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Pros and cons of choosing cell phone plans with cheap prices

Cell phone companies are marketing to us like crazy, trying to convince us to make the switch to their lower prices.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — You've probably seen the Ryan Reynolds ads. They're everywhere. 

He's trying to convince you to switch to his cell phone company, Mint Mobile, by offering cell phone plans for dramatically lower prices than major carriers. 

Mint is far from the only new mobile company doing this. It's actually just one company in a rapidly growing segment called MVNOs. They're marketing to us like crazy trying to convince us to make the switch.

Should you? Have you made a switch already?

Let's start with the basics. What exactly is an MVNO? It stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator.

An MVNO is a wireless provider that offers coverage to its consumers using another company's infrastructure to do so. They primarily use national carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. 

The MVNO pays the network a certain amount to basically lease their towers and allow their customers to use that network.

Eli Blumenthal, Senior Editor for CNET, explains some of the pros and cons of choosing an MVNO over a major provider.

PROS of MVNOs:

1.) Monthly plan cost

Because MVNOs are using the existing infrastructure of major carriers, they don’t have to pay for those additional costs. That often leads to much lower prices.

"Whereas the cheapest plan from Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T could run you about $60 a month for unlimited data with a single line, someone like Mint or Visible could offer it for $40 or $30 a month," Blumenthal said.

2.) Flexible plans, often without overage fees

While popular MVNO plans usually include unlimited everything (talk, text, data etc.) you can choose their other plans providing just what you personally need for even lower prices.

“Most of these MVNOs have gotten rid of overages so if you go over your 10 gigabytes a month or 15 gigabytes a month, that's high-speed data, you'll be slowed down, sometimes painfully slow, but if you decide to upgrade, you could do that pretty easily and just bump yourself up,” he said. 

“And conversely, if you find yourself not using that much data, you could lower your data bucket, and also lower your bill.”

3.) Coverage

Cell phone coverage is basically the same either way because you're still using a major network. 

If you make sure you're choosing an MVNO that uses a carrier covering your area, you will likely have coverage just like on the major network.

“Check each carrier's website for a coverage map to make sure they cover your area,” he said.

CONS of MVNOs: 

1.) Deprioritization in congested areas

If you're connected to 4g or 5g and you're downloading things constantly or going past 35 or 50 gigabytes of data on your phone in a month, you could possibly risk having your speeds slowed down.

“If you are in an area of congestion or a busy area, Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile could de-prioritize your line," said Blumenthal. "Your line would be slower in those areas than it would be for somebody who either hasn't used that much data in a month or somebody who is on the regular carrier."

2.) Cost of phone devices

Most MVNOs require you to “BYOP”. That means “bring your own phone”. Major carriers will often give bundle deals or offer hot new devices for a discounted price, sometimes as cheap as free.

“If you want a new iPhone or a new Galaxy, the providers will offer you the ability to get those devices, sometimes for free, if you're willing to commit to staying with them for 24, 30 or 36 months,” said Blumenthal.

3.) Online customer service due to limited physical storefronts

Many MNVOs don't have physical storefronts so they rely on online customer service. If you rely on help from physical stores, you need to see if any are available where you live. Those are more rare than common.

“If you want to get physical, direct help, that doesn't really exist to the same extent for most MVNOs,” said Blumenthal.

Now that you know some of the pros and cons, how can you choose the best plan for you? 

Blumenthal said to ask yourself some important questions:

  1. Is your priority lowest price?
  2. Is unlimited talk, text and data non-negotiable?
  3. Do you need to use a certain phone?
  4. Do you want the fastest speeds?
  5. Is accessible customer service a must-have?

Those are just some of the things to think about. The good news is that you have options; more of them than ever before.

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