Best Wireless Carriers for Students Android Central 2021
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, 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. Visible is the best wireless carrier for students thanks to its unlimited data, mobile hotspot, and Party Pay features.
- Best Overall: Visible
- Best Value: T-Mobile Connect
- Best for International Students: Google Fi
- Best Yearly Plan: Mint Mobile
- Best Flexible Plan: US Mobile
- Best for Data Hogs: Boost Mobile Shrink-It!
- Best Unlimited Plan: T-Mobile Essentials
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. Not only that, but you can also bring your price down to as low as $25 per month when you join a Party Pay group of four.
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 an unlocked Google Pixel or iPhone. You can also buy or finance a phone from its 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 5 Mbps, Visible is probably worth keeping for quite a while.
- Unlimited everything
- No contract
- No surprise fees
- 5 Mbps hotspot
- No international service
- Fewer supported phones
Best Value: T-Mobile Connect
If you're living on campus then you likely have free Wi-Fi available to you at pretty much any time. It's also possible that you don't use a lot data on your phone and just want something simple. T-Mobile Connect is one of the best fits for someone without a lot of need for LTE data. Starting at $15 per month for a 2GB plan and moving up to $25 per month for 5GB, many people will be comfortable with one of these plans.
One of the interesting aspects concerning T-Mobile Connect is that it was designed to grow with you, with 500MB being added to your data allotment every year after the launch of the plan. You also get T-Mobile's Scam Shield included, which aims to reduce the number of scam calls you get through intelligent caller ID and scam blocking features.
T-Mobile Connect will work with phones that are compatible with the T-Mobile network. That means that most unlocked phones will work. This plan can be a great way to save money if you can get around using too much LTE data.
- Fast T-Mobile network
- Unlimited talk and text
- Data increases over time
- Great phone compatibility
- Very inexpensive
- Not for those who use a lot of LTE data
Best for 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 approved phones
- Can get expensive
- Data is slow after 15GB
Best Yearly Plan: Mint Mobile
When I was in college 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 data option
Best Flexible Plan: US Mobile
US Mobile doesn't have traditional plans, but instead allows you to put together your own plan with only the service you need. US Mobile also has an unlimited option for $40 per month with a 5 Mbps speed cap. You can upgrade the unlimited plan's speed for an additional $5 per month and for $5 more per month you can add 10GB of hotspot data. For many students, this can be a great way to save if they take advantage of Wi-Fi as much as possible.
Running on either the Verizon LTE network or T-Mobile, US Mobile will work with nearly any unlocked phone. It also means that you can make sure you have coverage with two of the best mobile networks available. US Mobile does sell a couple of Android phones as well as iPhones but your best bet is to go with an affordable unlocked phone. There's also a good chance a phone you already have can work with US Mobile.
- Build a custom plan
- Autopilot AI helps you build the perfect plan
- Free international roaming with unlimited plans
- Works on either the Verizon or T-Mobile network
- Unlimited plan doesn't come with hotspot by default
- High-speed data is extra on the unlimited plan
- Doesn't sell a lot of phones
Best for Data Hogs: Boost Mobile Shrink-It!
DISH Wireless took over Boost Mobile in early 2020 when T-Mobile bought Sprint. To mark the occasion, Boost Mobile reintroduced one of its classic plans with an updated Shrink-It! Plan, which comes with 15GB of data and a price that comes down up to $10 per month with on-time consecutive payments. Starting at $45 per month, with three one-time payments, the price eventually comes down to $35 per month.
This plan only works with Boost Mobile's new Expanded Network, which is based on the new T-Mobile network. In time, DISH plans to build its own 5G network but for now, assume you'll be on T-Mobile. Keep in mind that this network will not work with older Boost Mobile phones and if you want to sign up you'll need to get a T-Mobile compatible phone. You could also just buy one from Boost Mobile.
This is a great plan for someone that needs a lot of data but doesn't need to step all the way up to unlimited.
- Expanded Network powered by new T-Mobile network
- You bill gets cheaper with on-time payments
- Plenty of data
- Works with most unlocked phones
- Not compatible with older Boost Mobile phones
- The plan goes back to full price with a missed payment
Best Unlimited Plan: T-Mobile Essentials
T-Mobile Essentials is an unlimited postpaid plan with access to T-Mobile's full network including 5G and roaming. This plan comes with unlimited talk and text as well as high-speed data though if the network is congested, speeds will be slowed down for you first before the more expensive plans. In most situations, this won't be a big deal but if you're in a dense area with a lot of people trying to connect to your tower it could be an issue.
This plan also comes with an unlimited 3G hotspot. These speeds will end up being around 3Mbps in the real world but for submitting a homework assignment in a pinch or making sure you get your email on time, it can be a lifesaver.
You can also use pretty much any unlocked phone on T-Mobile, including many 5G phones. 5G is included at no extra cost. Another nice feature is the ability to easily add connected tablets or wearables to your plan for a reasonable price. This can be great for an athlete that needs to track runs or someone that likes to get away to get some work done.
- Fast T-Mobile network
- Unlimited talk, text, and high-speed data
- 5G included (if your phone supports it)
- Unlimited 3G speed hotspot
- Easily add wearable or tablet data
- Streaming limited to SD
- Speeds slowed in congestion
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. You can also save some money by going with a cheap but good Android phone.
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 and carriers, 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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