It's true: You may feel like you're paying just as much now as you ever did. But assuming you buy the phone outright, you'll at least have the option of switching carriers without penalty. Which brings us back to the MVNOs, many of which offer cheaper monthly plans -- especially for individuals. Even so, all four of the major carriers have lowered their prices in the past year while increasing their data allotments -- and that's definitely good news.
Piggybacks on: Multiple
Starts at: $31.50 per month (with auto-pay) for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 500MB data
In business since: 1996
A subsidiary of pay-as-you-go giant TracFone Wireless, Net10 sells mostly midrange and low-end phones, with some models actually offered free when you sign up for no-contract service. But the bigger appeal is for owners of post-contract phones from the Big Four: Net10 supports both GSM and CDMA handsets, meaning it's not just AT&T and T-Mobile expats who can get in on the action, but also the Sprint and Verizon crowds. At press time, the company was offering SIM cards and activation kits (the latter for CDMA phones) for just 99 cents.
The carrier's low-end plan isn't great, but there's a $50 per month option ($45 with auto-pay) that gives you 5GB of 4G data. There's also a separate set of plans based on a point system, one that awards you $300 toward a phone upgrade after 18 months as a subscriber.
Piggybacks on: Verizon Wireless
Starts at: $12 per month for 250 voice minutes, 250 texts, 10MB data
In business since: 1993
Owners of post-contract Verizon handsets have few third-party options. Technically, Page Plus Cellular isn't one of them, even though the carrier taps Verizon's renowned CDMA network. That's good news if you want Verizon's network for less than Verizon charges, but bad news if you want to BYOD. According to the Page Plus FAQ page: "While some phones not purchased directly from Page Plus or one of its dealers may work on the Page Plus network, we do not support them and their functionality may be limited."
However, if you're in the market for a new phone anyway, Page Plus does sell a wide range of compatible models, including inexpensive, entry-level phones and higher-end models like the iPhone 6S and Motorola Nexus 6. Unfortunately, while there is a bare-bones service plan for just $12 per month, the carrier's other plans more or less match Verizon's -- meaning there's not much incentive to make a change.
Piggybacks on: Sprint
Starts at: $25 per month for unlimited voice minutes/text, 1GB data
In business since: 2011
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