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How to save on mobile plans: Your guide to 17 no-contract carriers

Rick Broida | Jan. 21, 2016
Tired of dealing with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless? We tell you about some good alternatives.

Plans start at $30 per month (a bit less if you enroll in auto-pay), though that one has a hard cap of 500MB. The next tier gives you more data after 500MB, but only at 128Kbps. This may sound a bit stingy, but there's a silver lining: H2O is among the few MVNOs to let you carry any unused data from one month to the next (banking up to 10GB maximum).

MetroPCS

Piggybacks on: T-Mobile
Starts at: $30 per month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 1GB data
BYOD: Yes
In business since: 1994

Born over two decades ago and scooped up by T-Mobile in 2014, MetroPCS matches -- and in some cases exceeds -- many of its parent company's offerings. For example, you can get an individual service plan for as low as $30 monthly. However, if you bump up to the $40 plan (still $10 less than T-Mo's cheapest option), you get a 3GB 4G data allotment and Music Unlimited: Unlimited music streaming from over 40 apps, with no impact on that 3GB.

MetroPCS also includes a mobile-hotspot option with all plans, as well as Data Maximizer, which optimizes streaming video for smartphone-size screens and saves data in the process. However, the carrier isn't so generous when it comes to family plans, offering just $5 off per line. In that respect, T-Mobile definitely has the edge.

Good news from the Big Four’s price war

Back in 2014, when we first compared carriers, the Big Four (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) weren't doing much to compete against the "Small Sixteen" -- the MVNOs we featured at the time. Things have changed.

These days, it seems like every other week brings a new deal. Still under contract? We'll pay the penalty when you switch! Like music? Here's unlimited streaming that doesn't count against your data plan! Got a family? Here's a deal for four lines for $120. In fact, family plans are where the Big Four tend to have the biggest edge over MVNOs, offering generous shared "data buckets" and, in some cases, discounts for each line you add.

Perhaps the most surprising move of all: The end of the two-year contract. T-Mobile made this move years ago; in August 2015, Sprint and Verizon Wireless announced they would do likewise. Of course, without that subsidy, you're now on the hook for the full price of the phone, which, depending on the model, can be steep. (A new iPhone 6S, for example, starts at $549.)

Don't want to spend that much up-front? No worries -- the carriers offer leasing options so you can pay them off over time. That doesn't include service, though, so make sure to factor that into your budget. Hmmm...suddenly you're looking at $60 to $70 per month (or more) all over again. Sneaky Big Four!

 

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