Mobile

The best MVNOs for 2020

Smartphone plans are more competitive now than ever. Gone are the days when you had to choose among a handful of pricey, restrictive carriers. Today, there are many affordable options available via Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). MVNOs piggyback on established networks owned by major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and resell network services at wholesale prices. The result is data, talk, and text plans that are less expensive than what gets offered on  Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. MVNOs have their advantages, but they aren’t perfect. Some have a monthly data cap or will throttle data speed. Phone selection can also less than desirable on many MVNOs, though most have BYOD (bring your own device) programs to accommodate unlocked phones. Despite their drawbacks, MVNOs tend to offer lower prices and more diverse plans. Many even offer special international calling options that are cheaper than what’s featured on postpaid carriers.

Which MVNO offers the best coverage, the best unlimited plan, and the most extras? We looked at the competition and compiled this guide to the best MVNOs.

The best MVNO for unlimited data

Metro by T-Mobile

Metro by T-Mobile has three plans that cater to any budget, backed by one of the most expansive LTE networks in the country. In addition to providing nearly blanket coverage, Metro by T-Mobile now offers tempting 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. Metro customers now get T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G.

$40 $50 $60
10 GB High-Speed Unlimited High-Speed Unlimited High-Speed
No mobile hotspot 5GB mobile hotspot 15GB mobile hotspot
Music Unlimited included Google One 100GB included Google One and Amazon Prime included
Save $10 on each additional line Save $20 on each additional line. Get 4 lines for $120

Recommendations:

  • Enable automatic bill pay for a $5-per-month savings.
  • Add $10-per-day International Connect Plus for cheap calls and texts overseas.
  • Add a plan for your tablet, hotspot, or other connected devices to your current service for $10-$35 per month.

The perks of the Metro by T-Mobile plans:

  • Some plans offer Amazon Prime and Google One memberships.
  • Huge selection of phones that are often discounted.

The downsides of Metro by T-Mobile plans:

  • During busy time data speeds may slow to give priority to T-Mobile customers.
  • Caps on mobile hotspots.

The best MVNO with lots of coverage

Straight Talk

best MVNO

If you’ve stopped in a Walmart recently, you’ve probably seen ads for Straight Talk. The MVNO, a partnership between the retail juggernaut and TracFone, offers coverage across the Big Four: Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Straight Talk’s monthly plans range from $30 a month, which includes unlimited text, 1500 minutes of calls, and 100MB of data, to $60 a month, which adds unlimited talk and text and unlimited data (the first 25GB at high speeds, then at 2G).

Line cost Data
$30 100MB
$35 Unlimited (3GB high speed)
$45 Unlimited (25GB high speed)
$55 Unlimited (10GB hotspot data)
$60 25GB International

Straight Talk doesn’t have group plans, but it does have great international data options. For $60 a month, you get unlimited calls, texts, and 25GB of 4G LTE speeds, as well as unlimited text and calls to Mexico, China, Canada, and India. Since Straight Talk works across all four major carriers, it’s compatible with most unlocked phones.

The MVNO’s plans are a little pricier than most, but the network’s unparalleled footprint and its cheap international data set it apart from the competition.

Recommendations:

  • Enable auto bill pay for a $1-per-month savings.
  • Straight Talk’s $60 international plan is a great value for overseas travelers.

The perks of Straight Talk plans:

  • Coverage across all four major carriers.
  • Cheap international data and free calling and texting to Mexico, China, Canada, and India.
  • No overage fees.
  • No caps on data usage.

The downsides of Straight Talk plans:

  • No family or group plans.
  • Pricier plans than some MVNOs, depending on the data allotment.
  • Data speeds get cracked down to 2G after allotment is used.

The best Alternative MVNOs

Google Fi

best MVNO

Google Fi relies on a combination of Wi-Fi hot spots and three networks — Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular — for service. But that’s not the only thing that makes it unique.

On Google Fi, Flexible plans start at $20, which covers unlimited talk and text. Data is a flat $10 for 1GB of 4G 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. So, if you have a single line, you’ll only be charged for data up to 6GB, meaning your bill should top out around $80. Data used over that limit will be throttled, though.

Lines Fi Unlimited Fi Flexible
1 $70 $20.00 + $10/GB
2 $60/line $17.50/line + $10/GB
3 $50/line $16.67/line + $10/GB
4 $45/line $16.25/line + $10/GB
5 $45/line $16.00/line + $10/GB
6 $45/line $15.84/line + $10/GB

Google Fi offers a multiline option in the form of Group Plans, which lets you add other people to a subscription for an additional $15 per user a month. 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 GB) in more than 135 countries around the world.

Google Fi service is compatible with most mobile phone brands and platforms. It is worth noting though that iPhones and some Android handsets will not support one of Google Fi’s key features — switching between carriers when signal strength is spotty. Overall, Google Fi is one of the most innovative and easy-to-use MVNOs out there.

Ting

Ting Mobile is an independent MVNO that uses Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks to provide service to its customers. While many carriers have a small selection of plans for their customers to choose from, Ting doesn’t lock you into a specific plan: Instead, Ting bills you for the least expensive plan each month based on your usage.

The least expensive usage arrangement will run you $9, but that includes 100 minutes of calls with no texts or data. Adding texts to the mix will add a minimum of $3 to your monthly bill; however, if you send more than 4,800 texts a month, you’ll be charged $11 plus $.0025 per text that’s over your limit. Finally, 2GB will add an additional $20 a month to your plan, with each additional gigabyte coming in at $10.

While Ting provides solid service, it is definitely a plan for people who don’t use their phones frequently. If you text frequently or use a lot of LTE data, Ting is not the service for you, as you’ll find it’s not competitive with other carriers.

Cricket Wireless

best MVNO

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 Cricket Wireless’ Group Save option, which extends a discount to subscribers with two or more lines.

When it comes to plan extras, Cricket Wireless isn’t as generous as the competition. But for $55 a month, you get unlimited texts from the U.S. to 38 countries, plus data, calls, and texts to and from Mexico and Canada. If that won’t do, 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 37 countries, and Cricket International Extra costs $15 and adds unlimited messaging to phones in 37 countries and 1,000 minutes of calls to 31 other countries.

Cricket’s group plan offers substantial savings (up to $70 with five lines). You can bring your own phone if you choose (check Cricket’s website to see if it’s compatible). And if you don’t mind dealing with data caps, its 5GB plan isn’t a bad deal for $40.

Republic Wireless

best MVNO

Republic Wireless has gained a lot of attention over the past few years, and for good reason: It was among the first MVNOs to offer calls over Wi-Fi. Republic Wireless, like Google Fi, seamlessly switches between Wi-Fi and cell networks without dropping your call.

Still, there are inevitably times you don’t have access to Wi-Fi, and Republic Wireless sells data from Sprint and T-Mobile to help with that. Its Clear Choice plans start at $15 a month, and it includes unlimited talk and text. The priciest runs $40 a month for unlimited talk, text, and 5GB of cellular data.

Republic Wireless is about as basic as it gets. All plans include a mobile hotspot, but no roaming — there are no international calls. There aren’t group plans or family plans to choose from, either, and while you can bring your own phone to Republic Wireless, not every model is supported. (We suggest checking this list.)

Republic Wireless isn’t for everyone. But 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 consideration.

Wing

Wing offers prepaid service with lots of perks. In addition to unlimited talk and text on all plans, Wing also offers tethering and visual voicemail for all its smartphone plans. It’s also one of the few MVNO’s that offers a risk-free 30-day trial.

Plans start at $15 for a relatively paltry 500 megabits of data and go up to $50 for unlimited LTE service. While it’s not the cheapest plan, Wing uses dynamic pricing so you’ll receive bill credits for the data you do not use. It’s also worth noting that Wing doesn’t charge for activation, SIM cards, and doesn’t seem to nickel-and-dime customers like some other prepaid services.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Wing is its impressive selection of smartphones. Although there are a few low-end phones available through Wing, the vast majority of its inventory is devoted to flagships. On its website, you’ll find the iPhone 11 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S10, and the Google Pixel 4  alongside previous generations of the same brands. If you don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for your new phone, Wing also offers financing options through Affirm.

Boost Mobile

Mike Mozart/Flickr

Boost Mobile is owned by Sprint and offers a range of inexpensive single-line plans. In fact, it has one of the cheapest prepaid data plans on the market.

Boost Mobile’s $35 a month plan includes unlimited talk, text, and 3GB of 4G LTE data. On the other end of the spectrum is its $50 plan, which adds unlimited data to the mix. There’s also a $60 plan that offers unlimited LTE data with 20 GB of mobile tethering and HD streaming.

Boost Mobile also offers a wide variety of family plans that offer similar features and discounts based on the number of activated lines. 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. The pricier $10-per-month International Connect Plus plan includes unlimited calls to Mexico and Canada and reduced-rate calls to more than 200 destinations.

Among Boost Mobile’s drawbacks is its lack of wide smartphone compatibility — we suggest referencing its compatibility checker before making a switch. Boost Mobile stands out for its reasonably-priced unlimited plans and its multi-line discounts. Flexible roaming options are icing on the cake.

Simple Mobile

Simple Mobile

Simple Mobile runs on the T-Mobile 4G LTE network and markets unlimited talk and text plans, including unlimited international text and talk. Simple Mobile’s unlimited plans come in two flavors: Unlimited and Upgrade Unlimited. The Upgrade plans feature a specific number of minutes for international calls, unlimited international text, and 4G LTE for 65 countries. The plan operates on a 30-day cycle with a monthly top-up and if you reach your high-speed data limit, speeds are reduced for the remainder of the cycle. If you bring your own device, it must first be paid off, unlocked, and previously run off a GSM network or you can purchase a phone from a choice of late-model smartphones.

Unlimited plans range from $25, $30, $40, $50, and $60 per month with unlimited calling and texting plus data plans ranging from 3GB data to unlimited 4G LTE data, including 15GB mobile hotspot. This network gives discounts for automatic re-ups, has comprehensive service for international destinations, and wide coverage from T-Mobile’s extensive network.

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