Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are heavy on the glitz. They offer tons of shiny features, such as 1080p video streaming, generous hot spot plans, and very high data-throttling caps. But if you don’t need blazing-fast features or high-speed streaming, you could 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 bigger companies, rather than maintaining their own cell phone towers.
They may not have the money for splashy advertising campaigns, but an MVNO can offer many core features that were once restricted to the Big Three. Nowadays, it’s reasonable to expect all the best cheap phone plans to include 5G network access with the option to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot. These are our favorites.
Updated June 2022: We’ve updated pricing and details in all sections of this guide.
Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-year subscription to WIRED for $ 5 ($ 25 off). This includes unlimited access to WIRED.com and our print magazine (if you’d like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.
Mint launched in 2016 and has become the best value among smaller cellular networks. Its Unlimited plan is our favorite data service and starts at $ 30 a month (for your first three months) for impressive benefits. This is a new introductory offer — it’ll revert to $ 40 per month when it’s time to renew at the end of those three months. Mint Mobile lets you renew service every three, six, or 12 months.
You get 4G LTE and 5G in every plan, though speeds on the Unlimited plan are reduced after you use 35 gigabytes of data per month (videos also stream 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 hot spot capability with your phone so you can connect your laptop to the internet, though the tethered data is restricted 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 prices are the lowest if you pay for a year at a time. Mint has an offer that lowers the prices to $ 15, $ 20, $ 25, and $ 30 per month, respectively by the aforementioned plans, for the first three months. These prices will revert to actual rates if you choose to pay every three months, however, if you commit to a year, you can keep the discounted rate. There’s also a smaller discount if you commit to six months at a time. Mint does not include wireless taxes and fees in its prices. Both plans will cost $ 10 more per month if you do not pay annually.