Subscribing to a cellular plan from the Big Three providers—Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T—is akin to owning a high-performance sports car. If you never take it onto a twisty road to unwind it, then what’s the point of saddling yourself with such a high monthly payment? The Big Three have piled on the luxuries over the years: 1080p video streaming, generous hot spot plans, complimentary streaming subscriptions, and sky-high data-throttling caps. Yet if you rarely use them, you can save a fair chunk of coin each month by switching over to one of the smaller, lesser-known cellular providers. Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) charge cheaper prices because they lease wireless capacity from bigger companies rather than maintaining their own infrastructure.
It may not have the money for splashy advertising campaigns, but an MVNO can offer many core features that were once restricted to the big players. Nowadays, it’s reasonable to expect all the best cheap phone plans to include 5G network access with the option to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot. These are our favorites. All prices are given for one line per plan. Typically, the cost per line goes down the more of them you have on your plan, up to a limit.
Don’t see anything useful to you? Read our Best Unlimited Plans, Best Android Phones, Best iPhones, and Best Cheap Phones guides for more recommendations.
Google Fi ($20 per Line + $10 per GB)
Whether you’re a longtime work-from-home employee or a world traveler who only occasionally makes international calls, Google Fi is an easy way to buy small amounts of data and not have to pay for too much. We have a whole guide on how to switch to Google Fi if you’d like all the details.
For the base Flexible tier, you pay $20 for one line plus $10 per gigabyte of data, whether you’re in the US or traveling in one of the 200-plus supported countries. It’s also prorated, so if you don’t use a whole gigabyte, you won’t get charged for a whole gigabyte. I recommend you turn off mobile data in your phone’s menu at home to ensure you’re always using Wi-Fi. There are two Unlimited plans for $60 and $70 (promotional pricing is $50 and $65, respectively), and the top tier includes a year of YouTube Premium, a $120 value. Prices for all plans don’t include taxes and fees, though.
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Google Fi uses the 4G LTE and 5G networks of T-Mobile and US Cellular. It’ll throttle (slow down) your data after you pass a certain monthly threshold: 15 GB for the base tier and 35 and 50 GB for the unlimited plans. Data after 6 GB is free on a one-phone-line plan, so you won’t get a surprise giganto bill if you lose track of your data use. That data threshold increases the more lines you have on your plan. There’s free travel, so you don’t have to pay a daily fee overseas. Instead, calls are a flat 20 cents per minute from outside the US, and there’s free unlimited texting. Data costs don’t change outside the US either.
It works with all kinds of phones, including those from Samsung, OnePlus, Google, and Motorola. Unlocked iPhones work too, though it’s still in beta, and 5G isn’t supported on Apple devices. Fi switches between US Cellular and T-Mobile for the best quality, but this network switching is available only on select phones (iPhones not included). You can check whether your device is fully compatible here.
Google Fi offers a $20 per line + $10 per GB of data plan and unlimited plans for $50 and $65. If you have five or more lines, the standard plan is reduced to $16 per line (plus $10 per GB), and if you have four or more lines, the unlimited plans go down to $20 and $40 per line, respectively
Visible ($30 to $45 per Line)
Visible was our favorite until Mint released its Unlimited plan, but it’s still a great deal if you prefer Verizon’s cellular coverage, which is better in remote or rural areas. Visible claims 99 percent of the population is covered in the US. It’s owned by Verizon and uses that network exclusively (which means it’s not technically an MVNO).
Visible’s base plan costs $30 per month for one line, including taxes and fees. It comes with 5G and 4G LTE coverage, as well as unlimited talk, text, and data. There’s also a higher-tier plan: Visible+. For $45 a month for one line, it adds 5G Ultra Wideband—a faster band of 5G service—unlimited talk, text, and data roaming in Canada and Mexico (for US customers), and international calling and texting from the US to “30+ and 200+ countries,” respectively.
Your 5G data speed is capped at 200 Mbps, which is speedy enough for most tasks. In times of heavy network traffic, Visible will deprioritize its customers sharing the Verizon cellular infrastructure. For the Visible+ plan, this kicks in only after 50 GB of data use. Visible will give you a gift card of up to $200 if you bring your own device, depending on the device, which is $100 lower than the maximum amount offered late last year. You’ll need to pay for the first three months of service and transfer your old number first.
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Videos typically stream at 480p resolution. You get mobile Wi-Fi hot spot data included, which is often missing from base plans among the three major carriers, though it’s limited to 5 Mbps and supports only one tethered device at a time.
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Visible offers a free 15-day trial. You don’t have to enter any credit card information, but bafflingly, the free trial is available only to iPhone users. (Android users have to jump right in.)
Visible’s base plan now costs $30 per month for unlimited talk, text, and data. Wireless taxes and fees are included. Visible has discontinued Party Pay, which let you save money on plans that had more than one line.
Boost Mobile ($15 to $60 per Line)
Owned by Sprint for many years, Boost was bought by Dish Network when T-Mobile gobbled up Sprint. It has five plans, from $15 to $45 a month, each with Wi-Fi hot spot data, 5G network access, and unlimited talk and text. There are lots and lots of catches and stipulations. New customers can get the lowest two tiers for $8 and $15 if they pay for 12 and 3 months of service upfront, respectively, but if you’re already a loyal Boost customer, you’re out of luck. The lowest tier is also limited to 1 GB of data, which isn’t much at all.
All plans include a mobile hotspot, but with the low data allotment on the lowest-tier plans, you’ll use up that 1 or 2 GB of data quickly if you connect it to a laptop to browse the web. You can use the entire data allotment of each limited plan over a hot spot, which gives higher non-unlimited tiers a leg up over similarly priced plans.
The unlimited plans make no financial sense at $40 and $60 per month. If that’s your thing, go to Visible or one of the major carriers. The two cheapest, lower-tier plans are for new Boost customers only, and the cheapest one requires that you bring your own device. Like Mint Mobile, the unlimited plans are limited to 35 GB of high-speed data, after which you get reduced speeds.
The Boost Mobile plan we like costs $35 per month for 10 GB.
Ting ($10 to $55 Per Line)
Ting revamped its data plans not long ago from the most à la carte method imaginable, in which you paid on a sliding scale for every single aspect of a phone plan, to a more typical tiered system like its competition. All plans include 5G and 4G LTE network access, unlimited talk and text, and a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot. The $10 Flex plan comes without any data, and you pay $5 per gigabyte of data you use. If you hardly use data, this is the best plan on the market. You have the core features of fast network access and limitless talk and text without the high price of paying for data you won’t use.
If you exceed your monthly data allowance, Ting drops you down to 2G network speed. That’s brutal. Practically all MVNOs and MVNO-like carriers drop your speed after you exceed your data, even unlimited plans, but 2G is particularly slow. You can pay $5 per extra gigabyte of data to retain 5G and 4G LTE speeds, and any leftovers of this top-off data carry over to the next month.
The Ting plan we like most costs $10 per month, although you also have to pay $5 per gigabyte of data.