Your wireless carrier’s site won’t advertise this possibility, but you can drop your service and keep using its network.
Beyond the obvious option of the three nationwide carriers’ discounted prepaid offerings, you should consider other firms, some owned by the carriers, that resell their networks. A reseller can slash your connectivity costs – at the cost of some mainstream-service perks.
Consider some ways to keep a lot of data and still enjoy your phone’s mobile-hotspot feature.
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Verizon Wireless’s Do More and Play More unlimited plans, each $80 a month on one line, cover 50 GB of priority data (meaning your connection shouldn’t slow to ease network congestion until you exceed that threshold), 15 GB of mobile hotspot, and access to Verizon’s fast but scarce milimeter-wave 5G.
Verizon’s prepaid plans offer rates that drop after three and then nine months: Unlimited Plus, with “mm-wave” 5G but no priority data and only 10 GB of hotspot, begins at $75 and descends to $60.
Visible, a Verizon subsidiary, offers unlimited data for just $40 monthly. Its trade-offs: no priority data, mobile hotspot limited to 5 Mbps on one device at a time, a 200-mbps speed limit – even on mm-wave 5G – and no in-store support.
Alternatives to Verizon: Broadband customers of the U.S.’s two biggest cable operators may find they offer better deals than Verizon’s network, mm-wave 5G included. Comcast Xfinity Mobile’s $45 Unlimited plan has 20 GB of priority data but a woeful 600-kbps hotspot speed limit; its $60 “By the Gig” $60-per-month 10 GB plan, however, covers full-speed hotspot use. Charter’s Spectrum Mobile, meanwhile, has a $45 Unlimited plan with 5 GB of hotspot – but brakes downloads to 1 Mbps after 20 GB.
AT&T customers have similar alternatives to its $75 Unlimited Extra (50 GB of priority data, 15 GB hotspot). AT&T Prepaid’s Unlimited Plus runs $50 on a new line for 22 GB of priority data and 10 GB of mobile hotspot – if you sign up for auto-pay.
Alternatives to AT&T: Cricket Wireless, an AT&T subsidiary, beats that via a $55 unlimited prepaid plan with unlimited priority data and 15 GB of mobile hotspot.
Or consider Consumer Cellular, a third-party service that also resells T-Mobile’s network: Its $55 unlimited plan gives 50 GB priority status. It has mobile hotspot turned off by default, but customer service will activate it for free.
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At T-Mobile, its Magenta plan’s $70 taxes-and-fees-included rate – with 100 GB of priority data and 5 GB of mobile hotspot – leaves little to save with its prepaid Unlimited Plus, at $60 before taxes for 50 GB of priority data and 10 GB of mobile hotspot.
Alternative to T-Mobile: Its Metro by T-Mobile prepaid service charges $50 a month for unlimited data with 35 GB of it priority (although T-Mobile subscriber traffic takes precedence) and 5 GB of mobile hotspot, plus 100 GB of Google One storage.
And Mint Mobile, a third-party reseller, charges as little as $30 a month for unlimited service with 35 GB of priority data (also ranked below T-Mobile traffic) and 5 GB of mobile hotspot. That discount, however, requires paying for at least three months’ service. Mint has no in-store help.
The bad news
All these deals require two other tradeoffs: They sell a more limited selection of phones, sometimes without installment-payment deals, and they don’t provide discounted international roaming – except, in some cases, Canada and Mexico.
But those limits suggest yet another way to spend less on wireless: skip the pricey flagship phones and buy a $400-ish device like Apple’s iPhone SE or Google’s new Pixel 5a direct from the manufacturer and unlocked, freeing you to use cheap prepaid SIMs whenever you do travel internationally.