Technology Explained

10 Money-Saving Reasons You Should Switch To An MVNO

Kannon Yamada 08-01-2013

Are you out of contract with your cellular provider? Rather than upgrading your phone, and signing a new contract, consider switching to a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). You can save hundreds, even thousands, each year in cellular costs, without signing a contract.


MVNOs offer cheaper rates by renting spectrum from major cellular providers and reselling to consumers. Unlike the contracts sold by the telecoms, MVNO plans are usually prepaid and without contractual obligation, giving consumers freedoms they never knew existed.

Here are 10 reasons make the switch:

1. Inexpensive Monthly Plans

The greatest advantage MVNOs offer is in pricing. While the four major carriers in the US charge approximately $100 a month for a smartphone plan, MVNOs offer the exact same deal for $40 a month.

what is an mvno

2. No Contracts

One of the most unethical behaviors that the big four carriers engage in is offering subsidized phones with inflated monthly fees attached to a two-year contract. These contracts are legally binding, meaning if you violate the terms of the contract, you might be held liable.


mvno cellular service

3. More Flexible

Prepaid plans allow for two basic kinds of plans: pay-as-you-go (pay-go) or “unlimited”, which typically throttle data speeds after about 2-3GB of use. Some carriers, such as Ting, offer flexible plans, whereas most don’t have any differentiation between plans other than the pay-go and unlimited.

The key points to keep in mind – first, look at the minimum payment required to keep the account active. Second, look at the rates for each category of service, such as price per text and price per megabyte of data. Third, make sure your plan doesn’t come with an expiration date for minutes, otherwise you won’t get rollover after a certain period of time. All three of these points should meet your current needs.

4. Minutes Roll Over

In a contract plan, consumers get caps on minutes and texts. Any activity over the cap and an outrageous overage rates gets applied.


Perversely, any unused minutes, data and SMS at the end of the month disappear. In comparison, prepaid carriers that provide the pay-go option allow their customers’ minutes to accumulate, if unused. These minutes roll over to the next month Because of rollover, prepaid phones are commonly used as emergency lines or as burners.

5. No Invasive Credit Or Social Security Number Snooping

Unlike the major carriers who force customers to sign binding contracts, prepaid carriers collect hardly any customer information at all. So, instead of forking over your social security number, date of birth, address and more, you only provide cash and your name.

mvno cellular service

In the event of a security breach of their systems, your personal information is protected. Additionally, the payment process for prepaid phones is extraordinarily simple and flexible. Customers aren’t even required to keep a credit card on file! These features make prepaid phones useful for staying off the grid, as well.


6. You Can Port Your Old Number Over

Thanks to the FCC, US law requires that cell phone operators allow for “local number portability”. As long as a customer remains in one locality, he can switch cellular carriers and maintain his phone number.

7. Same Plans, Cheaper Prices

A common misconception that consumers have about prepaid carriers is that they offer poorer quality service than large companies. This assumption is patently false. MVNOs operate on whichever large network leases them spectrum. Ptel, for example, rents bandwidth from T-Mobile. However, T-Mobile cheapest individual plan, with data, costs nearly $90 per month. Ptel’s nearly identical plan costs $40 per month, off-contract.

8. Bring Your Own Device

Some MVNOs allow customers to port over their own unlocked device, rather than forcing them to buy locked down phones. However, GSM phones cannot work on a CDMA network and vice-versa. Also Sprint-CDMA and Verizon-CDMA phones aren’t inter-operable. A good rule of thumb is to check with your prospective network before buying a SIM card or consider an unlocked phone The Best Prepaid Cell Phones on the US Market Mobile phone contracts suck. Everyone knows it, but we accept them because often we don’t seem to have much choice. The selection of pre-paid phones is poor and off-contract phones are expensive. But perhaps you... Read More .

9. OS Agnostic

Prepaid carriers for the most part don’t differentiate between the iPhone and Android handsets. Meaning, you can get the iPhone 5, unlocked, from the Apple Store for $700.


After calculating the price of an unlimited plan with a two-year contract, you actually save almost $1,000 by going with an unlocked iPhone 5 and an unlimited prepaid plan.

10. Ethical

what is an mvno

Reusing older phones 8 Creative Ideas To Recycle Your Mobile Phone Without Throwing It Out Recycle mobile phones. I wish that should be the catchphrase for all of us to live by. While researching this article, I came across quite a few official mobile industry websites of consumer rich countries... Read More prevents mercury and other toxic chemicals from leaking into landfills. Aside from saving money, it’s also environmentally friendly.


  • For GSM, I suggest either Straight Talk or Ptel. As mentioned previously, Ptel’s rates can’t be beat, although Straight Talk’s plan does compete.
  • For the Sprint-CDMA networks, you can’t go wrong with Ting. Flexible plans, reasonable rates and BYOD make Ting a solid choice for Sprint-CDMA.
  • For the Verizon-CDMA network, it seems that PagePlus offers the best deal. Because PagePlus rents space from Verizon, it also has the same quality.


Considering the huge advantages that MVNO networks have over the big four networks, there’s very little reason not to switch over. The extraordinary savings alone, which can reach thousands of dollars, justify it.

Anyone out of contract, or purchasing a cell, should consider an MVNO.  Let us know in the comments if you’ve done so, and whether you’re happy with it.

Image Credits: Cellphone via, Money via, Chains via, Evil Grin via, Dumpster via

Related topics: Save Money, Smartphone.

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  1. Felis
    August 6, 2019 at 10:20 pm

    You should look at They beat Ting.

  2. Michelle J Post
    July 21, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    I have been using a Samsung Note 2 android since 2016, never had any problems with it and it still looks new, but several bloatware came with it that I have never used.I tried to delete those apps in the Management column but it warns that if I do it, it could create serious issues in my phone.I use Sudden Link wifi, very fast, and top notch.My main problem is that I can't any longer install photos from websites which I use as wallpaper for lockscreen.I can install any app, and my photo gallery works fine.It's just installing photos from sites...I used to just tap any pic and I'd get choice of download or send.Now my tap does nothing.Just started last month.All other apps work fine.

    • kannon
      July 21, 2019 at 4:14 pm

      many of the samsung apps are what's called "system apps" which means they cannot be deleted without root access (this is the highest user privilege, you would know if you had it). When you disable such apps you end up hiding them in the system menu. You can restore them by going to setttings -> apps and then filtering for system apps. Find the apps that you disabled and reenable them

      A factory reset will also solve the issue

  3. Kidd
    October 6, 2017 at 2:34 am

    Is there a place where I can get extent detaill? I currently have an issue that apparently has baffled the entire Metro PCs corporation it seems. I have a LG 54G that I purchased from Verizon. Metro cannot seem to get my mobile data properly working and no one knows why. Few years back one guy had taken my phone at a pcs and he used a different APN name. Metro uses but he used another megro APN name which looked like a long code for a name and my service worked like a champ but now it seems everyone is just reading a script

  4. Fabian
    June 17, 2017 at 10:30 am

    Nice article, Kannon. Just followed you on Twitter!

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 17, 2017 at 5:39 pm

      You've made my day Fabian. Thanks again!

  5. Darla Schlachter
    February 15, 2017 at 9:52 am

    I like that my phone cost the same every month! Which I knew more about the phones before getting one. .. not good on computers but want my phone able to hold more pictures and games, apps at the same time without having to have a sd card

    • Kannon Yamada
      February 15, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      Thanks for sharing! Yes, that's a great reason to use an MVNO (no hidden taxes or variable fees, since you've paid up front).

      Can I ask what phone you have now? A great unlocked phone (which requires a SIM card and a SMALL amount of configuration in the APN settings menu) is the ZTE Axon 7, which I saw on sale from Newegg just two days ago for $200. I think if you look around on sites like Swappa, you can find a similarly discounted model.

      For someone not very interested in high end smartphones, a great alternative is the BLU Tank II T193. It's around $20 for a semi-smart phone. And while not capable of running apps like Facebook, it handles email and browsing.

      • Darla Schlachter
        March 7, 2017 at 2:20 am

        Samsung J3e. Had the Samsung galaxy 5 before this and liked it 100% more

  6. Sylvia McGowan
    March 25, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Are there any MVNIO's in Canada? Looking at buying an unlocked cell phone ... have never had a cell phone so am very new at this. As well, what are the best cell phones? Want easy to use, touch screen ... am legally blind so don't want any little keys.

    • Kannon Yamada
      March 25, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      There are! Canada has the same shady cell phone scams as we have in the US. Contracts should be illegal.

      One of the better cell phones for the visually impaired is the iPhone. Fujitsu is also working on a new kind of smartphone with enlarged icons, but it's not available in Canada or the US.

      Anyway, I looked at a number of Canadian MVNOs. You have among the worst prices in the west. It's really bad!

      Anyway, I like Virgin Mobile and Koodo because of two reason - price and phone selection.

      If you are entirely new to smartphones, I suggest trying out an older version of the iPhone, such as a 4 or 4S. If you don't like it, you can always resell it. The companies I mentioned may have some kind of return period, although I do not know for certain.

      You may want to look at each individual carrier for a plan that best suits you, though:

      [Broken Link Removed]

      And if you have any more questions, check out my article on how to get setup with an MVNO:


  7. Ron Harper
    February 26, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    I switched my son from the Verizon family plan to "Straight talk" and has been using it for the past 3 months. A couple reasons he has it is, like everyone else was to save money, and also for web access. When looking at Verizon data plans as well as the other major carriers it only seemed to make sense to switch him to that. I don't understand the reasoning behind the "data" plan cost. Could someone enlighten me on this? Why do the major contract carriers "have to" charge such astronomical prices when the other non contract plans add it at virtually no cost?

    • Kannon Yamada
      February 27, 2013 at 2:04 am

      Everyone should ask that question, Ron.

      The way major carriers overcharge is through luring customers in with high-end phones that only they carry. They create the false notion in the minds of consumers that $80 a month is the right price for a smartphone contract.

      But anyway, the best example of this is the iPhone. When it came out consumers had no idea how much data plans were actually worth. They also had no idea how much the iPhone cost unlocked. Because people had no accurate measures of comparison for how much to pay for data, $80 became the established market price.

  8. Alastair Crombie
    February 26, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Is this relevant to the United Kingdom or just the USA?

    • Kannon Yamada
      February 26, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      Hello Alastair, the article still applies to UK MVNOs - although the UK has cheaper rates overall than in the US. The UK also has different MVNOs.


  9. Elena Sicconi
    February 25, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    What timing! I have been looking to switch from my (liked but) expensive sprint plan because I love the unlimited data but not the bill, and this helped a TON! That, and in the comments found that my initial plan to go to Virgin should be reconsidered..

    • Kannon Yamada
      February 26, 2013 at 12:32 am

      I'm glad this helped! There are currently four MVNOs that use the Sprint backbone:

      Ting is the most flexible, but you may wish to look at each individual plan to find which one best suits your needs.

    • Kannon Yamada
      February 26, 2013 at 12:58 am

      Elena, I just read the comment up top about MVNOs not offering as good a service as the major carriers - that's mostly a rumor to my knowledge. Some MVNOs don't offer data roaming or other services, meaning your data connection won't be as good if you go traveling.

      Here's the thing: the spectrum-sharing agreement between many major MVNOs and major carriers guarantees equal service. That means data, voice and SMS delivery are identical to that of the major carriers.

      There are some exceptions - I believe Ptel doesn't allow data roaming. There's a few others in the same boat as Ptel. But otherwise their service on the whole equals that of the major carriers they're based on.

      Ting and Virgin Mobile, I'm pretty sure, have 100% access to the same call quality as on the Sprint network. However, if you plan on using their ETF airtime rebate program, be sure to speak to a rep first, before signing up. It can be very tricky switching over due to some of the various conflicts going on within our legal system.

      • Elena Sicconi
        February 26, 2013 at 1:29 am

        Ah, I see. I mostly am just frustrated that I pay so much for what essentially is only a data plan... I seldom use voice minutes and texting I can do through Google Voice. If only my iPad was more convenient as a phone....

        • Kannon Yamada
          February 26, 2013 at 3:11 am

          There's a website that might help you:

          [Broken Link Removed]

          They did a breakdown of the best prepaid data carriers and plans.

          It's excellent, by the way, that you're using GV for voice and text. That can save a huge amount of money!

  10. PalTech66
    February 25, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Don't know why you'd recommend Ting on the Sprint-CDMA network when Virgin Mobile (VM) is a LOT cheaper!!

    I just switched from Sprint to VM and for $45/mo (no surcharges) I get 1200 anytime minutes, unlimited text and 'unlimited' data which is actually capped at 2.5GB when using 4G (unlimited on 3G).

    At Ting you'd pay $74/mo. for less: 1000 min. / 2000 text msgs, / 2GB data, PLUS unspecified 'surcharges'!

    You should do more research before making recommendations!!!

    • Anonymous
      February 26, 2013 at 6:25 am

      Glad you asked. Ting is BYOSD - bring your own sprint device and its lower end plans are cheaper than Virgin's. It's a mid-range service, suitable for a wide variety of customers.

      I don't think anything beats Virgin's 300 minutes unlimited data plan for $35 or $45 a month, combined with their customer service and lavish replacement plan. However, you can't unlock the vast majority of VM phones, so any phone you buy from them stays with them. If you usage pattern ever changes, you may be stuck inside a contract that costs a lot more than you consume.

      I was a longtime VM customer - from 2006 until last month. I had the $25 a month unlimited plan (3G only). However I only used about one or two minutes of voice a month and maybe 20 megabytes of data. After doing the math, a PayGo seemed the best deal.

      • Sneezy
        February 10, 2016 at 1:27 am

        Actually, the beauty of Ting is that it is a kind of "pay-as-you-use" plan. Minutes, texts and data are each grouped into seperate small, medium, and large usage packages. You only pay for what was used that month.

        Multiple devices can share an account ($6/month each) and aggregate their usage. My daughter and I share an account and only pay about $30/month.

        And, best of all, is their customer service. You won't need it often, but if you do, your call will be answered on the first or second ring by a person who is very courteous, knowledgable, and resolves your issue quickly, without passing you off to six other departments. And, speaks perfect American English.

  11. Aaron W
    February 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    I switched to a T-Mobile pre-paid plan that is $30/month with 100 talk minutes and unlimited data and text. I already have everyone call my Google number, so since I'm usually at my PC all day, I can just answer it on the PC within Google. I have yet to get anywhere close to breaking the 100 minutes a month. I try to make all my outgoing calls from Google Voice also so the actual talk minutes I need is greatly reduced.

  12. Moni
    January 27, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Hello and thank you so much for your article. My husband and I have iPhones.
    Is it possible to do this now, after the new "it is illegal to unlock phones bill"?
    We have the iPhone 4. Our carrier is AT&T.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 27, 2013 at 6:41 pm

      That's a really good question.

      The "bill" (it was a ruling by the uhh head librarian at the Library of Congress) targets companies that specialize in unlocking subsidized phones, still under contract, but it has the side effect of allowing carriers to refuse to give you an unlock code even if you have fulfilled the contract. You can still request that they unlock your phone, but now that they can legally refuse you, I don't see why they wouldn't.

      If you have fulfilled the terms of your contract, you can still request a carrier unlock code from your cell company. Just tell them you are traveling overseas and would like to temporarily change providers. They logically have no reason to not give you the unlock code.

  13. Tony
    January 17, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Thanks for the informative article Kannon!

    I'll be signing-up with an MVNO once I'm "unshackled" from my current contract in June. I wouldn't have considered this option without someone like you looking-out for us consumers.

  14. Gaeyle Gerrie-Boss
    January 11, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Wish I had read this before upgrading my old phone to an Iphone5. Is it possible to have an Iphone unlocked post buying?

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 12, 2013 at 12:12 am

      I'm sorry about that. I should have written this article when the iPhone 5 released.

      To answer your question, the carriers require that you fulfill the terms of the agreement first, before they unlock it.

      In fact, your phone is locked in such a way that prevent you from changing networks. Some of these locks can be hacked, but it may be illegal to do so, since it violates the terms of your agreement with the carrier.

      So, yes, but it's in violation of the law.

  15. Art
    January 9, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Due to the somewhat lacking GSM coverage near my home, I am still stuck using CDMA technology and of the Verizon/Sprint duo, Verizon has always provided me with better coverage. Therefore I have been a very happy PagePlusCellular customer for well over a year now. I have managed to help many people see the savings with prepaid and especially with this particular MVNO in the same time. I look forward to the day they begin offering 4G coverage as well.

  16. Jan Corlew
    January 8, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    I've only ever had the basic flip phone and never a data plan so not really familiar with all of this. It's great to know these plans are out there, as my cost through Verizon for basic service seems to climb. I'll be looking to learn more about programs like this to more effectively conserve funds. Thank you so much for the article!
    Jan C

    • Kannon Y
      January 8, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Hey Jan, classifies your needs as "talk and text" or "voice and text".

      They wrote an article about it here.

      But basically, depending on your needs, your monthlies can be as low as $5 a month for a pay-go or as high as $30 or 40 (or more) for an unlimited plan that doesn't use data.

  17. Bruce Casner
    January 8, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    I did my research and decided on Consumer Cellular for my GSM phones. They have prices similar to what you mention, and their per minute charges are not bad if you go over. Plus, you can bring your own device (my son just did). And you can adjust your plan as many times during each month as you need to. I set a reminder at the end of the month and adjust my plan to what the usage for that month has been, minimizing my cost each month.

  18. R Michael Lacy
    January 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Great information. We only use our phones for a few minutes every month. Have been using Boost pay-as-you go, but this might be a good alternative.

  19. Andy Rhine
    January 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Any of them allow me to tether?

    I am stuck with CDMA only where I live. No GSM within an hours drive.

    • Kannon Y
      January 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      That's a good question. To my knowledge, no MVNO encourages tethering, although some don't go out of their way to block tethering apps. It's actually 'illegal' for them to charge you for tethering.

      By the way, the Nexus series of cell phones supposedly allow tethering by default, although I can only confirm that it works on the Galaxy Nexus. One of its killer features is it masks your identity, preventing networks from blocking you.

      Basically, you go to settings -> wireless & network settings -> Tethering & portable hotspot. It's super easy to configure.

      Unfortunately, Google stopped supporting CDMA networks, although there are still unlocked Gnexus out there for the Sprint network.

      • enoss
        January 10, 2013 at 2:49 pm

        We (Ting) allow tethering for free. It is just data usage on your plan. Since we happily show you how to do it, I guess you could say we encourage it.

  20. Alex Downs
    January 8, 2013 at 5:02 am

    You sir are a saint, I've been spending the better part of month trying to think of what would be the best plan when my contract expires.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 8, 2013 at 8:35 am

      Hey Alex, thanks for the feedback!

      Shockingly, there's a huge number of MVNO operators in the US.

      Fortunately, does a regular analysis column on which plan is the best. They basically break plans down into "talk minutes and text", unlimited and pay-go. Check for the recommended links for their picks. Unfortunately, they don't look at people who want to bring their own device. But that's understandable.

  21. yitzyy
    January 8, 2013 at 3:47 am

    You skipped Virgin & Boost, which seem to be cheaper than Ting. Is there any specific reason?

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 8, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Thank you for mentioning Virgin! I was fortunate enough to pick up two of their $25 per month unlimited plans two years ago. The price has since gone up to $35 for the same service but their service remains one of the best on the market in terms of customer service and pricing. Although Ting is actually a more flexible and cheaper service, it's a comparable service.

      What put Ting over the top for me, though, was that they allowed customers to bring their own Sprint phone and refund unused minutes. Most other prepaid, MVNOs do not have the same policies.

      Boost charges around $50-60 for what Ptel and StraightTalk charge $40-45. The differences are in the data caps. Ptel has a 250mb soft cap and StraightTalk has about 2GB before getting capped. I think Boost had something in the 2-3 GB range. It's CDMA-Sprint, and they're also BYOD (Sprint phones only).

      One of Ptel's best features is that they don't ROUND UP for minutes. So if you talk for 5 seconds, they only charge you for five seconds, not a full minute. They also had the lowest Pay-Go and "Unlimited" plans, although that 250mb cap isn't for hardcore data users, obviously.

    • h
      January 9, 2013 at 4:52 am

      Because, virgin, also sister to boost, is the most horrible, god forsaken excuse for a company there ever existed. Period. Speaking with MUCH experience.

      • yitzyy
        January 9, 2013 at 5:00 am

        Thank you :) That is exactly what I was getting at...
        What is so horrible, service/reception or something else?

        • Kannon Yamada
          January 9, 2013 at 6:44 am

          Virgin and Boost are both on the Sprint network, so it's the same call quality. Sprint I think is a second tier network and their connection quality varies heavily by region.

          Virgin won the J.D. Powers customer service award for wireless carriers. Boost came in second. But in all honesty, they have slipped in customer service quality since selling out to Sprint.

        • H
          January 9, 2013 at 11:49 pm

          Everything!!! Literally everything. Reception, quality, 2nd class devices, and the best part???
          You'll be working off the 'leftover' bandwidth/signal from sprints towers that their contract customers receive first.
          Yes, you're literally a second class customer to them.
          This comes straight out of the mouths of sprints executive office.
          And, good luck ever reaching a rep that can understand you.

        • Elena Sicconi
          February 25, 2013 at 10:56 pm

          that's great to know, I was about to switch to them!

  22. Richard Borkovec
    January 8, 2013 at 1:32 am

    I went from Verizon to Straight Talk (bought a TMobile Samsung Galaxy Exhibit, unlocked it), and couldn't be happier. I get AT&T's coverage, and unlimited everything for $45.