Best Wireless Carriers for Students on a Tight Budget Android Central 2020
College students have a lot of things to pay for from books to party supplies. Whether you need a lot of data or can get by on Wi-Fi, for the most part, there is a plan that fits your needs. If you haven't been keeping an eye on phone carriers, you may have some room to save some money or get a better service for less with these carriers.
- Best Overall: Visible
- For Wi-Fi warriors: Metro by T-Mobile
- International students: Google Fi
- Buy the whole year: Mint Mobile
- Best Discounts: AT&T Wireless
- Already have Xfinity: Xfinity Mobile
Best Overall: Visible
One of the most important things for a student is a constant and reliable data connection. Visible is one of the simplest solutions with a truly unlimited connection. Nearly every carrier has an unlimited option, but with Visible, there's no credit check, and the monthly price stays constant. So, you'll know exactly how much to set aside each month.
Visible uses Verizon's LTE network so you can be confident you'll have one of the biggest networks available. Still, check to make sure you have coverage before hopping in. Even if it doesn't work out, with no contract, you're free to try another network if you need to.
Visible allows you to bring your own device such as the unlocked Pixel 3a or buy or finance one on their website. It's worth noting that an unlocked phone can be brought with you to another carrier if you want to switch in the future, although the upfront cost is higher. But with an included unlimited hotspot at 5Mbps, Visible is probably worth keeping for quite a while.
- Unlimited everything
- No contract
- No surprise fees
- 5Mbps hotspot
- No international service
- Less supported phones
Unlimited Verizon for less
Unlimited LTE from Visible can be the perfect companion for a student with streaming to get done. Hotspot support can keep you studying from anywhere.
For Wi-Fi warriors: Metro by T-Mobile
If you can live most of your life with Wi-Fi access, Metro by T-Mobile may be one of the best value plans available with a low starting price of $30 per month with 2GB of LTE data, which is slowed after with no overage fees. You also get unlimited talk and text. Larger data packages are available if you find yourself away from Wi-Fi a lot of the time.
With data management and diligent use of Wi-Fi, Metro by T-Mobile can be a fantastic value, and T-Mobile's growing and improving LTE network will provide a solid and fast experience. As always, check your coverage before signing up. A great plan means nothing without service.
Thankfully, unlocked GSM phones will be compatible with this carrier. So, if you are coming from outside the US or are bringing your phone from your old plan, it's likely to work.
- Fast T-Mobile network
- Unlimited talk, text, slowed data
- Large data packages available
- Great phone compatibility
- Hotspot is extra
- Smaller LTE network
For Wi-Fi warriors
Make the most of free Wi-Fi
Take advantage of the growing T-Mobile LTE network with inexpensive plans from Metro by T-Mobile. You can forget about contracts and try it with no risk.
International students: Google Fi
Google Fi starts cheap but can get expensive depending on how much data you use. If you keep your data usage low, the price is fairly competitive. Where Fi really becomes a good value is when you travel. Google Fi supports roaming data for the same price as the U.S. in more than 200 countries. If you need to travel to another country to go home or to school, Fi might be one of your best options.
Google Fi can dynamically switch between Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular in the U.S. to give you a competitively sized and fast LTE network. On a global scale, no other carrier can match Google Fi for coverage. Even with the great coverage, if you take advantage of Wi-Fi for data, Google Fi can end up being cheap enough for most students to use without worry. Just keep an eye on data usage.
You can use pretty much any unlocked GSM phone with Google Fi but to get the network switching feature, you'll need a compatible phone. You can either buy one from Google Fi or check your device for compatibility.
- Three networks in one
- Same price for international roaming data
- Works with most phones
- Free data-only SIM
- Network switching only on some phones
- Can get expensive
- Data is slow after 15GB
No matter where you go
Google Fi is a fan favorite with great international coverage and fast LTE speeds. It works with most phones and data is free after 6GB.
Buy the whole year: Mint Mobile
When I was in college, for whatever reason, I found that I had far more money at the beginning of the year than at the end. If you have a similar financial situation, it may be worth it to you to buy all of your phone service for the year and not worry about it while class is in session. Mint Mobile allows you to buy up to 12 months of service at once and you can even save money when you do. You can also buy three or six months of service at a time, but three months is the minimum.
With coverage on T-Mobile's LTE network, you will likely have plenty of coverage with Mint Mobile as well as plenty of speed with your LTE data. While Mint Mobile doesn't offer an unlimited option, data is free, though slowed after your data allowance, and more high-speed data can easily be added.
Mint Mobile also allows your data to be used on hotspot with no speed penalties. This can be a lifesaver if you need to get an assignment done while traveling. With plans starting at 3GB and moving up to 8GB and 12GB with larger plans, most people can find a Mint Mobile plan that works for them.
- Save in bulk
- Unlimited talk and text
- Hotspot included
- Must buy three months
- No unlimited option
Buy the whole year
Save when you buy in bulk
With the T-Mobile network behind the scenes, Mint Mobile is a great option for someone that can buy in bulk. Unlimited talk and text make it a great value.
Best Discounts: AT&T Wireless
On its own, AT&T is not a budget carrier. However, if you're entering or have attended college, there's a decent chance that there is a discount offered through your school. You'll need to confirm that your school is on the list to know exactly.
While AT&T's starter plan only comes with 3GB of data, it should be possible to make use of a fast and secure Wi-Fi connection on campus. Utilizing data saving features such as downloading videos and music for offline play can make the lower amount of data a much smaller issue.
Since AT&T is a GSM-based network, if you're an international student traveling to the U.S. for school, you could drop in an AT&T SIM with your current phone and very likely get coverage. The same is true for T-Mobile based carriers. As always, check your coverage before signing on the dotted line and remember that an unlocked phone will allow you to switch carriers more easily if you find the need.
- AT&T LTE network
- Works with GSM unlocked phones
- Fairly expensive
- Only starts at 3GB
Check for discounts
A strong LTE network with the possibility of additional discounts makes AT&T a serious contender for students looking to get the most out of their phone.
Already have Xfinity: Xfinity Mobile
Sometimes having fewer bills can be worth combining services under one company. It's even better if you can save money this way. Xfinity Mobile offers Xfinity home internet customers the option to get LTE data on their phones from Verizon as well as the vast number of available "xfinitywifi" hotspots.
As always, it's important to make sure you have coverage before signing up for service. You will also get access to hotspots created by Xfinity home internet routers which can be a nice bonus but unpredictable. Unlimited talk and text help round things out and keep the value high.
While this plan can be used without a home connection for an additional $20 per month, the real value comes if you already have Xfinity service at home. Data comes in 1GB, 3GB, and 10GB packages starting at $12 per month as well as an unlimited plan at $45 per month.
- Savings for Xfinity customers
- Plenty of data options
- Unlimited talk and text
- Access to a ton of Wi-Fi networks
- Only for Xfinity customers
- Data slowed at 20GB
Already have Xfinity
If you already have Xfinity for home internet
Add Xfinity Mobile to your Xfinity plan to save more on mobile. With data starting from 1GB up to unlimited, you can get Verizon network for a great price.
There are more options than ever for great values on mobile. It's always a great idea to check each college for discounts on services like this since some schools form partnerships with specific carriers. With special discounts, it can be possible to save even more money.
Most colleges also build a fairly robust Wi-Fi system for students covering local public areas and sometimes even buses. Making good use of Wi-Fi can be a great way to save money and even improve connection speeds. If you are looking to use a lot of public Wi-Fi, consider using a VPN service to protect your privacy.
In the end, Visible provides a great solution for anyone that needs a lot out of their phone service. An unlimited, though slowed, LTE hotspot is a great help to keep connected to your online storage and can be worth a lot of friendship points during group projects. All of this easily makes Visible one of the best carriers for students.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Samuel Contreras When Samuel is not writing about networking at Windows Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.
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