This post by Tara Donnelly originally appeared on partner site Whistleout.com.
Wireless networks are all about persuading you to upgrade, update and be the first to scoop up the latest gadgets. But unless you’re a serious tech junkie with attention deficit disorder, jumping to a new phone with every new product cycle is silly, expensive and unnecessary.
There’s a better way. Major carriers and smaller companies renting space on their networks – known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators, or MVNOs – offer deals for customers who have a phone and want to avoid contracts. Result? Big savings.
So if you’re looking to slash your phone bills, MVNOs are your best bet. You may not always get the bells and whistles that Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile offer, but you’ll make up for it with money in your pocket.
Here’s a full list of deals if you want to Bring Your Own phone.
Before you switch, know your phone
Not all phones can be used on all networks because U.S. carriers don’t all use the same technology.
Cellphone companies use two types of networks — CDMA and GSM. Of the biggest U.S. carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile run on GSM networks, while Sprint and Verizon Wireless use CDMA.
GSM-compatible phones use a SIM card: a small removable card that stores the data necessary to identify a subscriber on a wireless network. You can remove your SIM from your current phone and insert it into another compatible device, provided it’s either with the same carrier or you’ve unlocked it from its original network.
Phones running on CDMA networks can be unlocked from a network, but they need to be reprogrammed to work with a different carrier because CDMA networks use electronic serial numbers to identify subscribers.
So if you have a phone that’s out of contract or purchased outright, you’ll need to check if it’s compatible with your intended wireless operator before signing up.
Next: Options for taking your existing phone to a new carrier
Network: GSM (T-Mobile) AND Sprint
Prices: From $15 per month for calls, texts and data
Unlike other MVNOs, Ting doesn’t require customers to lock in a specified amount of voice, text and data use with an inflexible monthly plan.
Pricing is divided into blocks of minutes, messages and megabytes, and each month customers are billed for each bucket of their phone use.
For example, if you’re not big on talking, but love texting and browsing the Web, you may only make 100 minutes of calls in a month, but send 2,000 texts and use 2GB of data. Instead of wasting money for minutes you’ll never use in order to get bigger allotments of text and data, with Ting you’ll pay $3 for your voice calls, $8 for the texts and $29 for your 2GB of data. Along with a $6 monthly service fee for your device, you’ll pay a total of $46 for that month’s usage.
The average user can expect to pay around $39 each month for Ting service: a $6 service charge for one smartphone, $9 for 101 – 500 minutes of voice, $5 for 1,001 – 2,000 texts and $19 for between 501MB and 1GB of data.
Ting allows customers to bring their own device or purchase from a selection of devices on its website. However, your phone will need to be a Sprint device to be compatible. Blackberry devices are ineligible, but the iPhone 5, 5s and 5c are all available.
Prices: From $49.99 per month
ROK Mobile combines low-cost unlimited cellphone service with unlimited streaming music and radio for $50 per month. While the company only offers a single monthly plan so far, it does include unlimited talk, text and unlimited data, 5GB of which is at high speed.
In addition to your cell plan, you’ll also receive access to ROK Music, a digital music service with more than 20 million streaming songs. Customers can search for songs and artists, or use the included Pulse personal radio filter to discover new music. The filter allows users to select songs based on their current mood or status and according to era or popularity.
ROK Mobile uses Sprint’s LTE network as well as more than 20 million Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide to cover customers, and all hotspots are free to use if you have a ROK Mobile plan. Customers can bring their own Sprint device to the service, and ROK is also compatible with many network-unlocked GSM devices from other carriers.
There are a few cons – ROK Mobile currently doesn’t offer international service, although it plans to in the future. The company may also throttle the top 5 percent of data users during congested periods. However, the good news is that customers can sign up for a free 14-day trial of the ROK Music App before committing to the full ROK Mobile cell service.
Next: Carriers that use Wi-Fi and cellular to save you money
Prices: From $10 per month
Republic Wireless offers unlimited plans based on five price points, with plans starting at a low $10 per month. The service uses a combination of Wi-Fi hotspots and Sprint’s cellular networks to offer unlimited data, calling and texting, with plan prices determining how much cellular access you’ll receive each month.
Republic’s $10 per month plan operates exclusively over Wi-Fi. Customers will receive a phone number that will allow them to make calls and send messages, but will only work over a Wi-Fi connection.
For $17.50 per month, you’ll be able to make and receive calls and messages over Sprint’s cellular network as well as via Wi-Fi. You’ll also get a base data amount of 500MB of 3G/4G LTE on this plan, and you can add extra data at any time.
Plans go up to $55 per month, which gives you 3GB of high-speed LTE data to use (as well as unlimited Wi-Fi use), and all the calling and texting you can handle. And as of July, any data you buy each month, but don’t use, will be refunded back to your account as a bill credit on your next statement. (More info on Republic Refunds is available here).
Add-on data is available for $15 per GB, with 500MB priced at $7.50. Customers can buy extra data whenever they need via the Republic Wireless smartphone app.
Customers can’t bring their own phones to Republic, as devices must have the company’s “hybrid calling” software installed in order to work with its network. Republic Wireless does, however, offer a 30-day money back guarantee for customers wanting to give its service a try.
Prices: From $0 per month
RingPlus offers a wide range of plans that feature both Wi-Fi and cellular calls, texts and data. Plans are offered on a month-to-month, contract-free basis, and because Ring Plus’ cell service is powered by the Sprint network, customers can bring their own Sprint device to the company’s plans.
Like other MVNOs on this list, RingPlus gives customers the chance to save on their cellphone bills by making voice calls over Wi-Fi instead of over 3G or 4G LTE cellular networks. It’s also one of the few carriers to offer a totally free plan to low-use customers.
The company’s free plan includes 200 minutes of calls, 50 texts and 10MB of data for $0 per month. If you want to splurge, you can upgrade to the $1.99 Joy plan, which will give you 50MB as well as 100 text messages.
RingPlus’ Bliss plan is its most expensive option at $49.99 per month. It includes unlimited voice calls on both cellular and Wi-Fi, unlimited text messaging, 5GB of cellular data and unlimited Wi-Fi data. Between the Joy and Bliss plans, there are five options with varying price points and cellular data amounts.
Subscribers will also receive access to member benefits, including advanced usage controls and parental filters, low-rate domestic roaming, free radio stations, voicemail-to-email and the RingPlus Cloud Translator, which offers real-time live translation in more than 29 languages
Prices: From $18.99 per month
Another low-cost prepaid provider backed by Sprint’s nationwide network, TextNow claims to save customers more than $500 in their first year of service by offering unlimited voice calls over Wi-Fi.
The company has three plans available, starting at $18.99 per month for unlimited texts and domestic/Canada calls, unlimited (slowed) cellular data and data over Wi-Fi, and 500MB of full-speed data on the Tall Plan. For heavier users, the $39.99 Venti plan provides unlimited Wi-Fi use, unlimited cellular texts and calls, and unlimited slower cellular data with 2GB at high speed (and 4GB of high-speed data is available for $59.99 per month on the Quattro Plan).
All of TextNow’s plans include unlimited Wi-Fi calling and data. Because the plans don’t allow for overages, they are great for customers who don’t want to be hit with excess data or call fees. New customers will need to buy a refurbished device from TextNow in order to access the service, or bring their own compatible device from Sprint.
Customers will be charged automatically each month to renew their TextNow plan, but the plan can be canceled at any time, as there’s no lock-in contracts. TextNow also offers a 30-day money back guarantee for anyone interested in giving their service a try risk-free.
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