Wireless users will often look towards one of the major carriers, Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile when setting up or switching their wireless phone service. Going with one of the major carriers is understandable considering they have the name recognition and the network.
We can’t take away the name recognition, however, there are many smaller carriers offering services using the same networks as the major carriers. These smaller carriers are called MVNOs, and not only are they using the networks of the major carriers — they are often able to offer lower prices.
In this article, we’re going to discuss switching from T-Mobile to an MVNO carrier — with the intent of saving some money.
What is an MVNO?
MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator. An MVNO carrier leases network access from one of the major carriers, in this case, T-Mobile. With the MVNO carrier leasing network access in bulk, they are often able to offer discounted rates — which will allow you, the user, to spend less each month and still use the same network.
Coverage and roaming with an MVNO
Coverage and roaming are two items that need some consideration when choosing an MVNO carrier. Network coverage in the areas where the carrier offers service is typically displayed on a carrier coverage map. The part you want to consider is what the carrier is showing on the coverage map.
Some carriers will include roaming areas alongside their own network coverage. This could make the carrier’s coverage appear greater. If you are a direct customer of the carrier you would have full access to these roaming areas, however, not all carrier roaming agreements carry over to all MVNO carriers. This could potentially mean a lack of coverage in some of the more rural locations.
T-Mobile network coverage
The good news is that T-Mobile has a 4G LTE network that covers 99 percent of Americans. You can check coverage for your local area using the T-Mobile coverage map.
The online T-Mobile map not only shows you coverage in an overall area, but will allow you to narrow down and see specifics such as whether the 4G LTE is excellent, good, fair, or from a partner. To ensure the greatest compatibility with an MVNO carrier using the T-Mobile network — you will want to ensure you do not have “partner” coverage in the areas where you live, work, and play.
Network deprioritization with an MVNO
Network deprioritization is another topic to consider when choosing an MVNO. Deprioritization means that MVNO users may see slower data speeds on the carrier network, as compared to users that are getting service directly through the carrier. Though, similar to T-Mobile MVNOs generally being better in terms of coverage and roaming — T-Mobile MVNO users do not have as much to worry about in terms of deprioritization and slower data speeds.
An independent report from Tutela noted that “across the board, MVNO customers see slower download speeds than subscribers on the host networks.” However, the slower speeds were not always as noticeable. The same report went on to mention that T-Mobile MVNO carriers “average download speeds are within 1 Mbps of the host network.”
Which MVNOs use T-Mobile
There are quite a few MVNO carriers that use the T-Mobile network. You could easily count 25 different carriers without going super in-depth, and we’ve recently covered some of the best T-Mobile MVNOs.
- Family Mobile
- Mint Mobile
- Net10 Wireless
- Republic Wireless
- Simple Mobile
- Straight Talk
- Ting Mobile
- US Mobile
Our earlier list (seen above) of T-Mobile MVNOs focused on ten different carriers, and while we stand by that list as the best overall — today we are taking a look at the three carriers that are best in terms of saving money.
Best T-Mobile MVNOs for saving money
T-Mobile has a few post-paid plans available, including the Essentials, Magenta, and Magenta Plus. The Essentials plan is priced at $60 per month, and the Magenta and Magenta Plus plans come in at $70 and $85 per month respectively.
*Pricing for the Magenta and Magenta Plus plans include taxes and fees. The Essentials plan price does not include taxes and fees. Pricing for all plans assumes an auto-pay discount of $5 per month.
These three T-Mobile plans each include unlimited calls and text, and data, which we feel are the three key items users are looking for when it comes to wireless service. Having unlimited data is nice because it takes away some worry and allows you to just use your phone, however, we suspect lots of users would easily get by with a smaller fixed amount.
Today we’ll be taking a look at three MVNO carriers that have great plans that are cheaper as compared to T-Mobile. Up first is Mint Mobile, which offers service beginning as low as $15 per month.
Mint Mobile currently has four available plans:
- Unlimited Talk & Text with 3GB of 5G / 4G LTE data – $15 per month
- Unlimited Talk & Text with 8GB of 5G / 4G LTE data – $20 per month
- Unlimited Talk & Text with 12GB of 5G / 4G LTE data – $25 per month
- Unlimited Talk & Text with Unlimited 5G / 4G LTE data – $30 per month
*Pricing does not include taxes and fees.
The Mint Mobile plans also all include free international calls to Mexico and Canada, WiFi calling, WiFi texting, and Mobile Hotspot.
Bottom line, even choosing the most expensive of these options, at $30 per month, you are saving about $30 per month as compared to going direct with T-Mobile. And, if you monitor your data usage and see you are under 8GB or 3GB per month on a consistent basis — you could change your plan and save as much as $40 or $45 per month as compared to T-Mobile.
Simple Mobile has five different plans available at this time, which range in price from $25 up to $60 per month. On the high-end you are looking at the same price as T-Mobile, so we’re going to remain focused on the three lowest priced of the Simple Mobile bunch. These three plans range from $25 to $40 per month.
- Unlimited Talk & Text with 3GB of 4G LTE data – $25 per month
- Unlimited Talk & Text with 5GB of 4G LTE data – $30 per month
- Unlimited Talk & Text with 15GB of 4G LTE data – $40 per month
*Pricing does not include taxes and fees.
These three plans also all include international texting, international calling (to 69 destinations), and international roaming (to 16 Latin American countries). Mobile Hotspot is also included with the Simple Mobile plans.
Bottom line, if you opted for the plan with 15GB of 4G LTE data you would be saving about $20 per month compared to going direct with T-Mobile.
US Mobile offers the ability to create your own custom plan, or go with an unlimited option — all of which should save you money compared to going direct with T-Mobile. As the unlimited plan closely matches the T-Mobile options — we’ll highlight the US Mobile unlimited plan.
The US Mobile unlimited plan is dubbed the Unlimited All plan and it is priced at $40 per month. The Unlimited All plan is similar to the $60 per month T-Mobile Essentials plan. US Mobile offers the Unlimited All plan with unlimited talk and text, as well as unlimited data. While US Mobile and T-Mobile both list these plans as having unlimited data, both carriers may slow your speeds if you cross the 50GB mark.
*Pricing does not include taxes and fees.
Bottom line, this means a savings of $20 per month as compared to going direct with T-Mobile.
Switching and getting started with an MVNO
Switching to another carrier, even an MVNO is generally a simple process. Regardless of which carrier you are moving to, you will need to get a SIM card from the MVNO, choose a plan, and decide whether you want to port (bring) your current phone number or get a new phone number. You will also need to ensure you have a compatible phone.
SIM Card availability
The process to get a SIM card will vary slightly from carrier to carrier. With some carriers, you will order your SIM card, and then pick a plan after you get the SIM card. And, with some carriers, you will choose your plan and order your SIM card at the same time.
- Mint Mobile: With Mint Mobile you will pick your plan from their website, and your SIM card will be ordered during the checkout/payment process. Your SIM card is included as an add-on to the plan you are signing up for, and ships at no additional cost.
- Simple Mobile: Simple Mobile has you order a SIM card, which is paired with a plan. Simple Mobile charges $0.99 for the SIM card, which will be charged at checkout. You also need to pick your plan when ordering your SIM card, and you prepay for your first month of service when you order your SIM card.
- US Mobile: US Mobile allows you to simply order a SIM card. The SIM card Starter Kit is priced at $3.99, and ships via USPS First Class for free. With US Mobile you would then select your plan once you receive your SIM card and activate your phone service.
Also important to note — each of these carriers ships a SIM card kit, which includes three different sized SIM cards to ensure compatibility with your phone.
Porting your number
The majority of carriers will allow you to transfer your current phone number when switching service. The exact steps may vary slightly from carrier to carrier, however, you would want to ensure you select the option to transfer during the initial setup/activation process.
- Mint Mobile: Select the option ‘Transfer My Number’ during activation.
- Simple Mobile: Request a phone number transfer at the time of initial activation.
- US Mobile: Confirm the number you want to keep (transfer) during the activation process.
With any carrier, you will need to have the account number and the corresponding PIN or passcode for the account/telephone number you are planning to transfer.
T-Mobile is a GSM network, which means that you will want to make sure your phone is compatible with GSM and that it is unlocked.
GSM vs. CDMA: These terms refer to two different network types. GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communication, and CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access. In the US market, T-Mobile and AT&T are GSM carriers, with Verizon and Sprint being CDMA carriers. Many modern phones, such as the iPhone will support both networks in a single model, however, if you are buying (or using) and older phone you would want to double-check your model number and/or the original wireless carrier for the phone.
Locked vs. Unlocked: A locked phone is also referred to as being carrier-locked, which simply means the phone is locked to one specific carrier. An unlocked phone can be carrier-unlocked or factory unlocked. A carrier-unlocked phone means the phone was originally locked to a carrier and has since been unlocked. A factory-unlocked device means the phone was never locked to a carrier. Both carrier-unlocked and factory-unlocked devices can be used with multiple carriers.
- Mint Mobile: According to the carrier, most unlocked GSM network phones will work. And if you are not certain, Mint Mobile offers a phone compatibility check for confirmation.
- Simple Mobile: According to the carrier, compatible phones include: GSM Unlocked phones, including unlocked AT&T-compatible phones, and T-Mobile-compatible phones.
- US Mobile: According to the carrier, any unlocked device that has a SIM card slot will most likely work. US Mobile also offers a phone compatibility check for confirmation using the “Your Device” tab.
One perk of choosing an MVNO carrier is that you can bring your own phone. For some, this may mean using the phone you already have, but it can also mean purchasing a newish phone for use with the MVNO. Being able to shop for a newish phone means a potential savings of hundreds of dollars depending on the model you choose. You can browse for unlocked phones and T-Mobile compatible phones in the Swappa marketplace.