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SALT LAKE CITY — We have all heard of the big guys of wireless networks – Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. But they are far from being the only players in town. Many smaller carriers use the same infrastructure as the big three, and for you that means you can get the service you need for much less by switching to one of the other guys.
“They will allow you to keep your network coverage and a similar quality of service in many cases, for a fraction of the cost,” said CNET senior editor Eli Blumenthal about MVNOs, or mobile virtual network operators.
He said MVNOs buy minutes and data from the big three carriers at wholesale prices and then resell them to us at much cheaper rates. Just do not expect as many perks.
“You won’t get a free iPhone, for example, or a free Galaxy,” Blumenthal said. “You won’t have perks in some cases like free Disney+, or free HBO Max, or free Netflix.”
Take Mint Mobile, an MVNO that piggybacks off T-Mobile’s network. It offers an unlimited data, talk and text plan with 5G speeds for $30 a month. A similar plan from T-Mobile goes for $45 for the same coverage. But you can save even more.
“Look at what data you’re using a month, look at how you’re using your devices,” Blumenthal advised.
So, if you can get by with a 4-gigabyte data limit, Mint Mobile can get you the same speeds and coverage for just $15 a month. Or there’s Cricket, an MVNO using AT&T’s network. It bests AT&T’s pricing by $10 on both single line and family plans. And Visible’s unlimited plan on Verizon’s network runs $25 less than Verizon’s least expensive unlimited plan.
But before you jump ship, know that MVNOs do have some drawbacks. Say you are at a huge concert or game, and you are itching to post all about it on social media.
“Your speeds may be a little bit slower, because those on the major networks will have priority,” explained Blumenthal.
A cell phone service is only as good as if it works for you.
–Eli Blumenthal, CNET senior editor
With many MVNO’s, you’ll need to bring your own phone. And customer service will likely be entirely online as most MVNOs do not have a brick-and-mortar store.
“A cell phone service is only as good as if it works for you,” Blumenthal cautioned. “If you’re making a decision that’s not going to fit the way you live your life…the saving of money doesn’t necessarily work because you’re going to have to figure out another way to get what you need.”
Blumenthal pointed out there are all kinds of ways to save money besides swapping carriers. Carriers often give discounts on things like your profession – like if you’re a teacher or a nurse. Or if you’re in the military or a veteran – or even if one person in your family plan is – you can save as much 25% off your phone bill.