A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is an "alternative carrier" that leases network coverage from one of the "Big Four" carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon). Much of the time, these carriers can offer cheaper service by targeting smaller markets or removing features that many people won't need.
Thanks to the size and quality of AT&T's 3G and LTE network as well as its support for most unlocked phones, AT&T is an easy choice for an MVNO.
You need to make sure that your phone has the following GSM bands to work with an AT&T-based MVNO. Alternatively, you can check your IMEI on the website of most of these carriers.
- 3G: 850, 1900Mhz
- LTE: AWS, 700, 850, 1900Mhz
Here are the MVNOs powered by AT&T.
- Airvoice Wireless
- Altice Mobile
- Beast Mobile
- Black Wireless
- Boom! Mobile
- Consumer Cellular
- Cricket Wireless
- FreeUP Mobile
- H2O Wireless
- i3 Mobile
- Net10 Wireless
- Pix Wireless
- Pure TalkUSA
- Red Pocket
- Straight Talk
- Unreal Mobile
- Wing Alpha
Starting as low as $5 for five days of service, Airvoice is a highly flexible MVNO. With Airvoice, you can pay as you go or buy a month of service, with high-speed LTE service in data packages that fit pretty much any user's needs.
With unlimited service coming in at $63 with autopay for 30 days of service, it's not the best value for heavy users but thanks to the wide array of plans, there's something that will work for everyone on this carrier.
If you are an Optimum or Suddenlink customer, Altice Mobile might be worth considering. For those customers, an unlimited plan is just $20 per month per line with autopay. The price goes up to $30 per month if you are just looking for mobile service alone.
These prices are a bargain but it's worth keeping in mind that this carrier makes use of both Sprint and AT&T and will likely default to a Sprint connection if available. Still, if you are covered by Altice's service, it can be a good way to save some money on phone service.
Beast Mobile offers two plans on AT&T's network. The first plan comes in at $24 per month with unlimited talk and text and 1GB of data. The bigger $50 per month plan offers unlimited everything and is also available on the Sprint network. With Beast Mobile, there are no contracts or overages to worry about.
It is worth noting that Beast Mobile's app needs to be downloaded through its website and is not on the Google Play Store. There are many reasons why an app may not be listed on Google's store but the app should still be approached with caution and permissions considered carefully.
Black Wireless is an MVNO that simply aims to save you money. It offers unlimited monthly data plans, which give you an allotment of 4G LTE data, and then you get unlimited data at 2G speeds with some plans.
$15/month gets you 200 minutes or texts (or a combination of both), 200 international minutes with calling to landlines in a wide range of countries, and 500MB of 4G LTE data, with unlimited 2G data at 128Kbps.
$40/month gets you 22GB of 4G LTE with unlimited 2G data, unlimited talk and text, and unlimited international calling (you can only dial up to 10 unique international phone numbers during a 30-day period).
Boom Mobile operates on three different networks. For AT&T service, you'll want to stick with service on the Boom Blue network.
Plans start at $20 per month with unlimited talk and text plus 100MB of data. You can also bump up to unlimited data for $65 per month. There are more plans available including shared data plans for multiple lines as well as three-month bundles.
Consumer Cellular is relatively run-of-the-mill when it comes to MVNOs: it aims to save you money on your monthly phone bill. However, it's been recognized twice by J.D. Power and Associates for its excellent customer service. You can also score a 5% discount if you are an AARP member.
You can build your own plan with one or two lines, choosing from 250 minutes or unlimited, as well as data in 500MB, 3GB, 10GB, 15GB, and 25GB plans depending on your needs. There's also the option of skipping texting and data altogether if you want a plan that keeps things simple.
Cricket Wireless is pretty much the biggest player in terms of MVNOs that use AT&T's network. It has excellent plans and that's due in no small part to the fact that it's owned by AT&T.
Plans start at $30/month for 2GB of 4G LTE and unlimited calling and texting. $40/month gets you 5GB of 4G LTE or unlimited high speed with the Unlimited BYOD plan. Finally, there are the two standard unlimited plans for $55 and $60, with the latter offering faster download speeds and 15GB of hotspot data.
Easy Go wireless is a brand from H2O wireless that focuses on international service. For $30 per month, you get access to unlimited talk and text, as well as unlimited talk to more than 80 countries (calling to Guatemala and the Dominican Republic is limited to 200 minutes). You also get 2GB of data.
If you're willing to go with only 500MB of data per month, you can drop down to the $20 plan, although you also only get unlimited calling to 11 different countries.
FreedomPop sells SIM cards with various amounts of data and unlimited talk and text. For $50 you get just talk and text and 1GB of data per month for 12 months. You can bump up to 5GB of data for $150. You can also get smaller packages such as unlimited talk and text with 1GB of data for $20 for three months.
FreedomPop is a basic service, but simplicity is its main strength. You can't get much simpler than popping in a SIM and being on your way.
FreeUp Mobile falls in line with most MVNOs offering four sizes of data alongside unlimited calls and texts. International calling and texting to 150 countries are included.
The data sizes come in at 500MB, 2GB, 6GB, and unlimited at $15, $20, $30, and $45 per month, respectively. Your speed is slowed down to 2G speeds after your data allotment on the 2GB and 6GB plans and 15GB on the unlimited plan.
Good2Go offers a fairly standard array of wireless plans that include unlimited talk and text. The plans step up in data amounts at 1GB, 3GB, 5GB, and 10GB for $15, $20, $30, and $40 per month respectively. For the first three months of service, you also get double data for a limited time.
There is an unlimited talk and text plan with no data for $10 per month, which could be a great option for someone looking for a basic plan.
H2O offers a very competitive starting plan — $20/month for 1GB of 4G LTE data (unlimited 2G data thereafter), unlimited nationwide talk and text, unlimited international calling to landlines in over 50 countries (select countries include calling to cell phones), unlimited international texting, and a free $10 international talk credit (for the countries that aren't covered).
Data is also available in 5GB, 10GB, 15G, and unlimited amounts for $30, $40, $50, and $60 with an additional discount available with auto-pay. The unlimited plan also comes with hotspot data.
I3 Mobile is a fairly standard MVNO with a focus on giving you a lot of data. The cheapest plan offers unlimited calling and texting to the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, as well as 1GB of data for $19 per month. The next plan up for $39 per month increases the data to 10GB.
Beyond that, there are two unlimited plans for $49 and $59 per month with the latter plan offering hotspot data. There is no limit to this data however, like most carriers, data may be deprioritized after 22GB of usage.
Net10, owned by TracFone, uses all of the Big Four's towers to help with coverage, which means you get solid coverage for a little less than you'd spend going with one of the biggies. The nice thing is that, because Net10 uses everyone, you get to bring pretty much any phone onto the network.
All smartphone plans come with unlimited talk, text, and 2G data. $20/month gets you 1GB of 4G LTE, with more plans available at 4GB, 8GB, 10GB, and even 12GB. The smaller plans are great values but the larger data amounts aren't as good as some other carriers. The network flexibility still makes Net10 Wireless a welcome option.
Pix Wireless is an MVNO that focuses on transparency, offering plans with no contracts, no activation fees, and no hidden costs. AT&T's service on Pix is marketed as Pix Emerald.
All plans come with unlimited talk and text with different amounts of data being the only real difference. Plans are available with 1GB, 3GB, 5GB, 7GB, and unlimited LTE, ranging from $20 per month up to $55 per month.
Pure TalkUSA is an MVNO focused on making your mobile plan easy. Plans range from $20 per month up to $55 per month, all with unlimited talk, text, and 2G-speed data. Plans increase in data capacity to 1GB, 3GB, 5GB, 8GB, 15GB, and unlimited with a $5 price increase at each step.
Save 10% off your second line, 15% of your third, and 20% off your fourth line. There are no activation fees and no contracts, which means you can cancel if the service doesn't work out for you.
Red Pocket uses all of the big carriers and has two basic plans to choose from. The first plan is $10/month and gets you 500 minutes, 500 texts, and 500MB of 4G LTE. You can then buy extra texts, minutes, and LTE. The second plan is $15/month and gets you 1000 minutes and unlimited texts, with 1GB of 4G LTE. At $19 per month, you calling and texting is unlimited with 3GB of LTE data.
The $30, $40, and $60 plans have unlimited talk and text with 7GB, 15GB, and unlimited LTE data. These data plans also get unlimited 2G data once you run out of high-speed data.
Straight Talk has a plan for just about any need, starting at 1,500 minutes with 100MB of data for $30 and working up to unlimited data $55. There is also an unlimited international plan available for $60.
Data plans are available at 3GB and 25GB with 2G speeds after and more high-speed data can be added. You can also buy plans at three, six, or 12-month intervals.
TracFone has been around since 1996 and owns multiple MVNOs, which it operates on various networks.
Its cheapest data plan is $20 per month for 1GB of 4G LTE and unlimited talk and text. You can increase your data amount for $5 more each month per addition gigabyte. One nice feature is Unlimited Carryover so you don't lose your unused data. This means you can build up a pool of data that you can use if you need to.
TracFone also has plenty of options for different intervals such as 30, 60, and 90-day terms. TracFone is perfect for folks who constantly travel to the U.S. and don't want to buy a local SIM or pay outrageous roaming fees.
Unreal Mobile simply offers unlimited plans with high-speed data available in 1GB, 2GB, and 5GB chunks. In all of these plans talk and text is unlimited and data drops to 2G speeds after you use your set amount.
With low entry prices and some form of data on every plan, Unreal Mobile can be a good way to get connected in a budget.
Wing offers plans with refreshing simplicity and clarity starting with the Flip Phone Plan at just $12 per month with unlimited talk and text. From there you can get data in 500MB, 1GB, 2GB, 3GB, and unlimited quantities with the top plan coming in at $55 per month.
All plans come with HD voice and Wi-Fi calling as well as visual voicemail. You can also use your data for a hotspot at no additional cost.
Alternative carriers (MVNOS)
- What is an alternative mobile carrier?
- What are the advantages of going with an alternative carrier?
- How to make sure your phone works on a prepaid alternative carrier
- 8 Important Considerations When Switching To An MVNO
- These are the cheapest data plans you can buy in the U.S.
- Mint SIM vs. Cricket Wireless: Which is better for you?
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