Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T takes glitz very seriously. They offer tons of shiny features like 1080p video streaming, generous hotspot plans, and very high data caps. However, if you don’t need blazing-fast features or high-speed streaming, you can save a lot of money every month by choosing one of the smaller, lesser-known cellular providers. Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) charge cheaper prices because they lease wireless capacity from large companies rather than maintaining their own cell towers.
They may not have the money for a high-profile ad campaign, but MVNOs can deliver many of the core features that were once limited to the Big Three. These days, it’s reasonable to expect that all the cheapest cell phone plans include 5G network access and the option to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. These are our favorites.
Don’t see something that works for you? Read our guides to the best unlimited plans, best Android phones, best iPhones, and cheapest phones for more advice.
Update June 2022: We’ve updated pricing and details for all sections of this guide.
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Launched in 2016, Mint has become the best value in small cell networks. Its unlimited plan, our favorite data service, starts at $30 per month (for the first three months) with impressive benefits. This is a new introductory offer – when renewals are required at the end of those three months, it will revert to $40 per month. Mint Mobile lets you renew your service every three, six or 12 months.
You get 4G LTE and 5G on every plan, but speeds are reduced on the unlimited plan after you use 35 GB of data per month (video is also streamed at 480p, unless you’re on Wi-Fi). All plans have unlimited talk and text, and you can make free calls to Canada and Mexico. You also get mobile hotspot functionality from your phone, so you can connect your laptop to the internet, but tethering data is limited to 5 GB per month.
There are four tiers: 4 GB for $25, 10 GB for $35, 15 GB for $45, or unlimited for $40. The price is the lowest if you pay for a year at a time. Mint’s offer reduces the price for the first three months to $15, $20, $25, and $30 per month, corresponding to the plans above. If you choose to pay every three months, these prices will revert to actual rates, however, if you commit to a year, you can keep the discounted rate.There are also smaller discounts if you commit six months at a time. Wireless tax is not included in Mint prices. Both plans will cost you an extra $10 per month if you don’t pay annually.