Biting the No-Contract Mobile Plan Bullet: Choosing the Best MVNO Family Plan Service

By Supratim Sanyal

Washington, DC, Aug 17, 2014 (Washington Bangla Radio): Originally a Cingular customer, and subsequently AT&T when they gobbled up Cingular, I have been a foolish contract customer for the last 17 years. With the last contract expired on August 2, and everybody in the family happy with their current phones, there is no reason to renew the contract just for upgrading the phones any more. I am also somewhat inspired by the thriving pre-paid / no-contract market observed in a recent trip to Europe. Turns out the US of A is not doing bad either - between the Big Four and numerous Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), there are some excellent pre-paid no-contract mobile plans around perfect for a family like ours.

After getting the phones unlocked from AT&T (a surprisingly easy process using the Request a Device Unlock form at the Device Unlock Portal),  I spent a couple of hours comparing plans, and of course the MVNOs leave the big four far behind. The trick is to find a no-contract family plan, supporting GSM phones, with the biggest bang for the buck. The parameters do not include coverage in arcane camp-grounds, but functional coverage in the home-work-school circuit and over urban and semi-rural escapades (the blackberry provided to me by Xerox Corp. has great coverage in campgrounds and such places).

First of all, Freedompop stands out for their free everything services, and I need more time to figure out the caveats. They also offer a few interesting choices of devices. If I had Sprint-compatible devices (of which I have none), I would take a similar deep look at RingPlus Mobile. If their services are even close to what their website claim, their plans are among the best value for money.

So far, I have also looked at the carriers below seriously. I must make special mention of 420 Wireless - their stated mission is to legalize pot! They lost out because the only two plans they offer (Gram plan and Pound plan), while excellent, do not address my requirements. Also  I have to mention Upptalk - they have a free VOIP call service using an Upptalk app for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Amazon Kindle Fire, perhaps like Viber, Talk-a-Tone or Pinger.

The big four:

  1. AT&T
  2. Sprint
  3. T-Mobile
  4. Verizon

The MVNOs:

  • Airvoice
  • Black Wireless
  • BrightspotConsumer CellularCricket
  • Divvy Mobile
  • Docomo USA (NTT Docomo USA - website in Japanese only!)
  • GHz Cellular (their unlimited 4G broadband internet plan could be a home internet alternative)
  • Giv Mobile
  • Good2GO
  • Go Smart MobileH2O Wireless
  • Jolt Mobile (their $40 international plan includes free calls to India & a bunch of other countries, unlimited talk,text,mms and 500MB data)
  • KDDI Mobile (cobranded H2O - targets the Japanese community!)Lycamobile (great unlimited-everything $23/mo plan, free sim, $29 gets 1,000 international mins too)
  • MetroPCS
  • Net 10
  • Proven Wireless
  • PTel
  • Puretalk USA
  • Ready Sim
  • Red Pocket Mobile
  • Republic Wireless
  • Roam Mobility
  • Simple Mobile (Actually tried this; works fine, but expensive!)
  • Sky View Wireless
  • Smart Voyager (very interesting for world travelers, links to satellite phones including Inmarsat BGAN and Thuraya both of which I have worked on with Hughes Network Systems)
  • Solavei (Warning: WOT flags this as unethical / having misleading information)
  • Spot Mobile
  • SpeedtalkStraight Talk
  • Telcel America
  • Travelsim (for international travel)
  • Truphone (for international travel)
  • TracfoneTVC Mobile
  • Walmart Family Mobile

After the first round of brain-numbing comparison of plans against my requirement of additional lines or a family plan, the list becomes very short quickly. Eventually I went with a plan with Consumer Cellular. My favorites, in order, are:

Winner

Consumer Cellular

$15/mo for 200 talk + $5/mo for SHARED 1000 text & 100mb data + $10/mo additional shared lines = $50/mo for 4 lines. Walk-in store at Sears. I went up one step in the talk and data and also roped in their Home Wireless phone device to use as the home phone, terminating the current Vonage home VoIP service that is coming in at rougly $38 per month for little usage. Click here for $10 off if you sign up using my referral (I get a $10 credit, too).

Runner Up

Puretalk USA

Family Flex Plan: $10/mo for 130 mins w/rollover +  $9.95/mo PER LINE for 150mb data w/rollover & 200 mms + $5/mo additional shared lines w/60 mins w/rollover each. 1 Text Msg = 1/3rd of a minute. Total for 4 lines = $19.95 + (3 * $14.95) = $64.80/mo. Also free basic flip phone with internet support available instead of a free SIM for BYOD.

Consolation Prizes

  • MetroPCS - Very Expensive family plans - basically each additional line gets $5.00 off from their already-expensive individual plans
  • H2O
  • Airvoice (no family plan, 5 regular plans stack up pretty well to 1 main + 4 additional line family plans)

"A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), or mobile other licensed operator (MOLO) is a wireless communications services provider that does not own the wireless network infrastructure over which the MVNO provides services to its customers. An MVNO enters into a business agreement with a mobile network operator to obtain bulk access to network services at wholesale rates, then sets retail prices independently. An MVNO may use its own customer service, billing support systems, marketing and sales personnel or it may employ the services of a mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE)." - Wikipedia.

Feel free to share your experience with switching to MVNO, No-Contract or Pre-Paid mobile plans. Use the comments area below.