Americans have long been conditioned to believe that when they buy a cellphone, the next step is to pick a wireless plan from one of the big carriers: Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile. With their plans ranging from $60 to $200 a month for individuals and families, the price of a phone is soon eclipsed by the recurring service bills.
What if I told you that it no longer had to be this way?
Your phone bill could shrink to as little as $25 a month if you picked a wireless plan from a lesser-known service provider known as a discount carrier. The cheaper plans, based on my tests, offer sufficiently fast internet speeds and reliable phone service. It takes some courage and technological know-how to make the switch, but the potential savings outweigh the downsides.
On the surface, these budget carriers, which include Cricket Wireless, Straight Talk, Boost Mobile, Mint Mobile and Visible, lack a cool factor. They do not operate their own cell networks; instead, they lease wireless services from the big carriers and market them toward retirees. The no-frill plans often have trade-offs, including slower download speeds, since Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile subscribers have priority access to faster network performance.
Yet in the past few years, so much has changed that I can now confidently recommend discount phone plans for most people, including white-collar professionals and Instagram-obsessed youths. Here’s why:
Cellular networks have peaked. Newer 5G and 4G cell technology is so fast that even budget carriers can provide very fast download speeds — zippy enough to stream video, load maps and download apps — even if they are somewhat slower than what the Big Three provide.
The shift to hybrid work. Office workers who used to spend more time commuting and had to rely on their cellular network now have their commute time cut in half and are relying more on the Wi-Fi connection at their home or office cubicle for making video calls and sending messages. That means slower cellular performance on a budget carrier may be unnoticeable.
You can try a discount carrier without breaking up with your big carrier. The eSIM, the digital version of the SIM card that carries your phone number, is now common on many modern smartphones. It lets you immediately activate an extra phone line without needing to insert a physical SIM card, which makes experimenting with an off-brand wireless…