We are still stuck in our AT&T phone contract for a few more months, but now is the time to figure out where we want to go with our phone dollars for the next year or so. I've been doing some research on lesser known providers, and I figured I'd share it here with you, for two reasons. First, I like to share money saving information, and second, by organizing it into post form, I might be able to decide which will be the best deal!
First on the list is always Republic Wireless. For $17.50 a month per line, you can get unlimited talk/text, with half a gig of cell data, but if you route through wifi data is free. And that's how they keep their talk/text costs so low, too - when you're in a wifi zone, your calls go over wifi. As soon as you leave wifi, they go through the Sprint network, which unfortunately can be a little spotty around here. And you have to have their phone, because standard phones are not set up to route calls over wifi.
Pros - way cheap monthly bill at $17.50, high end phones
Cons - would have to buy their phone (some available used on eBay, but new start at $125), Sprint service a little iffy locally
Our service would cost $35 a month, with a startup cost of around $250.
The second plan on my list is Ting Wireless. Ting allows you to bring your own device, so the start up cost could be minimal if you already have a phone that you like. The plans are based on monthly use, and set up in brackets, with a base fee of $6 per line. For example, if my husband and I switched to Ting, based on last month's use, we would pay $12 for the two lines, $35 for 1001 - 2100 minutes of talk time, $5 for 101 - 500 text messages, and $12 - $19 for data, depending on how much I use the navigation feature. $64 - $71 is a savings over our current plan at $125 a month, but it doesn't make my heart pound or anything.
Pros - bring your own device, very clear pricing plans
Cons - Not a huge savings, could get out of hand if we have to talk a lot.
Our service would cost $64 - $71 a month, varying with use.
The next one (I'm tired, I'm not going to count now.) is P'tel. This one starts off at $20 a month unlimited talk/text plans (unless you use a cell phone so little that you want to go with the pay-as-you-go option) which step up to $25, $30, $40, $50 and $60, based on how much cell data you want to use. The nice thing is underneath each plan, they explain "use this one if you're around wifi MOST of the time" "this one if you're RARELY around wifi" etc.
They do offer phones on their site, but you can also just spend $5 for their SIM card and keep using your own phone.
Our service would range from $40 - 60 a month, depending on which plan we choose.
Next is Airvoice, another service that offers unlimited talk/text with minimal data. Their $20 plan only offers 100 mB of data (though as usual, wifi is free), their $30 plan offers 1 GB, and their $50 plan offers 5 GB. For $5 - $7, you can get a SIM card that will allow you to use your current phone.
Our service would most likely be $40 - $60, probably around $50 because my husband doesn't use data much.
Lastly, there's Freedom Pop. This service boasts FREE phone service, but as you might guess, there are a number of gotchas along with this service. To qualify for free service, you need to accept a plan with 200 voice minutes, 500 text messages, and 500 MB of data. Their next plan up is billed annually - $6.67 a month, $79.99 a year, for unlimited talk/text and 500 MB of data. But their "gotcha!" plan is a free trial of unlimited talk/text and 1 GB of data - after that, you're billed $19.99 a month. Which isn't high, but the way they do it? A little shady.
They do allow you to bring your own devices, but ours don't qualify, so we would have to buy their phone at a starting price of $99. Oddly enough, they do allow the newer iPhones, and even sell a gadget that turns an iPod touch into an iPhone, so if you're an Apple head, this may help you save a little of what you just spent on that phone. ;)
If we chose this service, we would take the "billed annually plan", so it would be a start-up cost of $360, with an annual cost of $160.
As you can see, many of the plans center around the $40 - $60 a month area for the two of us (for one person, obviously, divide by two). The notable exceptions are Republic Wireless and Freedom Pop, which both require a new or used phone purchase. All things being equal, I'm more familiar with Republic Wireless, the main downside with them being that if we bought the phones, tried it, and didn't like it, we couldn't use those phones on another plan - they're hard linked to RW. With Freedom Pop, we could buy their phones, try the service, and if we didn't like it, we could swap out the SIM cards for a more reliable plan.
If I have any readers out there who use any of these plans, please leave a note in the comments and let me know how you like it. (I left off Cricket because it just didn't seem like enough savings.)
Edited to add - Holy mackerel, there are SO many more alternative carriers out there! Here's the Wikipedia page listing all the MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) providers out there. They buy airtime from the big providers at a volume discount, then turn around and sell it to the consumer. They have companies that specialize in plans for kids, some that focus on music lovers, some that are a better bargain if you have a family plan, and some that are best if it's just you. But the average prices seems to level out for 2 lines at $50 - $60 a month with most of these if you use any data.