One thing is certain: With so many competitors in the phone-carrier biz (including a number of smaller and/or regional companies we didn't cover), you have options for just about every budget and preference. The 17 MVNOs below represent a great cross-section of both new and established carriers; we chose them as representative of the industry as a whole.
Piggybacks on: Sprint
Starts at: $30 per month (with auto-pay) for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 2GB data
In business since: 2000
Boost is one of the oldest and largest no-contract carriers, a Sprint-owned service that offers "growing" data plans: You start out paying as little as $35 per month (or $30 with auto-pay) for 2GB, and get an extra 500MB after three on-time monthly payments (capped at an extra 3GB). Or you can just opt for $60 per month for unlimited data.
Boost sells a wide variety of phones, from low-end Android handsets to the iPhone 6S Plus. In the past, you had limited options for bringing your own device, but the carrier now supports a sizable list of Sprint phones. There's also a referral program, some added perks for deployed members of the military and unlimited music streaming (meaning it doesn't count against your data allotment) from services like iHeartRadio, Pandora and Slacker Radio.
Piggybacks on: AT&T
Starts at: $12.50 per month for 0 voice minutes, 300 texts, 30MB data
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 6S 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 (which includes only pay-as-you-go voice minutes), while data options start at just $2.50 (for 300 texts and 30MB of data). In the interest of keeping things simple for seniors, there's no mention of techie specs like data speeds -- though 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 who simply don't make a lot of calls.
Piggybacks on: AT&T
Starts at: $35 per month (with auto-pay) for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 2.5GB data
In business since: 1999
Following its merger with Aio Wireless back in 2014, Cricket Wireless quickly established itself as a major MVNO player. The carrier offers competitive pricing for individuals, with $5 per month discounts when you set up auto-pay, and an even better deal for groups: five lines for $100 monthly. That's for the Basic plan, which includes 2.5GB of LTE data per line. If you bump up to the Smart plan, either individually or as a group, Cricket throws in unlimited international texting; unlimited talk and texting to and from the U.S., Canada and Mexico; and no-extra-charge data in Canada and Mexico. However, a mobile hotspot adds $10 per month, and for the moment the feature is limited to about a dozen phone models.
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