A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is an "alternative carrier" that leases coverage from one of the "Big Four" carriers (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile) and sells it for less. If one of the Big Four has excellent coverage in your area, but you're looking for something a little cheaper, then consider going with an MVNO.
There aren't too many MVNOs that are powered by Verizon's network, so you need to make sure your phone will work with them before switching over (if you plan on bringing your own device). The biggest thing to look out for is if your phone supports CDMA service. Many MVNOs offer network checkers to help you figure out if your phone will work or not.
To work on Verizon-based alternative carriers, your phone must support the following frequencies:
- 3G: 800Mhz (BC0), 1900Mhz (BC1) 1
- LTE: 700Mhz (Band 13), 1700/2100Mhz (Band 4), 1900Mhz (Band 2)
1 Phone must support bands on CDMA.
Without further ado, here are the MVNOs that are powered by Verizon.
- Affinity Cellular
- Armed Force Mobile
- Best Cellular
- Boom Mobile
- Eco Mobile
- EnTouch Wireless
- Expo Mobile
- Flash Wireless
- Net10 Wireless
- Page Plus Cellular
- Pulse Cellular
- Puppy Wireless
- Red Pocket Mobile
- Selectel Wireless
- Straight Talk
- Total Wireless
- Zing PCS
Affinity Cellular is an Iowa-based carrier that operates primarily based on awarding members of various clubs discounts on cell phone service. The biggest club to which it offers discounts is the American Automobile Association (AAA). If you sign up for a contract, you receive five AAA dollars.
On its "About Us" page, Affinity states that it aims to serve those people who "depend on the benefits and security a cell phone provides but certainly are not using it every minute of every day."
Plans start at $10/month for 10 voice minutes, $1.50/month for 100 texts, or $1/month for 50 texts and 5MB of data.
Affinity's 2019 Unl TT & 5 GB plan comes with unlimited talk and text and 5GB of data for $35/month. As you can see, if you're a regular smartphone user, you'll probably want to look at another carrier.
Armed Forces Mobile
Armed Forces Mobile is all about supporting veterans. A portion of all proceeds goes to Operation Support Our Veterans, a nonprofit based in San Diego that is focused on supporting other organizations that help American vets with PTSD and injured veterans, as well as through direct donations.
If supporting the American military is a cause that's near and dear to your heart, then this is the carrier for you.
Plans start at $38/month for 2GB of 4G LTE data, unlimited talk, text, and 2G data.
Best Cellular is an MVNO that works on the Verizon or Sprint network. Its plans range from the $15 Basic Talk plan with 500 minutes, 100 texts, and 100MB of data all the way up to a $60/month plan with 10GB of data and unlimited talk and text. This carrier is only a good option for someone that uses their phone very little with its big plans not keeping pace with the competition.
Boom Mobile's network is powered by every member of the Big Four, though the AT&T network is only available to business customers. That being said, on T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon's networks, you're getting pretty great coverage.
If you have a large family, Boom is the carrier to go with, with family plans allowing up to 10 lines.
All that being said, Boom's family plans only use the T-Mobile and Sprint networks. Verizon's network is used for prepaid, non-data plans that feature unlimited talk and text. With plans starting as low as $13/month, Boom can be a good option for a light user.
Boom's prices are comparable to other better MVNOs, so unless you need up to 10 lines on your family plan, you might want to look elsewhere.
Credo is a major player in the MVNO market, operating as a division of Working Assets. Working Assets has been around in various iterations since 1985, with a core tenet of helping nonprofits through donations. Credo operated as Working Assets Wireless, changing to Credo in 2007 and only started using the Verizon network in 2016.
The aptly named Credo operates in the name of social change and has since its inception. It maintains a strict environmental policy, offering free phone recycling and it prints bills on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. It also uses carbonfund.org's "carbon free" program to offset its electricity and shipping costs.
If you want to support social change and a carrier with an immense sense of social responsibility, then Credo is an awesome choice. You even get to vote on which organizations get donations — organizations like Planned Parenthood, Bend the Arc, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and more.
Plans start at $30/month for 1GB of 4G LTE, unlimited talk and text, and tethering. There's also a "line fee" for each device you use (you can share your data among devices). It's $20 for smartphones, so you're actually looking at $50/month for 1GB of data.
Eco Mobile's main squeeze is Sprint, but it uses T-Mobile to fill in the empty spots and Verizon for CDMA service. Eco's a great carrier if you're looking for great rates on international calling, with unlimited international calling available for free on plans of $30/month and up.
Plans start at $20 for unlimited talk, text, and 100MB of data. 2GB of data on GSM, unlimited talk, text, 2G data, and international calling is $30/month on Verizon's network. All plans get voicemail, caller ID, call waiting, three-way calling, MMS (picture and video messaging), and domestic calling.
EnTouch Wireless has three main plans starting at $20/month and moving up to $30/month and $50/month. The cheapest plan gets you unlimited talk and text with 500MB of data, confusingly called "1/2 GIG" on the website. At $30/month you move up to 1GB of data with unlimited talk and text and the $50/month plan comes with unlimited talk and text with 4G of data. Even if you're eligible for a Lifeline discount of $10/month, this isn't the strongest carrier for data users.
Expo pushes the whole "bring your own device" thing, which is great, especially if you're just coming straight from Verizon since CDMA devices are compatible.
Expo offers 30-day plans that require no contracts, as well as pay as you go plans, which range from 90 days to 365 days. You pay between $10 and $100, depending on your term, and then pay 2 cents per minute or message and 5 cents per MB of data on the 120-day plan or longer.
30-day data plans start at $35/month for unlimited talk and text and 500MB of 4G LTE. After your allotment, you're throttled to 64kbps, which is slower than 2G.
Flash Wireless offers one of the larger varieties of plans out there with five single line plans and five more family plans. Starting with just unlimited talk at $23/month, and $25/month for unlimited talk and text, this could be a strong choice for feature phone users.
Smartphone users will want to start with the $39/month plan with 3GB of data and move up as necessary. At $14 per additional 1GB added on, this plan can get expensive quickly. An unlimited plan is available at $84/month but is less appealing considering the competition. The family plans feel more sensible with unlimited everything for four lines coming in at $199/month, which isn't too shabby.
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 you have — just know that if your phone isn't CDMA-compatible, then it likely won't connect to Verizon's network when you use Net10.
All smartphone plans come with unlimited talk, text, and 2G data. $20 per month gets you 1GB of 4G LTE, going up to 12GB at $60/month.
Page Plus Cellular
Page Plus is a pretty run-of-the-mill MVNO operating on Verizon's network. Plans start very inexpensively, at $12/month for 500 minutes, 500 texts, and 100MB of LTE data. If you're a realistic user, then you'll want the $30/month plan that features unlimited domestic calling, $10 of international calling credit, unlimited global text, and 3GB of 4G LTE.
With Pulse Cellular you get 50GB of data alongside unlimited talk and text. Starting at $65/month for one line, this is not the best deal for a single line, but as you add lines the prices get more competitive. Two lines are $55/month each all the way down to $42/month per line at five lines. This is certainly a straightforward way to buy cellular services but not the most cost-effective.
Puppy Wireless' logo features a little spaniel pup with headphones in, shaking its head. It's adorable, and Puppy Wireless knows this — who doesn't love puppies?! Its website is rather confusing since you pick your plan based on your coverage and the color-coded network. So you enter your zip and then get your choice of networks. It would be way more convenient just to pick from a list of plans and have the carrier put you on the right network, no?
Simple, budget plans start at $10/month and offer 250 minutes, 250 texts (no video or picture messaging), and 200MB of data. Prices rise from there with an unlimited talk and text plan with 10GB of data coming in at $54/month.
Red Pocket Mobile
Red Pocket uses all of the big carriers, so you'd only choose to use Verizon with them if you have a CDMA-only device, like a flip phone. If you're using a GSM-capable phone, then you'd likely choose a GSM SIM and get better speeds and coverage.
Red Pocket has two basic plans to choose from and you can add to the second. 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. Moving up to unlimited talk and text, $19/month and gets you unlimited talk and text, with 1GB of 4G LTE.
Selectel is another relatively run-of-the-mill MVNO. You get plans for as low as $15/month, which includes 300 minutes, 300 texts, and 15MB of data. $30/month gets you 1GB of 4G LTE, unlimited texting (not video and picture messaging), and 1500 domestic calling minutes.
Straight Talk is owned by TracFone and is that cell phone section you see at Walmart. It features the latest phones and lets you bring your own device since it uses all four of the big networks for coverage.
Plans start at $30/month for 1500 minutes, unlimited texts, and 100MB of data. $45/month gets you 5GB of 4G LTE and unlimited talk and text, as well as unlimited 2G data.
Total Wireless is another TracFone-owned carrier that offers average MVNO rates for data plans. Its cheapest data plan is $34/month for unlimited talk and text and 5GB of 4G LTE. A great add-on feature is 5GB of 4G LTE for $10, and if you don't use that extra 5GB up by the end of your month, you can carry it over to your next billing month.
Total's family plans share data, and you can get up to 100GB of data for 4 lines to share for $95/month. Not bad at all.
TracFone has been around since 1996 and owns multiple MVNOs, which it operates on various networks.
Its cheapest data plan with a gig or more is $20/month for 1GB of 4G LTE, with unlimited talk and text. An extra gig of data is $10, which expires at the end of your term.
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.
Visible is one of the newer MVNOs available on the Verizon network. With simplicity as its stated goal, Visible offers only one plan at $40/month. This plan includes unlimited talk, text, and data and no annual contracts. Data will be slowed during times of high congestion but this has become the norm for unlimited plans.
This plan also includes mobile hotspot which is limited to 5Mbps, however, it's still a nice touch and can be very helpful in a pinch. One thing to keep in mind is that this is all done with no storefronts. If you have a question or a problem, you will have to solve it remotely.
Zing PCS or Zing wireless is an MVNO with decent prices and a website that looks like it was made in 1999. Data plans start at $40/month for 2GB of 4G LTE, unlimited talk and text, unlimited international text (picture and video messaging not included), and unlimited 2G data.
Zing also supports and provides service for Lifeline, the FCC program that helps make communication services more affordable to low-income individuals and families.
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?
Update, August 2019: This article has been updated to reflect pricing changes and additional carriers have been added.
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