Republic Wireless, Straight Talk and Virgin Mobile are three of the top competitors within the discount cell phone and service market. All three attract customers who are looking to get away from the high cost, contract-heavy world of traditional cell phone providers. However, the services they provide are vastly different – with huge disparities in both cost and service.

If you’re in the market for a new phone or plan, your first course of action should be determining how each of these plans work – and what they will cost you.

Republic Wireless

Republic Wireless is on the cutting edge of hybrid calling technology, a fairly new type of service which merges both cell and web-based technologies to provide reliable voice and data. Since WiFi is available nearly everywhere, this technology allows you to use your phone to access it for free.

Recently, Republic Wireless made a big announcement – that they will begin paying customers for their unused cellular data. The new technology they offer, coupled with the unique perks that come with it, has made Republic Wireless a disruptive force in this highly competitive market.

Here are some other features that Republic Wireless offers its customers:

  • Contract-Free Service. In an industry where providers like to lock customers into long-term contracts, Republic Wireless bucks the trend.
  • Change Plans 2x/Billing Cycle. You can switch plans up to twice each month, or as your service needs change. If you know that you will be needing more data for a week or two, you can switch to a higher cost plan with more data with no penalty. Once things are back to normal, you can switch back.
  • 30 Day Money-Back Guarantee. If you find that you don’t like the service, you can cancel within the first 30 days and get a full refund.
  • Affordable Plans. Republic Wireless plans are extremely affordable, ranging from a low of $5 up to $40 per month. For $5, you get unlimited talk, text and data on WiFi only. With the most expensive plan, you get unlimited data over WiFi, plus On-Network 4G. Once again, you can switch plans twice per billing cycle.

Although Republic Wireless offers plenty of perks, there are a few limitations you need to be aware of. First, they don’t offer international service. And second, since the hybrid technology they use is proprietary, you can only use the service with a Republic Wireless phone. Currently, options include the 8GB Moto X (2nd Generation) at $149, and the 16GB Moto X (2nd Generation) at $299.

Straight Talk

Straight Talk is owned by Tracfone, and is sold mostly through Walmart. They provide nationwide service through four major carriers – Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T. As a result, performance will vary depending on which network is providing the service. Currently, they offer two plans – a limited plan and an unlimited plan with international service.

Straight Talk features include:

  • Phone Flexibility. Under the Bring Your Own Phone plan, you can use your existing phone with Straight Talk and get 5GB of high speed data plus unlimited talk and text for $45 per month. Depending on the phone you have, you will need to purchase either a GSM Sim Card or a CDMA Activation Kit. Either can be purchased for $5.
  • Higher Data Usage. The most common plan comes with up to 3GB of high speed data, followed by unlimited data at a lower speed of 64 kbps.
  • Prepayment discounts. Although the most popular plan is $45 per month, you can save $20 per year by paying for three-month blocks of service at a time. You can also pay for six months upfront to save $30 per year.
  • No contract. Like Republic Wireless, Straight Talk plans don’t require a long-term commitment.
  • International calling. With Straight Talk, you can get unlimited mobile-to-mobile calls to Mexico, China, Canada and India for an extra $15 per month. The only caveat is a limit of 15 unique international phone numbers in each 30-day plan cycle.
  • Plans and Pricing. The All You Need Plan is $30 for 1,500 minutes of nationwide talk plus 100MB of data. The second option is the 1-Month Unlimited Plan, which costs $45 for unlimited service and 3GB of high speed data followed by unlimited data at 64 kbps.

Although Straight Talk has a lot to offer, certain limitations apply, including these:

1. There are no rollover minutes. However, by purchasing multiple months of service, you can move minutes forward.

2. A quick search of the web reveals consistent complaints about sub-par customer service. Do some deep research on this issue before moving forward. As we all know, sometimes you get what you pay for.

Virgin Mobile

Founded in 2002, Virgin Mobile offers coverage through Sprint. This limits the coverage area compared to Republic Wireless and Straight Talk, but Virgin Mobile more than makes up for that limitation if you’re looking for wide international coverage. Virgin Mobile also offers more phone choices than the other two, and at much lower prices.

Virgin Mobile features include:

  • No Contract Plans. Just like Republic Wireless and Straight Talk, all of Virgin Mobile’s plans require no contract.
  • Speeds Up to 4G. This feature, which is available on the Samsung Galaxy S5 4G LTE phone and others, depends on your specific coverage area.
  • International Coverage. With coverage to more than 70 countries, this is where Virgin Mobile shines. Paying an extra $5 per month allows you to make unlimited calls to Mexico and Canada with unlimited worldwide texting. For an extra $10 per month, you can get all of that, 1,000 minutes in mobile call time to Mexico, unlimited calls to over 70 countries, and discounted rates to many more countries.
  • Virgin Mobile Buyback. You can earn up to $300 in account credits toward the purchase of a new phone when you recycle your old phone to Virgin Mobile. You can recycle up to five devices per 12 month period.
  • Plans and Pricing. Virgin Mobile offers four plans that cost between $20 and $45 per month. So no matter your budget, you’ll be able to find something that works. And remember, international calling is included in many of their offerings.
  • Phones Options. Virgin Mobile offers 16 phone choices, from the Kyocera Contact and Kona at $14.99 each, to the Samsung Galaxy S 5 4G LTE at $499.99.

Although the pros easily outweigh the cons, Virgin Mobile has a few limitations that you need to be aware of:

1. The service is not extensive in the Western United States or in certain rural areas throughout the country. 2. The service has a 2.5 GB data cap after which data speeds are reduced to 2G.

Republic Wireless vs. Straight Talk vs. Virgin Mobile – Which Will Work Best for You?

If you’re in the market for new cell phone service, it’s nice to know you have plenty of options. And with any of these three, you’ll likely be a lot better off.

New features like no contracts, unlimited calling and data, and international coverage are making it hard for customers to continue paying more for less. And with all of these new options, a big cell phone bill and a long contract should be a thing of the past.