Best MVNO Carrier Android Central 2020
An MVNO carrier provides cell service by using another carrier's network. This setup can lead to a wider range of plans and can keep you out of a contract if you don't want to be tied to any one carrier. It can also be a good way to try out a new network without spending too much money or time moving numbers over. Metro by T-Mobile is the best overall MVNO offering great data options and plenty of ways to save money with multiple lines.
- Best Overall: Metro by T-Mobile
- Best Single Line: Mint Mobile
- Best for Travel: Google Fi
- Best Unlimited: Visible
- Roaming in Mexico: Boost Mobile
- Best for Light Use: US Mobile
Best Overall: Metro by T-Mobile
Metro by T-Mobile is owned by T-Mobile and uses the T-Mobile LTE network. Years ago, this would have been a reason to pass on the carrier but in recent times, T-Mobile's network has become one of the strongest networks in populated areas. The network has continued to gain ground in rural areas as well thanks to its 600Mhz spectrum for LTE and 5G. Even with all of the improvements, you should check the coverage map to be sure you're covered. 5G support is here on all plans if you have a phone that supports it.
As far as plans go, Metro by T-Mobile starts as low as $30 per month for 2GB of LTE data, although a smartphone user will be better off with a 10GB plan coming in at $40 per month for one line. This plan doesn't consume your data allowance with music streaming, which can save data for big streamers.
You can also save money per line by adding more lines to your account. On the 10GB plan, additional lines are $10 less and the two unlimited plans are $20 and $30 less per additional line, respectively.
While you can't buy compatible phones online, you can bring almost any compatible and unlocked phone that works on the T-Mobile network, which is most of them. If you're looking for a new phone, you can grab one at a Metro by T-Mobile store.
- Works with most phones
- Fast T-Mobile network
- Multi-line savings
- 5G on compatible phones
- Coverage not great for everyone
- Not all phones available online
Save with more lines
Metro by T-Mobile is one of the best options for a family with savings for more lines. Add in a fast LTE network and modern phones for a great value.
Best Single Line: Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile is a unique MVNO in that the minimum amount of service you can buy is three months. You can get up to a year as well and this will get you the best savings, with the cost per month down to $25 per month with 12GB of data and down to $15 per month with 3GB. There's also a promotion going on right now that brings the price on all plans down to $15 per month for a three month period. That's cool.
Mint Mobile has many of the same network strengths and weaknesses as other T-Mobile based MVNOs, but you should check Mint's coverage map to be sure. If you have coverage, you can expect solid LTE speeds and some are even reporting 5G service on compatible phones. If you run out of data or find you need more, you can either buy more at $10 per 1GB or upgrade to a larger plan mid-cycle.
You can bring your own T-Mobile compatible device to Mint Mobile, just be sure to check the IMEI. After that, you just have to order a SIM card and activate it on your account. If you want to buy a new phone, you can. Mint Mobile sells a wide range of phones from high-end to budget devices.
- Save in bulk
- Fast T-Mobile network
- Can purchase phones through Mint Mobile
- Easy to activate
- No unlimited
- Must buy in bulk
Best Single Line
Buy more to save
Mint Mobile offers a minimum of three months with up to 12GB of data. Save money when you buy more months and forget about monthly payments.
Best for Travel: Google Fi
Most MVNO carriers are positioned as a lower-cost alternative without offering much over the base carrier. Google Fi uses the best connection available from Sprint, T-Mobile, or U.S. Cellular in the U.S. While fewer phones support this full network, if you have a compatible device you should have great service.
Most unlocked phones still work but they will be stuck on T-Mobile only however that does include 5G support. Luckily, you can buy a phone that you know will work with the entire network.
Google Fi has two plans, including one with unlimited data and one where you only pay for what you use. Even if you're not on the unlimited plan, you'll only ever pay for 6GB of data and won't have your data speeds slowed until after 15GB. You can add more high-speed data at that time for $10 per month.
The biggest feature that sets Fi apart is the international service. If you're traveling in any of the 200+ supported countries your data will cost the same as it does at home. You will also get unlimited texts but will need to pay $0.20 per minute for calls.
- Uses three networks
- International data
- Multi-line discounts
- Unlimited available.
- 5G on come phones
- Can be expensive
- Not all phones 100% compatible
Best for Travel
Travel the world
If you leave the country a lot and want to stay connected, there are few options that will work as well as Google Fi. Multi-line discounts keep the cost down.
Best Unlimited: Visible
Visible keeps things simple with a single unlimited plan and a large all-digital LTE network. Leveraging the power of Verizon's LTE network, Visible provides great coverage while letting its users forget about how much data they're using. While Visible customers don't get the entire Verizon network, since they don't have access to 3G or analog service, they do get the vast majority of it. Just check your coverage to be sure.
You can save some money with Visible's Party Pay that brings the cost per line down with up to four lines added. At two lines, the cost is $35 per line and three and four lines coming in at $30 and $25. Each line is responsible for its own bill so you can add people to your party without stressing about collecting payment.
Keep in mind, Visible offers no roaming of any kind so if you intend to travel to an area out of the coverage map or out of the country, you'll have no service.
Android phone support is lacking compared to many other MVNOs but the growing list of compatible phones now includes heavy hitters like the Galaxy S20 series and Pixel 4 series. Pretty much every iPhone after the iPhone 6 is supported. You can also simply buy a phone from Visible to be sure it works.
- Unlimited data
- Unlimited hotspot (5Mbps)
- Verizon LTE network
- Can buy phones through Visible
- Save with Party Pay
- No roaming
- Limited phone selection
Unlimited in the U.S.
You can get unlimited data on Verizon's LTE network for a great price. You also get unlimited hotspot data at 5Mbps to share with your other devices.
Roaming in Mexico: Boost Mobile
There are a lot of people that need to spend time in Mexico or just want to be able to call and text family and friends there. Boost Mobile has one of the best options for this — the Todo Mexico Plus add-on for $5 per month, which allows for 8GB of data roaming per month in Mexico with free calling to and from Mexico. You also get unlimited international texts and free calls to Canada with this add-on.
Boost Mobile's plans without international service are still quite competitive, starting with 2GB and 3GB plans for $30 and $35 per month respectively, and moving up to an unlimited plan at $50 per month. There is also a $60 Unlimited Plus plan that includes HD video streaming and 5G support. You can save by having more lines, thanks to a current promotion offering unlimited service to four lines for $120 per month. Boost Mobile focuses on giving its customers plenty of data.
One major drawback for Boost Mobile is the Sprint network. While most Sprint customers will have good coverage thanks to LTE roaming agreements, Boost customers won't have this. Be sure to check the map before signing up. You can bring your own phone as well as buy a new one from Boost Mobile. These phones are more mid-range so if you want something high-end, you'll need to bring it.
- Lots of data
- Affordable plan for Mexico, Canada users
- Unlimited music streaming
- Hotspot on all plans
- Less coverage on Sprint
- Few high-end phones available to buy
Roaming in Mexico
Tons of data on Sprint LTE
Boost Mobile stays focused on delivering a lot of data for a low price. There are great options for international service, making it a strong carrier for travelers.
Best for Light Use: US Mobile
US Mobile lets you start with plans as small as 75 minutes and move up all the way to unlimited talk, text, and data. US Mobile can be a great fit for an emergency phone or a backup phone. It also means that if you don't need a ton of minutes or texts but want 8GB of data, you can build that plan.
One of the most compelling plans is the unlimited plan at $40 per month. It's worth keeping in mind that data speeds are limited to 5Mbps and there is no hotspot data included. You can remove the speed cap for $5 more and add in 10GB. At $50, this plan isn't anything special but if you're building into a family plan, you can offset the extra cost with plans that don't need huge amounts of data.
US Mobile will use either Verizon's or T-Mobile's LTE networks depending on your phone's compatibility. US Mobile will help you pick the best network depending on your location or device. Both networks should provide good service to the majority of Americans.
- Create your own plan
- Verizon or T-Mobile networks
- Unlimited available
- Great phone compatibility
- Very limited phone selection on site
- Unlimited plan high-speed data is extra
Best for Light Use
Customize your plan
Whether you need unlimited or just a few minutes, you can create a competitively priced plan at US Mobile on whichever network works the best for you.
There are a lot of good deals with MVNOs that fit all kinds of needs, whether you need unlimited data aimed at the heavy smartphone user or just a little for a spare phone. Something like Google Fi manages to pack in extra features for someone that wants great coverage and Boost Mobile is able to offer extras for international coverage at a low price. You also get to try out different networks since there's no contract.
In the end, Metro by T-Mobile is one of the best balances when it comes to the network and pricing for an MVNO. With Metro, you can bring nearly any unlocked phone and have it work on the strong T-Mobile network, including much of the same service a standard T-Mobile customer would get. It's also a nice feature that Metro by T-Mobile still has physical stores so you don't have to do all the setup on your own.
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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