We are currently part of a so called “family plan” offered by AT&T with a total of 5 lines. Lady Cash Cow gets a big work discount that reduces the cost of the plan, but if her family wasn’t already committed in the contract, we would look elsewhere.
The cost of cell phone plans (namely the big brand 2 year contract plans) can be staggering. I’ve recently discussed my cell phone plan findings with a few friends and almost fell out of my chair when I heard what they were paying.
The good news is that the market has recently opened up. You no longer have to sign on for 2 years of wallet devastation through the major providers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint). You can simply pay for what you use, no contract required. Meet the MVNO.
A Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) is a company that offers cell phone services by reselling the mobile services of another carrier, often with certain limitations, at a lower cost. In the U.S., there are MVNOs that resell AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon services at a lower cost than you can obtain service directly from any of them. There are usually very few differences between the services provided by an MVNO and the services provided by the major carriers. What we’ve found is that the MVNO providers often carry the cheapest cell phone plans.
As you probably know, AT&T and T-Mobile (GSM providers) utilize a sim card. All MVNO providers which use their services will also use a sim card. This makes switching plans really easy.
The cheapest way to enter a new prepaid service that uses AT&T or T-Mobile towers is to simply buy the correct sim card and put it into your existing phone that you own.
If you need a phone, you can get good unlocked phones on Amazon or Craigslist.
- Example: You decide to switch from AT&T to AirVoice Wireless (see below). You buy an AirVoice sim card on Amazon and put it into your existing AT&T phone. It works perfectly because AirVoice uses AT&T towers.
Sprint or Verizon (CDMA providers) MVNOs require an old phone that is in good standing from past contracts or a new phone purchase, as they don’t have sim cards.
Cheapest Cell Phone Plans:
Republic Wireless: (Update: This is the plan my parents are using. Read my detailed Republic Wireless review for more info) A relatively new idea, the provider leverages the power of Wifi to cut costs for users. They offer an integrated VoIP and cellular service for a discounted price. The have recently redone the the WiFi and cellular integration, which has greatly enhanced the service. Voice and text is through Sprint, but free roaming is allowed on Verizon.
- Cost: Plans range from $5-$35 per month. The $10/month plan includes unlimited talk and text with Wifi for data. Or $25/month for unlimited talk, text, and data. No contracts required.
- Phones: Republic Wireless requires you to purchase one of their phones upfront, ranging from $99 to $399.00. all of the offerings are quality phones at a reasonable price.
Cricket Wireless: Runs on the AT&T network and uses AT&T phones, but recently redesigned their plan options. They offer the best family plan on the market right now because each additional line is discounted. Plan options are as follows:
- Unlimited Talk and Text: $25/month for unlimited talk and text. (Note this is $15/month more expensive than Republic Wireless for the same service)
- Unlimited Basic: $35/month with autopay discount for 1 line OR $20 per line with 5 lines
- First 2.5GB of data at 4G LTE speed, after which download speed is throttled to 128kbps
- Unlimited Smart: $45/month per line with autopay discount OR $25 per line with 5 lines->
- First 5GB at 4G LTE speed, after which download speed is throttled to 128kbps
- Unlimited Pro: $55/month per line with autopay discount OR $35 per line with 5 lines->
- First 10GB at 4G LTE speed, after which download speed is throttled to 128kbps
Airvoice Wireless : Probably the cheapest AT&T cell phone plan for basic voice/text service. No roaming allowed.
- Cost: 4¢ a minute, 2¢ a text, and 33¢ MB data with 30 day refills. OR $30.00 unlimited talk and text plan.
- Phones: Airvoice offers a SIM card that will work in any unlocked GSM phone or any AT&T phone.
PlatinumTel: Reputable company and probably the cheapest T-Mobile provider for basic talk/text. No roaming allowed.
- Cost: 2¢ a text, 5¢ a minute, 10¢ per MB of data. $10 lasts for 60 days of service (or until you use the money).
- Phones: A good selection is available through PlatinumTel or SIM cards are available to use in any unlocked GSM phone or T-Mobile phone.
PagePlus: Not the best overall option, although one of the only available through Verizon.
- Cost: $12/month for 250 minutes, 250 text messages and 10MB of data. Other higher priced plans aren’t great.
- Phones: You can bring in a few clean Verizon phones, or buy from their site.
Breaking down the Savings
Someone transitioning from a $80 per month AT&T plan to a $10/month Republic Wireless Plan saves roughly $70 per month. Compounded over 10 years at 7%, that individual would save $12,390!
I’m certain that our readers have valuable input on the subject. Did I miss any cheap cellular providers? What are the cheapest cell phone plans?