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We compare side-by-side the three top low cost cell phone providers--Republic Wireless, Straight Talk and Virgin Mobile. Here are the results.
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.

Click here to check out Republic Wireless

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 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.

Click here to check out Straight Talk

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.

Article comments

Kenneth says:

I’ve been having good luck with my used Samsung Galaxy S4 on FreedomPop. Total monthly cost? Zero dollars and zero cents. Of course there are limits: 200 minutes, 500 texts, 500MB of data. One way I have found to get around the minutes limit is to use Hangouts Dialer, with which you can place a call to any of your contacts, in a VOIP mode, using your Google Phone number. Works great, 0.5MB per minute out of your 500MB data.’

Although not for everone, because of the limits, and the Sprint service, it works very well for me, and you can’t beat the price.

Don says:

The Republic Wireless phone you showed as “8GB Moto X (2nd Generation) at $149” is actually a 1st generation Moto G.

Leslie in MA says:

Virgin Mobil is an arm of Sprint. The coverage is exactly like Sprint but I think the customer service is actually worse. When I was getting out and wanted to keep my telephone number I had to provide the new carrier with my account number. With Virgin your account number is NOT your telephone number – you need to specifically ask for your account number and be prepared for the question of “why do you need that?”. Your account number does not appear on any invoice and/or billing statement. I ended up telling the rep it was my legal right to have all the information about my account and the number was part of it because I didn’t want to listen to the hard sell if I told him I was leaving.

CurtisM says:

The major carriers like AT&T and Verizon have no contracts options and they have prepaid services like Cricket for AT&T. The quality of service and customer service is much better than the resellers in this article.

Republic Wireless also uses Sprint for their coverage when you are not on Wi-Fi.They do push the Wi-Fi calling feature.

Patrik69 says:

The phone that costs $149 is the MOTO G.

Kevin says:

I’m pretty sure Republic Wireless also uses the Sprint network when not on WiFi.

william says:

I used virgin mobile several years ago. I think they are shady and would not recommend them. My main complaint was that they would bill your credit card before any credits you have on your account. Also, their customer service was terrible and since it is the Sprint network so was the coverage. Their plans and website were also tricky and require you to use caution to not get ripped off. Verizon and AT&T have best coverage of all but cost about double Sprint and T-mobile. My wife used to be on AT&T and I found their billing to be a little shady… lots of extra iphone charges. I used to be with Sprint but unfortunately my house was in a coverage hole for calling. Their data speeds were terrible most evey where. I tried Sprint’s in-home voip solution and it was also terrible. I have tried t-mobile’s wifi option for fun and did not like it either… too much delay and half-duplexy (think walky-talky). For these reasons, I am skeptical to try Republic… I also heard they use Sprint for cell coverage… another hit against them. I am with t-mobile now and am very happy. Rates are good ($120ish for 4 lines with unlimited everything (data throttled at 3 GB) and coverage is fine in most areas I visit. They play it straight and have good customer service. Great company.

Rob Berger says:

William, thanks for comment. It’s interesting. My daughter has used Virgin Mobile for a couple of years and hasn’t had these problems. She loves it.

Grace says:

I would highly recommend Ting which is a Pay-as-You-Go plan with EXCELLENT customer service and good coverage (uses Sprint’s networks). As someone on a budget, I would feel remiss not to let others know about Ting because it has saved me SO much money.

I share a phone plan with my brother; we both talk and text and use data but not extensively. We typically pay about $40/month for two smartphones. We switched from Verizon which was charging us $80/month with a company discount and on two flip phones (no data). Switched and HAVE NEVER LOOKED BACK! Verizon = Terrible, Terrible customer service. Ting = friendly people who actually answer the phone and want to help! know how to help! are empowered to help! You can have your basic flip/slider phones or bring a Smartphone – I have a Droid but I know they just introduced iPhone. Did I mention I have 3G and can get 4G in some cities on my phone?

Some helpful caveats:
**You do have to use a Sprint-network-friendly device. You can either buy one from Ting pre-programmed to Ting’s network or you can buy a refurbished one off ebay and link it into the network (Ting has great how-to’s on this and will even help you troubleshoot if you’re not super tech savvy like me).
**Also, Ting may not be the best for a big data user, but none of the above carriers have that going for them either.

Obviously I’m biased towards Ting but I have been a happy customer since I joined and want to share that joy with others. Below is a referral link for those who are interested in switching to Ting: if you use the link, I get a little kickback to help lower my bill plus you can get $25 off a device or $25 in Ting credit:


Ben says:

Does anyone know of an accurate map of where each carrier services? I have only been able to find maps put out by the carriers themselves which seem a little overzealous.

Jeff Briggs says:

I’ve used Republic Wireless for a couple of years now. Pay $10 a month for unlimited talk and text everywhere, plus unlimited data on wifi. Got a very good Moto G smartphone for $150. Great service at an unbeatable price!

Curtis Ray says:

I have been a loyal Virgin Mobile Usa customer for 10 years. Ever since Sprint took control of the company it has went down hill. They are always trying to find ways to cut the high speed data allotment they offer under their plans. New plabs have been introduced today that did just that. The $35 plan with unlimited talk,text and data with 2.5 GB at high speed was reduced to 1 GB data at high speed. And their selection of devices has shrank dramatically. Not worth the hassle dealing with Sprint / Virgin Mobile.

Aida says:

We’re in the market for a third phone line for my consulting work. We currently have two business Verizon phones and although pricey they are very reliable. Should we add a third phone number to the existing plan or switch to one of these plans for the third phone. The main features that I would need are unlimited minutes and enough data to retrieve emails if needed.

Amanda says:

I have been trying to use Straight Talk for quite a while. The only reason I have stayed with them is that they claim to use AT&T towers and that is the only towers that work at my location.
This is the biggest joke I have ever seen. I purchased the fourth phone with the guidance of WalMart. Each one had gotten worse than the last. They drop every call, take callers straight to voice mail, doesn’ t ring and gives any notice you even had a call. The times you are able to connect either you can’t understand what the caller is saying or vice versa. So what ig you only pay forty five a month. I think that is a very high cost for nothing. That is exactly what I have….NOTHING!!!!! Yes and I might add there is no such thing as customer service with Straight Talk. I am highly ticked and I will be getting another service very soon if it cost twice what I am paying. It will be worth it to lose the frustration I have experienced with this crap I have been hooked up with.

sabunim5 says:

I have traveled twice out of country with my Republic Wireless phones. In portions of Europe, the Middle East, India and Nepal the phones worked fine in every case with one caveat. They worked on Wireless Networks only, not on cell. You would be surprised how ubiquitous wifi is around the globe.