What had been the “big four” wireless carriers became three after T-Mobile’s 2020 merger with Sprint, meaning less competition and choice for consumers (along with the possibility of higher rates). The combined company, along with fellow giants Verizon Wireless and AT&T, dominate the cellular landscape with roughly 430 million total subscribers.
But you don’t have to pay hefty bills to use their cell towers.
Nowadays, there are much cheaper options to help you budget and save, including Red Pocket Mobile (with plans starting as low as $5 per month) and Tello (plans starting at $8 per month.
The emergence of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) have been a godsend for budget-conscious cell phone users, often offering the coverage of the major carriers at half the cost.
MVNO carriers like Cricket Wireless don’t own their own network hardware but rather operate over the same cell towers as the “big three,” often targeting the prepaid, no-contract market. Subscribers can usually sign up without a credit check and benefit from lower monthly rates than their host operators.
But, as they say, you get what you pay for, and that can sometimes be the case with MVNOs. Because they don’t own their own networks, MVNOs can’t always offer the same range or quality of service as the big three. For example, under heavy network loads, access for an MVNO subscriber using A&T’s network will often be prioritized below AT&T’s own subscribers, resulting in performance limitations (i.e. dropped calls or no access at all).
Nevertheless, if you’re willing to accept that performance tradeoff, you’ll find that the cheapest cell phone service options are typically offered by MVNOs, though it’s still largely a hidden secret for many. As of 2018, there were an estimated 139 active MVNOs in the United States, but only about 7% of wireless subscribers got their service through one.
If you want to save money on your cell phone bill, consider subscribing to one of the dozens of MVNOs in the United States.