There is nothing else like Project Fi in the U.S. Google's alternative carrier is a unique combination of flexible, powerful and intuitive. With one SIM card, it dynamically switches between three carriers in the U.S. and provides effortless worldwide roaming while abroad. With its app, it's easy to top up on data or share the cost of a plan amongst a group of people.

Project Fi: Everything you need to know

But Project Fi isn't perfect, or at least not perfect for everyone. Case in point: It's a lock-in strategy for Google, since recent Nexus and Pixel devices are compatible with the service. It's also relatively expensive, with a flat rate of $10 per gigabyte of data.

So I thought it would be nice to try to find other carriers in the U.S. that offered at least approximations of Project Fi's service while ensuring compatibility with a wider range of phones. To do that, I made a set of criteria for the alternative providers:

  • It must have an intuitive and flexible payment schedule
  • It must have inexpensive talk and text in the U.S.
  • It must ensure data is relatively affordable
  • It must be compatible with most unlocked phones
  • It should have robust roaming capabilities
  • It should have data rollover or credits for unused data
  • It should offer service through more than one U.S. carrier (for redundancy)

As I said at the beginning, there's nothing else like Project Fi in the U.S., but some providers come relatively close to hitting all of the above criteria. Here's what I found.

Ting

To many of its long-time users, alternative carrier Ting is a darling of flexibility and customer service. The main appeal for Project Fi admirers is the flexible, modular plans, which let you pay for exactly how much talk time and texting you need, along with simple, affordable data tiers.

Prices for a single line start at $32 for 100 minutes of talk and text and 2GB of data, but it doesn't cost much more to add features from each category. It's also just $6 per additional line, which is pretty great.

Ting also has access to two networks, Sprint and T-Mobile, though unlike Project Fi you can't dynamically switch between them — your phone may be compatible with both services, but you'll need to choose whether you want GSM or CDMA service, and can switch SIM cards based on your location and coverage.

One thing I constantly hear about Ting, too, is that it offers fantastic customer service and flexibility. And while its roaming rates are not included in the base package like Project Fi, they're relatively inexpensive.

See at Ting

Mint Mobile

Most wireless service providers require you to pay your bill month-to-month, but Mint Mobile takes a different approach by charging you upfront for three, six, or 12 months of service at a time. It's a unique concept and one that requires a bigger check from the get-go, but could result in some big savings over time.

All Mint Mobile plans come with unlimited talk and text, and depending on the one you choose, you've got your choice of 2GB, 5GB, or 10GB of 4G LTE data. If you decide you need additional LTE speeds during a month, you can get an extra 1GB for $10 or 3GB for $20. Oh, and mobile hotspot is included no matter what plan you get.

Mint Mobile is powered by T-Mobile's network, and as such, you can bring over virutally any unlocked GSM phone.

If the service sounds like something you'd be interested in, you can test-drive it for seven days with a money-back guarantee.

See at Mint Mobile

UNREAL Mobile

UNREAL Mobile is the youngest company on our list, having launched in late June. While it's still finding its footing in the market, it's already one of the most interesting Project Fi alternatives around.

There are three plans to choose from at UNREAL Mobile with the only differentiator being the amount of LTE data that comes with each one. The $10/month plan has 1GB, stepping up to $15/month gives you 2GB, and going all out with the $30/month option comes with 5GB.

All three plans have unlimited talk, text, and 2GB data once your LTE allotment is up, and if you don't use all of that LTE during a single month, it rolls over to the next one. All plans also come with a free VPN service, an ad-blocker, and support for using your UNREAL number of all your devices.

There's a small selection of phones you can buy and only CDMA devices are supported if you want to bring your own handset, making this UNREAL's biggest downside right now. However, if you've got a CDMA phone and are looking to change your cell service, this is definitely worth a look.

See at UNREAL Mobile

Cricket Wireless

AT&T's discount brand, Cricket Wireless, doesn't tick every box for Project Fi wannabes, but it comes close on a few. For example, it offers excellent nationwide coverage, since it runs on AT&T's network, and as a result should be compatible with almost every unlocked phone sold in the U.S. today.

It also has simple, inexpensive and flexible plans that offer unlimited U.S. talk, text, and data, plus the ability to roam in Canada and Mexico on two of the higher-tier (but at $50 and $55, still affordable) plans.

There are a few of caveats, though: Cricket limits LTE download speeds to 8Mbps, 4G speeds to 4Mbps, and the $50/month unlimited plan is capped at 3Mbps — all of which is considerably slower than what AT&T's network is capable of. Mobile hotspot is only available on the $50 and $55 plans, and if you want additional data with a non-unlimited plan, you'll pay is $10 per gigabyte (which matches Project Fi).

See at Cricket Wireless

MetroPCS

Finally, MetroPCS is also a fairly good provider, since it now lives on T-Mobile's network but offers services that are considerably cheaper and more flexible. You can get unlimited talk, text and data, plus hotspot support, for $60 per month, while 2GB of data is just half that amount. MetroPCS doesn't offer international data roaming, but call and text adds-ons for Canada and Mexico are just $5 per month.

Because MetroPCS runs on T-Mobile's network, most unlocked phones are going to be compatible with it, which makes it an excellent option for bring-your-own-device enthusiasts.

See at MetroPCS

Honorable mention — Visible

Visible debuted this past May as a new MVNO from Verizon, and while we can't recommend it just yet as it currently only supports iPhones, it's worth keeping an eye on as it expands availability to Android handsets down the road.

For $40/month, Visible gives you unlimited talk, text, and LTE data (capped at 5Mbps) on Verizon's network. Video streaming is limited to 480p, but you can use as much data as you'd like throughout the month.

That's a good enough deal on its own, but Visible goes the extra mile by being about as customer-friendly as cell providers come. After ordering a SIM through its website, wait for it to be delivered, pop it in your phone, and then download and open the Visible app. Through here, you'll handle all of your billing, get in touch with customer service, and more. When you want to pay your bill, Visible accepts credit/debit cards, PayPal, and even Venmo.

Visible: Everything you need to know about Verizon's new phone service

The reality

The reality is that nothing in the U.S. is like Project Fi. Google's carrier experiment may be a little more expensive on a per-gigabyte basis, and more restrictive from a phone choice perspective, but in many ways, and for many people, it's the ideal network provider.

Of course, not everyone has access to a Nexus or Pixel phone, so hopefully these offerings will come in handy when you're searching for your next alternative carrier.

Updated July 2018: Removed Consumer Cellular, added UNREAL Mobile and Mint Mobile. Added Visible as an honorable mention.

Alternative carriers (MVNOS)

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