Best MVNO carrier Android Central 2021
The best MVNO carriers manage to offer a great value with solid coverage by leveraging the network of one of the major carriers. This setup can lead to a wider range of plans and 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 and one of the best cell phone plans 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
- Best family plan: Walmart Family Mobile
- Best for multi-line perks: 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 T-Mobile's network has become one of the strongest networks in populated areas in recent times. The network has continued to gain ground in rural areas thanks to its 600Mhz spectrum for LTE and 5G. Even with all of the improvements, you should check the coverage map to ensure you're covered. 5G support is available with 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, saving data for big streamers.
You can also save money per line by adding more lines to your account. For example, if you sign up for the top unlimited plan with four lines, the price comes down to just $120 per month. Along with unlimited data, you'll get extra features such as 15GB of hotspot data, an Amazon Prime membership, and 100GB of Google One.
Since Metro uses the T-Mobile network, just about any unlocked phone should work without issue. It's also nice that Metro by T-Mobile has physical stores across the country if you need help setting up your phone or plan.
- Works with most phones
- Fast T-Mobile network with 5G
- Multi-line savings
- Unlimited music streaming on 10GB plan
- 15GB of hotspot data on unlimited plan
- Coverage not great for everyone
- Not all phones available online
- SD video streaming
Best single line: Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile is a unique MVNO because the minimum amount of service you can buy is three months. You can purchase up to a year, which is the most savings, at $25 per month for 15GB of data, and if you only need 4GB, it's down to $15 per month. If you're one of the few people that requires more data each month, you can now get an unlimited plan through Mint, which comes with 35GB of high-speed data and 5GB of hotspot data. The unlimited plan has an introductory rate of $30 per month for three months, with renewal costing $40 per month. But if you sign up for a year, you can lock in this introductory rate.
Mint Mobile has many of the same network strengths and weaknesses as other T-Mobile-based MVNOs, but coverage should be solid for most people. If you're not sure, you can check your coverage on Mint's website by typing in your address. Fortunately, T-Mobile's network comes close to being one of the fastest you can get, and with 5G, one of the most advanced. 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 device to Mint Mobile as long as it supports 4G LTE and VoLTE. If you're not sure, you can check with Mint's compatibility checker, but most unlocked GSM-network phones should work with Mint. Once you have your SIM card, you can activate it on the Mint Mobile app on your phone. If you want to buy a new phone, you can. Mint Mobile sells a wide range of phones, from high-end to budget devices. These are some of the best phones to use with Mint.
- Save in bulk
- Fast T-Mobile network with 5G
- Great phone compatibility
- Easy to activate
- Multiple plan options
- Unlimited plan only gets 5GB of hotspot data
- Must buy in bulk
Best for travel: Google Fi
Most MVNO carriers are 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 entire network, if you have a compatible device, like the Google Pixel 5 or Galaxy S21, you should have great service with 5G.
Most unlocked phones still work with Google Fi, but they will be stuck on T-Mobile only, including 5G support. Luckily, you can buy a phone that you know will work with the entire network. These are some of the best phones for Google Fi.
Google Fi has three plans, including Flexible, Simply Unlimited, and Unlimited Plus. Even if you're not on an unlimited plan, you'll only pay for the data you use, and you'll never pay for more than 6GB of data, thanks to Bill Protection. After 15GB on the Flexible plan, your data speeds will slow, but you can always add more high-speed data at that time for $10 per GB. On the unlimited plans, your speeds will slow after 22GB of use.
The most significant feature that sets Fi apart is its international service on its Flexible and Unlimited Plus plans. 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. Keep in mind that the Simply Unlimited plan doesn't include most of these international perks, and it also doesn't include hotspot tethering like the other plans.
- Uses three networks
- International data on most plans
- Multi-line discounts
- Unlimited available
- 5G on compatible phones
- Expensive for heavy data users
- Not all phones are 100 percent compatible
Best unlimited: Visible
Visible keeps things simple with a single unlimited plan and a large all-digital LTE and 5G network. Leveraging the power of Verizon's 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, they do get the vast majority of it since they don't have access to 3G or analog service.
You can save some money with Visible's Party Pay that brings the cost per line down with up to four lines added. The cost is $35 per line at two lines, and three and four lines or more come 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. You can even join a party right from Visible's community page to bring your bill down right away.
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 S21 series and Pixel 5 series. Pretty much every iPhone after the iPhone 6 is supported. You can also buy a phone from Visible to be sure it works. These are some of the best phones for Visible.
- Unlimited data
- Unlimited hotspot (5Mbps)
- Verizon LTE and 5G network
- Can buy phones through Visible
- Save with Party Pay
- No roaming
- Limited phone selection
- 5G rollout hasn't reached all 5G phones
Best family plan: Walmart Family Mobile
Walmart Family Mobile is one of the best values in MVNOs if you have more than one line. While the top-end unlimited plan with 30GB of hotspot data and HD video streaming starts a little steep at just under $50 per month, you can add up to four additional lines for $25 per month each. You could also choose from three other plans with 5GB, 8GB, or 40GB data allotment starting at $25, $30, and $40 per month. While the 5GB or 40GB plans will be more than enough for most people, all lines have the same amount of data, so make sure you get enough for the heaviest user on the primary line.
The T-Mobile network powers Walmart Family Mobile, so you should get solid data speeds if the magenta network covers you. Just be sure to check your coverage while signing up to be sure.
Walmart Family Mobile sells a decent array of phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S20 series and Apple devices up to the iPhone 12 Pro. There are also quite a few cheaper phones available, so no matter your budget, you should find something that works. Of course, you can also bring your own phone as long as it's unlocked and compatible with the T-Mobile network.
- Each additional line is $25/month
- Fast T-Mobile network
- Unlimited plan available
- Most unlocked phones will work
- 30GB of hotspot data and HD streaming on unlimited plan
- Must use the T-Mobile network
- Single line prices are high
Best for multi-line perks: 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 an excellent fit for an emergency phone or a backup phone. It also means that you can build that plan if you don't need a ton of minutes or texts but want 6GB of data.
One of the most compelling options is the unlimited plan at $45 per month, with Ludicrous speeds, 5G, and no data caps. For $10 extra, you can add 20GB of hotspot data. On this plan, you'll even get free high-speed 4G LTE international data. You can also get three lines or more unlimited for the whole family, with each line dropping to $25 per line. US Mobile will even give you a free subscription to a streaming service if you have multiple lines.
US Mobile will use 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 when you sign up. Both networks should provide good service to the majority of Americans. With both of these networks, most unlocked phones should work, so if you're not ready for a new phone, you should still be able to sign up.
- Create your own plan
- Unlimited available
- Verizon or T-Mobile networks
- Great phone compatibility
- International data with unlimited plan
- Very limited phone selection on site
- Hotspot data is an extra charge on the certain plans
There are so many 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. You can find MVNOs that use a network you already know has great coverage in your area, such as Verizon or T-Mobile. A carrier like Google Fi manages to pack in extra features for someone that wants great coverage and data abroad. At the same time, Visible stays focused on delivering data without limits. You also get to try out different networks since there's no contract associated with these plans.
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 yourself.
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.
Olivia Lipski is a freelance writer for Android Central and loves testing out the latest smart home tech and discovering the best cell phone plans. When she's not busy running around NYC trying to find great food or coffee, she's in her kitchen trying to make it herself.
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