The first time I heard about the MVNO was during Podcast DR 007’s interview with Mr. Money Mustache (around the 27:00 mark). During the segment, Mr. Money Mustache revealed that he saved on his mobile carrier by switching to Republic Wireless, and had learned about MVNOs from readers of his blog.
So let’s take a look at MVNOs and how they can save you money on your cell phone bill.
What is a MVNO?
MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator. Such carriers offer mobile service to consumers by piggybacking off the infrastructure of the major providers like Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. They accomplish this by purchasing carriers’ unused network capacity in bulk, then discounting the service by repackaging phone, text, and data. These packages often target lower income market segments in the form of very affordable monthly or pre-paid plans.
Which MVNO is right for you?
There is a plethora of MVNOs to choose from and BestMVNO.com has compiled a list of carriers available in the United States. PureTalkUSA has also created a nifty table that dissects the specifics of some of the major MVNOs:
In addition to those resources, we have also compared some of these services head-to-head here on the site: Republic Wireless vs. Cricket and Republic Wireless vs. Straight Talk vs. Virgin Mobile.
With all this information, how do you choose?
3 Steps to Choosing an Alternative Mobile Carrier
- Determine the MVNOs available in your Service Area
- Select Your Device
- Select Your Monthly Plan
1. Determine the MVNOs Available in your Service Area
Most metropolitan areas will have great coverage from all major carriers, from which these MVNOs’ services are hosted. If you live in a suburban or rural area where coverage is limited, you are usually restricted to only one or two carriers.
If you’d like to know which carrier (Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T) is best for your home and work address, Sensorly.com has “unbiased” mobile coverage maps available on their website. After determining the best carrier for your area, you can cross-reference the best carrier for your area with the corresponding MVNO on BestMVNO.com.
2. Select Your Device
Once you’ve filtered out the services available in your area, you need to determine which device will work best for you. Do you need a good camera, expandable storage, a bigger display? Do you need the newest iPhone or are you willing to settle for a lower-end device?
If you need a simple smartphone, I can personally vouch for the Moto E, available on many MVNOs. It is a solid device which will perform all your basic functions flawlessly.
Here is a sample of devices available:
Republic Wireless – Moto E $99
Google’s Project Fi – Nexus 5X starting at $199
StraightTalk – Bring Your Own Phone $0.99
3. Select Your Monthly Plan
When I had unlimited data from T-Mobile, I never used WiFi and had once racked up 21GB of monthly data usage, mostly due to the podcasts I would download and listen to during my 3 hour daily commute. I have since reduced my commute, transitioned to a family plan, and, with some data saving tricks, I never go above my new 10GB data allowance.
Personally, I don’t think I could find a MVNO plan offering the same amount of data at a competitive price.
MVNOs are great for users who don’t use a lot of mobile data. If you rely on your home and work WiFi for most of your mobile browsing needs, then these solutions may also work for you. Take a look at some of the plans offered:
Republic Wireless Plans
Boost Mobile Plans
Straight Talk Plans
I suggest you look through your previous mobile carrier bills and calculate a monthly average of:
- Data you consume
- Minutes you use
- Text/SMS you send
Compare your usage and see if there is a comparable plan (step 3) with an MVNO that is offered in your service area (step 1) with the device you want (step 2).
Putting It All Together
I’ve put together a few examples (as of June 25th, 2016) for you here.
In this first example, let’s say that I’ve determined that: 1) Verizon was the only carrier that provides service in my area, 2) the Samsung Galaxy S5 was the device I would like to use, and 3) I need at least 3GB of data. This is how an MVNO alternative would compare to its hosted carrier:
|Carrier: Verizon||Verizon||Total Wireless (Verizon MNVO)|
|Device:||Samsung Galaxy S5||Samsung Galaxy S5|
|2 Year Total:||$2,112||$1,189 ($923 savings!)|
In this next example, let’s say I’ve determined that: 1) all major carriers are offered in my area, 2) I had no device preference, and 3) I need a minimal amount of data and minutes. This is how an MVNO alternative would compare to its hosted carrier:
|Carrier:||AT&T:||PureTalk (AT&T MNVO):|
|Device:||LG G3 - Metallic Black (Certified Pre-Owned)||Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 (Similarly Priced)|
|Data Allowance:||Unl. Talk/Text, 300Mb data||600 Minutes, 400Mb Data|
|2 Year Total:||$1,259||$763.80 (a savings of $495.20)|
It is not all about service, device, allowances, and cost. Some of these carriers offer additional benefits that may be beneficial to the right consumer. Republic Wireless offers WiFi calling for those who get absolutely no service at home, but have WiFi available. Both TPO Wireless and Google’s Project Fi use multiple carriers to provide a consistent overlap of coverage.
Overall, if you need the latest flagship device from Apple or Samsung OR use more than 5GB of data, an MVNO may not be the best solution for you. MVNOs are perfect for low data usage consumers who are willing to sacrifice their selection of devices in order to achieve a very competitive price. If you are willing to make that compromise, the three steps above will help you break free from the traditional carrier. Plus, you can save money while doing so!
Have you switched, or thought about switching, to an MNVO? What are your thoughts?