There’s never been a better time to be a wireless customer. In addition to fierce competition pushing down the cost of unlimited data in the United States, there are now a multitude of alternative prepaid carriers offering service for hundreds less than the likes of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.
It’s not just about cheaper rates, either — new business models are taking over. Ting and Google’s Project Fi, for example, allow you to pay only for the data you use. Meanwhile, another up-and-comer in the space, Mint SIM, has taken a totally unique approach.
Mint, which launched as a subsidiary of Ultra Mobile in August of last year and operates on T-Mobile’s coverage map, allows customers to buy multiple months of service at one time. By doing this, it’s able to provide rates that are far less than the competition, so long as you’re willing to pay upfront. On Tuesday, the company unveiled a new pricing structure and a partnership with retailer Best Buy to offer its service as an option alongside unlocked devices.
Plans are packaged in three-, six-, or 12-month options. Under the deal for new customers, prices start at $15 per month for unlimited talk, text, and 2GB of data, totaling $45 over three months. The midlevel 5GB plan is $20 per month, and the largest one offers 10GB for $25 per month. With the three month offers recently being slashed, there’s currently no incentive to go for the six- or 12-month options, which bear the same or higher monthly costs.
Many customers of these kinds of prepaid carriers — also termed mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs — like to try different networks, or perhaps have multiple phones and SIM cards and need to switch between competing services. The multimonth commitment to Mint might be initially prohibitive to testing the service, but fortunately the company has just introduced a seven-day money-back guarantee, giving prospective new customers a reasonable amount of time to try, with the opportunity to cancel if it doesn’t work for them.
Mint’s partnership with Best Buy provides another way to get started with the carrier. Beginning Tuesday, all the company’s plans will be available on Best Buy’s site, and shoppers purchasing an unlocked phone will have the opportunity to bundle it with Mint service from the get-go and receive $20 off their first payment.
Even though it won’t necessarily be the perfect solution for all customers, there’s certainly value in the wholesale pricing experiment. According to Aron North, Mint’s senior vice president of marketing and creative, the company is able to guarantee the low monthly rate simply by asking customers to handle just a bit of the prep work.
“When you go to retail, and you’ve got staff there and brick and mortar, what you’re paying for is them to do the SIM insertion for you, and very little beyond that,” North told Digital Trends. “When you think about the infrastructure needed to give people that level of comfort, and when you build a business like ours from the ground up, removing all of that overhead, that’s how we’re able to offer such an amazing price.”
Indeed, the process isn’t complicated. Mint’s service arrives via a package so small, it can only be described as a pack of gum. It contains the SIM and a tiny booklet that provides all the information you need to get started. We navigated to the activation website, set up the account, popped the card into our to our iPhone 7, and were up and running immediately.
Service was solid, though the T-Mobile network is bound to offer different coverage depending on where you live. Additionally, LTE speeds were occasionally fast, but inconsistent. Limited data speeds are often the caveat for most MVNOs, and unfortunately the same was true of Mint in our testing.
While some Mint customers have reported the maximum throughput of T-Mobile’s infrastructure — which averages nearly 17Mbps, according to current data from OpenSignal — we managed between 5 and 10Mbps over the course of a weekend, and even dipped slightly below that in a few cases.
It’s likely the slow data was the result of congestion, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Mint’s traffic was getting deprioritized behind T-Mobile’s postpaid users. Still, it’s comforting to know the company will allow you to achieve those really fast speeds if the network allows it. Customers of Cricket Wireless, AT&T’s fully-owned prepaid subsidiary, are restricted to a maximum of 8Mbps via LTE, no matter the conditions.
Surely the concept of a prepaid multimonth commitment will seem foreign to some, and Mint’s coverage and speed won’t be a winning combination for all users. The savings are significant, though, and the company’s new pricing structure and weeklong trial period make it well worthy of consideration if you’re hunting for the best deals in wireless.