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How to save on mobile plans: Your guide to 16 no-contract carriers

Rick Broida | April 25, 2014
The mobile-phone industry is in a state of flux. Where once you had little choice but to buy a subsidized phone from a major carrier and pay two years' worth of whatever monthly fees it chose to levy, now you have options aplenty.

Interested in seeing what the little guys have to offer? What follows is a descriptive list of 16 MVNOs that may offer you a better deal.

Boost Mobile

Piggybacks on: Sprint

Starts at: $55/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts/data

BYOD: Limited

In business since: 2000

Boost is one of the oldest and largest no-contract carriers, a Sprint-owned service renowned for its "shrinking" service plans: You start out paying $55 per month, then your rate drops $5 every six months. Once you hit the 18-month mark, the plan "bottoms out" at $40 — a pretty solid deal for 4G service, but too bad it takes 1.5 years to get there.

With the exception of the iPhone 5s and phablet-sized Boost Max — arguably its flagship models — Boost sells mostly mid-range phones. Although you can bring your own device, the service currently supports only a smattering of Sprint phones, all of them old and/or low-end models. Given that other Sprint-owned MVNOs (notably Virgin Mobile) offer a broader and better selection of phones and lower monthly rates out of the gate, Boost seems like it could use one.

Consumer Cellular

Piggybacks on: AT&T

Starts at: $12.50/month for 0 voice minutes/100 texts/10MB data

BYOD: Yes

In business since: 1995

Popular with the AARP crowd, Consumer Cellular takes a decidedly senior-friendly approach to phones and service plans. Phone choices are limited (but include desirable models like the iPhone 5s and Motorola Moto G), and plan options are available to suit nearly any budget. The company also offers free SIM cards (in all sizes) for use with any AT&T-compatible unlocked phone.

Consumer Cellular's voice plans start at $10 monthly (a keep-your-service-active charge that includes no voice minutes); since data options start at $2.50, the minimum price for a data-only plan is $12 monthly. And although there's no mention of data speeds anywhere on the company's site, a rep confirmed that 4G-capable phones will get 4G service.

Consequently, this could be an attractive option for users who spend most of their time connected to Wi-Fi, or simply don't make a lot of calls.

Cricket

Piggybacks on: AT&T

Starts at: $50/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 2.5GB data

BYOD: No

In business since: 1999

One of the older players in the low-cost carrier game, Cricket Wireless is in the final stages of merging with one of the newest: Aio Wireless. That will help keep Cricket competitive in at least one area: BYOD, which Aio offers but Cricket currently does not. Hopefully, Aio will also bring its broader selection of phones to Cricket's anemic mix, which consists of a smattering of Android and low-end (non-smart) phone models. Plus, Cricket's plans start at $50 monthly, while Aio has a $35 cost-of-entry plan. Sounds like just the right infusion of new blood this older carrier needs.

 

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