Ben Kurland, co-founder of BillFixers, a Nashville-based company that helps its clients negotiate bills with cellular providers, cable companies, Internet providers and other service providers. BillFixers.com
It might be time to make a move to a new mobile-phone service plan. T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint was finalized earlier this year, and the unified company was recently offering some attractive deals. Meanwhile, plenty of people are paying for more cellular service than they need these days—if you’re spending lots of time at home, you’re probably not using the cellular network as much as before, particularly if your cell phone connects to your home Wi-Fi system.
Where to look for savings…
The Little Guys
AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon own the big cellular networks, but they’re not the only cellular-service providers. Third-party companies called “Mobile Virtual Network Operators,” or MVNOs for short, pay for access to one or more of those cellular networks, then sell cell service to the public, often for significantly less than the major players charge. They can afford to charge less because they spend far less on marketing and retail stores.
MVNOs can be as reliable as the major carriers—some actually are owned by the major carriers. However, you’re less likely to get perks such as free access to cable-company streaming packages…international roaming might be limited or unavailable…and you might not have access to high-definition video or the latest, fastest networks. Some MVNO plans do not provide access to the 5G networks currently being rolled out, for example—but depending on where you live and what phone you use, you might not be able to access the still-under-construction 5G network anyway. Also, MVNO customers might see their data speeds drop occasionally if the big carrier prioritizes its own customers over MVNO customers during times of heavy cellular network use, potentially slowing video speeds.
6 Great Cellular Deals
Some of the best cellular deals recently*…
Best for the absolute lowest monthly cost: Boost Mobile $10 plan offers unlimited talk, unlimited text and 1 gigabyte (GB) of high-speed data per month for the lowest price of any cellular plan on the market—$10/month, taxes and fees included. That 1 GB of data isn’t much by modern standards—this plan isn’t appropriate if you stream video or music to your phone—but it should be enough for around 20 hours of monthly Internet browsing. Boost, sold by Sprint as a result of the T-Mobile merger and now owned by the satellite-TV service Dish, continues to provide access via the T-Mobile/Sprint 4G network. This deal is available only in Boost Mobile stores.
Best for low cost and more than 1 GB of data each month: Mint Mobile offers unlimited talk and text plus 3 GB of monthly data for $15 per month…8 GB of data for $20 per month…or 12 GB for $25 per month. Like Boost Mobile, it uses the T-Mobile/Sprint network, but Mint offers access to the 5G network where available. New customers must prepay for three months.
Best if your data usage varies greatly from month to month: Google Fi Flexible. Most cellular plans force customers to estimate how much data they want before a month begins and pick an appropriate plan. Google Fi instead tallies up the amount you use during a month and bills for that. The price is $20 per month per line plus $10 for each gigabyte of data—bills are calculated down to the penny so there’s no need to worry that you’ll cost yourself an extra $10 if you go one byte over a threshold. Talk and text are unlimited. If you use lots of data in a month, Google Fi’s “bill protection” program won’t bill you beyond 6 GB, effectively capping your monthly bill at $80 for a single line. Higher caps apply if there are multiple lines on the account, however, and the caps do not apply to international calls and the cost of the device itself if you buy a phone from Google. Google Fi accesses the T-Mobile/Sprint network as well as the smaller US Cellular network, including 5G networks, switching between the networks as needed.
Best if your calling, texting and data use vary: Ting charges for only the data you actually use, like Google Fi. But while Google Fi provides unlimited talk and text and has a $20/month base fee, Ting’s base fee is just $6 per line per month and does not include calling and texting—Ting charges for those based on the amount of calling and texting you do. Example: You would pay $3 for voice if you talked for one to 100 minutes in a month…or $9 if you talked for 101 to 500 minutes. And you would pay $3 for one to 100 texts…or $5 for 101 to 1,000 texts. Calls and texts count toward your monthly total whether you send or receive them—any text counts, but calls from spammers count only if you pick up or listen to their voicemails. Data starts at $3 for one to 100 MB, while heavy data users pay $10 per GB. Ting can get pricey if you use your phone a lot, but if you use it only occasionally in most months, you could keep your bills below $20. And unlike the plans listed above, Ting offers access to the top-rated Verizon cellular network, in addition to T-Mobile/Sprint—Ting assigns customers to one of these networks based on network coverage in their area and their phones, because not all phones work on all networks.
Best unlimited family plan: T-Mobile Essentials for four lines provides unlimited talk, text and data—including access to T-Mobile/Sprint’s 5G network—for an attractive $26-per-line price. T-Mobile had charged $30 per line for its four-line“Essentials” plan. If you need fewer than four lines, however, T-Mobile’s pricing isn’t as attractive—a single line costs $60/month, and two lines cost $45 apiece, which is nearly as much as you’d pay for four lines through this offer. Couples in and approaching retirement age can get a good deal on two lines, however—T-Mobile also is offering a limited-time “Essentials Unlimited 55” plan that provides customers ages 55 and older two lines for $27.50 apiece, which is $55 total.
Best for unlimited access to the Verizon network: Visible $40/month Unlimited provides unlimited talk, text and data on Verizon’s top-rated 4G network for $40 a month—taxes and fees included. Visible’s deals are even better if your family needs multiple lines—a “PartyPay” program charges $35/line for two lines, $30/line for three or $25/line for four. You could pay twice those amounts for an unlimited plan with Verizon, even though Visible is owned by Verizon. There are differences worth noting between Visible and Verizon, however—Visible doesn’t provide access to Verizon’s 5G network…video streaming on Visible is in standard definition, not high definition…and Visible customer service is available via online chat but not phone. It’s also worth noting that while Verizon’s cellular network rates highly in customer surveys, that doesn’t necessarily mean it offers the best service in your area. Ask neighbors which cellular network they use.
*All prices in this article reflect offers available as of early October, but plans and prices can change with little notice. Listed prices might require auto-pay and paperless billing. Taxes and fees are not included except as noted. Not all phones work on all cellular networks.