How to save on no-contract mobile phone plans

No contract phone plans that you’ve never heard of!

The mobile phone industry is changing rapidly, and it’s all good for you. It used to be that signing a two-year contract with a major carrier was the only way you could get the newest phones and the best coverage. That’s not so true anymore.

Instead of a standard 2-year contract, you can bypass it and purchase an unsubsidized, unlocked phone – even leading-edge models.

After that, you have several choices. Three of the Big Four carriers — AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless –have started offering off-contract plans alongside their two-year contracts, while the fourth, T-Mobile doffed the contract system completely.

You are also no longer stuck with one of the Big Four – you can take your current post-contract phone to another carrier offering better rates. You can also get both a new phone and a different plan from one of a growing number of smaller outfits promising to go easier on your wallet.

We reviewed several smaller carriers — also known as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs. These services provide voice, messaging and data for your smartphone — usually at lower monthly costs and with less hassle.

How it works

Basically these smaller carriers (MVNO’s) lease bandwidth from the Big Four carriers, then offering service at lower rates by offering creative monthly plans. A few, like Boost Mobile, are actually owned by a larger carrier. Some leverage other tech, like Wi-Fi and voice-over-IP, to offer lower rates. Some do both. And most let you bring over an existing phone.>

  • Shop for the right deal – Check the coverage area. Each network has different coverage areas.
  • Check the phone number – Find out if your phone number or phone numbers are eligible for transfer.
  • Decide on BYOD or New Phone – Next determine if your existing phone is compatible with the new carrier you chose.If not, start shopping for a new phone.
  • Listen to your voicemails and backup your contacts – Voicemails will most likely not transfer to your new service. Backup your contacts if you are switching to a new phone.
  • Verify that your new service is working – Make a few calls and send some texts to ensure that your new service has been activated.
  • Cancel your old plan – Once you have verified that your phone works on your new service plan, you cancel your old contract.Make sure they don’t charge random fees not in writing as you cancel.

Bring your own phone – or use the new carriers?

Suppose you have an iPhone 4S that just reached the end of a two-year contract with AT&T. At the end of that period you can switch carriers. AT&T and T-Mobile phones, both

of which run on GSM networks, can be unlocked and taken to any other carrier that piggybacks on one of those same networks.

 

So instead of continuing to pay AT&T about $70-$100/month to use your iPhone 4S, you could take it to Straight Talk and pay a much lower rate – no contract required.

What phones are compatible?

Not every carrier allows you to bring your own phone with you, so you’ll need to check and see what phones that carrier sells or allows on their network.

If you wanted to bring a paid-up Verizon phone to a service reselling its network, you can’t assume compatibility. At the MVNOs you need to check by entering the unique electronic ID of your phone.

Your choice gets easier if you’ve got an unlocked AT&T or T-Mobile phone. AT&T and T-Mobile both use GSM standard. GSM phones use SIM cards, which are data chips with all the necessary settings required to operate a phone. When you want to switch phone carriers or set up an unlocked GSM phone, you just pop in the new carrier’s “SIM” card, reboot the phone and you’re good to go. Your new carrier will provide you with that new SIM card when you signup.

What to look for in a plan

Obviously first you should look at the price of the plans available on each carrier, as well as features. If it says, unlimited, is it truly unlimited or do they throttle you back once you surpass a certain amount of high-speed data usage?

Next look at coverage. Unfortunately some MVNOs don’t always deliver the same coverage as the Big Four, despite operating on the same networks. Virgin Mobile, for example, lacks the roaming coverage afforded by Sprint, and Straight Talk iPhone users don’t get visual voice-mail.

What about data?

All the “starting at” prices listed in the carriers we outline below include at least some data in their plans. But, virtually all the carriers will cap your throughput at a certain point, dropping you back to a slower rate of throughput – even if they claim “unlimited” data. In other cases you’ll pay per-megabyte overage charges.

Also take a look to see if the network is CDMA or GSM. Generally, if you do a lot of international travel and want a device that can function globally, you’ll want a GSM phone.

Top-Rated No-contract Mobile Phone Carriers

Carrier
Pros/Cons
Rates

boost mobileBoost Mobile

Network: Sprint Data: 2.5GB BYOD: Limited

Boost Mobile offers Shrinking Payments, which rewards customers with discounts for paying their bills on time. Large phone selection and various contract-free plans. Internet speeds are throttled after 2.5GB of data usage.
Starts at: $55/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts/data

Virgin Mobile Logo
Consumer Cellular

Network: AT&T Data: 2GB BYOD: Yes

Consumer Cellular takes a senior-friendly approach to phones and service plans. Phone choices are limited and plan options are available to suit nearly any budget. Free SIM cards for use with any AT&T-compatible unlocked phone. Good option for users who spend most of their time connected to Wi-Fi, or don’t make a lot of calls.
Starts at: $12.50/month for 0 voice minutes/100 texts/10MB data

Cricket

Network: AT&T
Data: 10GB
BYOD: No

In business since 1999, Cricket specializes in unlimited plans, and it offers the newest and best phones on the market. Daily or pay-as-you-go plans not available.
Starts at: $50/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 2.5GB data

FreedomPop

Network: Clearwire, Sprint
Data: 500MB
BYOD: Yes

FreedomPop’s claim to fame: Free service. Free monthly 200 voice minutes, 500 text messages and 500MB of data. If you hit those caps, extra data runs 2.5 cents per megabyte and a penny per voice minute or text message – very competitive rates all around. Limited availability in only about 18 major metropolitan areas.
Starts at: $0/month for 200 voice minutes/500 texts/500MB data

Giv Mobile

Network: Clearwire, Sprint
Data: 500MB
BYOD: Yes

Giv Mobile donates 8% of your plan payment to one of your choice of charities, including the American Red Cross, Alzheimer’s Association and United Way.  For a reasonable $40 or $50 “Unlimited Everything” monthly plans are available, both of which offer unlimited calls and messaging with 500MB or 2GB of high-speed data, respectively.
Starts at: $40/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 500MB data

H2O Wireless

Network: AT&T
Data: Unlimited
BYOD: Yes

All H2O Wireless monthly plans have truly unlimited talk, text and multimedia messaging. Caters primarily to the BYOD crowd, offering service for any unlocked GSM iPhone or Android phone. None of its phones can download data at 4G speeds.
Starts at: $30/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 500MB data

Net10

Network: Multiple
Data: 5GB
BYOD: Yes

Net10’s prepaid family plans offer unlimited talk, text and data for a low monthly price. Net10 sells high-end phones like the iPhone 5s and Samsung Galaxy S4 and lower-end models like the Motorola Defy XT. Net10 supports both GSM and CDMA handsets.
Starts at: $40/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 250MB data

Page Plus Cellular

Network: Verizon
Data: 5GB
BYOD: No

Page Plus Cellular offers great nationwide voice and data coverage, but a limited selection of phones. Attractive low-cost service plans,starting at $12 monthly. Cheapest way to run a smartphone on Verizon’s network.
Starts at: $12/month for 250 voice minutes/250 texts/10MB data

Republic Wireless

Network: Sprint
Data: 5GB (4G Speeds)
BYOD: No

Republic sells smartphones that tap Wi-Fi whenever possible, switching to towers only when necessary for great low rates – Motorola Moto G and Moto X on Republic’s Sprint-powered voice network for as little as $5 monthly. Call quality can be spotty.
Starts at: $25/month for unlimited voice minutes/text, 5GB data

U.S. Cellular

Network: US Cellular
Data: Unlimited
BYOD: No

U.S. Cellular’s phone selection includes new phones, such as the Samsun Galaxy S 4. Great service for basic prepaid cell phones, and has cap on overage charges. The unlimited plans are expensive and only include talk and messaging. Contract-free plans are also expensive.
Starts at: $40/month for unlimited voice and data

Solavei

Network: T-Mobile
Data: 4GB
BYOD: Yes

Encourages subscribers to “sponsor” friends and family members, and chops $5 off your monthly bill for each person you sign up. Solavei would cost you absolutely nothing if you refer just eight paying customers. You’re encouraged to bring your own unlocked GSM handset.
Starts at: $39/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 500MB data

Straight Talk

Network: Multiple
Data: 2.5GB
BYOD: Yes

TracFone-owned enterprise, Straight Talk sells both phones and BYOD service. Also like Net10, Straight Talk supports both CDMA and GSM handsets, leveraging AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon networks to supply coverage. Their $45 rate includes unlimited everything (with data throttling once you hit 2.5GB).
Starts at: $30/month for 1,000 voice minutes/1,000 texts/30MB data

Ting

Network: Sprint
Data: 2GB
BYOD: Yes

For owners of post-contract Sprint phones, Ting is perhaps the single most attractive option available. The service lets you choose from five different tiers each for minutes, messages and data. Only Ting offers this kind of rate-plan customization, and it’s among a select few smaller carriers to support both tethering and mobile hotspots.
Starts at: $9/month for 0 voice minutes/0 texts/100 MB data

Ultra Mobile

Network: T-Mobile
Data: 1GB
BYOD: Yes

Bundle international calling and texting along with the usual services. The $19 starter plan includes unlimited global texting and $1.25 of “call anywhere” credit. Ultra Mobile doesn’t sell phones and company’s BYOD options are difficult to understand. Pick the plan you want, then order a standard or micro SIM card ($9.95) for your unlocked GSM phone.
Starts at: $19/month for 1,000 voice minutes/unlimited texts/100MB data

UppWireless

Network: T-Mobile
Data: 5GB
BYOD: Yes

Easy setup with unlocked GSM phone and the company’s $9.95 SIM card, or purchase one of the Android phones available for purchase. All calls and text messages rely on voice-over-IP apps (which leverage Wi-Fi when available). iOS users use the UppTalk app. Android users can use the stock Phone and Messaging apps, making for a more seamless switch. Currently no support for short-code messaging, or porting your existing phone number.
Starts at: $15/month for unlimited phone minutes/texts, 1GB data

Virgin Mobile Logo

Virgin Mobile

Network: Sprint
Data: 2.5GB
BYOD: No

Flexible plans and phones such as the iPhone 5, which you won’t find at most other leading prepaid providers. Data plans throttle your data speed after 2.5GB of usage.
Starts at: $35/month for 300 voice minutes, unlimited texts/data

Virgin Mobile Logo

Zact Mobile

Network: Sprint
Data: 15GB
BYOD: No

Family friendly carrier with kid-minded control options, and customizable rate plans you can share with up to six users. Choice of how many minutes, messages and megabytes you want per month, with account credits if you don’t use the full amount of your selected tiers.
Starts at: $1.88/month for 0 voice minutes/0 texts/50MB data

Virgin Mobile Logo

Kajeet Mobile

Network: Sprint
Data: 500 MB
BYOD: Yes

kajeet is the leading children’s cell phone, smartphone, and tablet provider. As a prepaid operator, kajeet’s services highlight free parental controls, contract-free plans, and the option of a GPS phone location in their service plans. kajeet carries cell phones, Androids and other brand name smartphones, and tablets.  Clearly one of the best deals for parents wanting a mobile phone for their child.
Starts at: $4.99/month for 10 voice minutes $24.99/month gives unlimited text, 500 voice, and 500mb data

Speak Your Mind