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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.

Straight Talk

Piggybacks on: Multiple
Starts at: $30 per month for 1,500 voice minutes, unlimited texts, 100MB data
BYOD: Yes
In business since: 2009

Like Net10, another 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 for different models and different areas of the country.

So, what sets the two apart? Not much, except for plans: Straight Talk offers a bit more bang for the buck with its $45 rate, which includes unlimited everything (with data throttling only after you hit 5GB). What's more, you can get $5 off your monthly bill (if you choose the $45 or $60 plan) when you sign up for auto-pay, though this savings drops to $2.50 after the first three months.

TextNow Wireless

Piggybacks on: Sprint
Starts at: $18.99 per month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 500MB data
BYOD: Yes
In business since: 2009

Like Republic Wireless, TextNow relies on specially coded phones that leverage Wi-Fi for calls -- except when Wi-Fi isn't available, at which point they revert to cell towers. That's what helps keep plan prices low, with options starting at just $18.99. However, that affords you just 500MB of data at 3G/4G; after that, data speed drops to 2G. If you want, say, 2GB at a reasonable speed, you're looking at $39.99 per month -- not exactly a bargain. Indeed, that same monthly rate buys you a similar data allotment from several other MVNOs, but without the potential headaches associated with voice-over-IP calling.

What's more, using TextNow means buying one of the company's handful of Android phones, a few of which are free when you sign up for service. (You can also get a first-generation Moto G for just $9.99.) If you bring your own Android or iOS Sprint phone, you won't get the cell-tower "fallback" if your Wi-Fi or data connection isn't good enough for a VoIP call.

Ting

Piggybacks on: Sprint
Starts at: $15 per month for 100 voice minutes, 100 texts, 100MB data
BYOD: Yes
In business since: 2012

Originally a CDMA-only network limited to owners of post-contract Sprint phones, Ting now supports GSM handsets as well. And it continues to be the only carrier that truly charges you based on your usage, offering six different tiers each for minutes, messages, data and number of devices. An online calculator shows you exactly what you'll pay per month as you juggle your choices.

In other words, if you like to get really granular when it comes to picking a plan, Ting is your best option. The carrier's excellent online dashboard lets you monitor usage and quickly make changes to device and plan settings. As for phones, a SIM card for your existing device will cost you $9, though Ting also sells a wide range of new and refurbished phones.

 

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