)
|single line plan /mo.||$29 w/ unlimited talk, text, and data on 2G network||$35 w/ unlimited talk and data + 500MB of data||$45 w/ unlimited talk and text, + 2GB of data||$65 w /unlimited talk, text, and data|
Out of the the few mobile companies that donate part of your monthly payment to charity, Giv Mobile donates the most. An admirable 8 percent of your payment goes directly to the organization of your choice, one selected from a lengthy list of pre-screened organizations ranging from the environment-centric Nature Conservancy to renowned humanitarian organizations like the American Red Cross. Out of Giv’s four data plans, the recently-announced “Unlimited Everything” plan represents the most bang for your buck, offering unlimited talk, text, and data for a mere $29 a month. The baseline plan is restricted to 2G speeds, but that might be fine if you mostly need utilize Wi-Fi. You’ll have to pay another $6 to gain access to the 4G LTE network.
Smartphones are full price at Giv Mobile. You can opt for a Nexus 5 or the iPhone 5S, but Giv Mobile also allows you to bring your own device to the service. The baseline plan is perfect for those who intend to utilize Wi-Fi for most of there browsing needs, but not so much for those looking for quick speeds while away from their wireless network.
Available at: GIV Mobile
Freedom Pop (Runs on Sprint’s Network)
|single line plan /mo.||Free w/ 200 minutes, 500 texts, 500MB of data||$20 w/ unlimited talk, text, and data|
If you haven’t heard FreedomPop’s exact plug before, you’ve certainly heard an incarnation of it at one point or another. FreedomPop advertises as a free mobile service — and to a certain extent, it is — though you’ll have to pay for a smartphone or anything beyond the company’s initial baseline plan. Still, the bottom-tier package provides 200 minutes of talk, 500MB of data, and the ability to send or receive 500 texts at no additional cost while utilizing 4G airtime.
Like any offer that seems too good to be true, FreedomPop has it’s limitations that are buried in fine print. For instance, many of their devices work exclusively on Sprint’s spotty 4G network. What’s more, you’ll need to create a separate accounts for each device. And FreedomPop will automatically charge you a $10 “top-up” fee whenever you get within 100mb of your limit — top-up fees apply to their baseline free accounts. That said, FreedomPop is still one of the best MVNO’s for the price. Especially if you keep track of how much data you’re using. Users can share surplus data with family and friends also utilizing the service and, in many situations, bring your Sprint-compatible phone to the carrier.
Available at: Freedom Pop
Page Plus (Runs on Verizon’s Network)
|Unlimited single line plan /mo.||$12 w/ 250 minutes, 250 texts, 10MB data||$30 w/ 1200 minutes, 3000 texts, 500MB of data||$40 w/ unlimited talk and text + 1GB data||$55 w /unlimited talk and text + 3GB of data||$70 w/ unlimited talk and text + 5GB of data|
A subsidiary of TracFone, Page Plus is a heavy-weight in the no-contract phone biz mostly because it rides the Verizon network. The pre-paid service provides a wide-open activation policy that make it easy for Verizon devices — along with select devices designed for Altell and Sprint — to convert to the program. Page Plus is one of the few MVNOs that has access to Verizon’s network, and that translates to great coverage throughout the United States, but having dependable coverage also means the standard plan is far from cheap. The company’s lowest plan starts at $12 a month, but opting for the $30 plan will allow you to utilize 1,200 minutes of talk, 3,000 text messages, and 500MB of data.
There are some setbacks apart from the somewhat expensive price. For starters, the available Page Plus-ready phones, such as the ZTE Savvy and LG Optimus Dynamic 2, are far from attractive, though they do cost significantly less than most of the smartphones lining the websites of other carriers. And you’ll have to ride Verizon’s 3G network, instead of their reputable 4G LTE network. But Page Plus is easy to switch to and hard to beat when it comes to coverage.
Available at: Page Plus
As one might expect, there’s no one clear winner when it comes to MVNOs. The services offer terrific at low rates, but strict limitations and hurdles sometimes accompany the rock-bottom pricing. For instance, some won’t let you bring your own device while others are still operating on 2G networks and feature spotty customer service. However, all the plans above will likely save you money in the long run as long as you adhere to the lower-tiered plans. Is the promise of a lower monthly payment enough for you to make the switch?