We talk a lot here about stuff that the big four – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint – get up to. But the thing is, even with T-Mobile’s un-carrier, anti-contract slant and the new installment payment plans for buying new devices, they can all end up being way past what your budget will allow. Fortunately, there are no shortage of unsung heroes in the telecommunications industry, stocked with budget phones and budget plans. And, hey, in the end, you’re still getting talk, text, and data on your smartphone, just like anyone else running with one of the big four. At less than $25 per month, these plans make cutting-edge look downright overrated.
Unlimited 4G LTE for $10. No contract. No, this isn’t a dispatch from a future utopia – this is Ciao Mobile, which just recently launched in the United States, after starting in Latin America. Granted, you won’t be surprised to discover that there’s a catch – it’s ad supported. Basically, you get a modified HTC Evo (for $199), which has a special lock screen designed for one purpose – ads. Those ads keep your monthly bill down, though, so as far as ads go, it’s hard to complain too much about these.
Republic Wireless is just for people who heavily use Wi-Fi – and to be fair, that’s probably most of us. They keep their plans cheap by channeling all talk, text, and data through a Wi-Fi connection by default, if you’re in range of one. If you move out of range, Republic has a hybrid calling system that will switch your call over to a data connection without dropping your call. For $10 per month, you get unlimited talk and text, but you’ll be limited to Wi-Fi for data use. But, for $25 per month, you can get unlimited talk, text, and data backed up by a 3G connection, which isn’t too bad of a price, either. And, if you get a phone through them, you’ll end up with a Moto X (for $299, unlocked) – not bad, for a budget carrier.
Doesn’t get any cheaper than free. FreedomPop works on Sprint’s network, except you don’t have to pay for it. You’ll get 200 minutes, 500 texts (no MMS), and 500 MB of data. That’s not a whole lot, but if you crunch the numbers and find that that could sustain you for a month, there’s no reason not to get on board. Even their paid plans are dirt cheap – for $4.58 per month, you get unlimited talk and text and 500 MB of 3G data. Why the oddly specific monthly bill? You actually just pay $110 up front, and get service for two years. If you just want to pay for one year of service, that will be $80, or you can go month-by-month for $11.
As the name implies, TextNow Wireless is just for those whose main mode of communication is the good old text. For $19 per month, you get 750 rollover minutes, 500 MB of data, and, of course, unlimited texts. Chances are you’ll never run into trouble with minutes, either – incoming calls are also unlimited, so only calls you make count against that 750. Might not be the most attractive option on the list, but this is one you should look at if you have a lot of friends and family living across the northern border – texting to and from the United States and Canada is also unlimited.
UppWireless also plays nice with Canada. Their $15 monthly plan includes unlimited talk and text to and from the United States and Canada, along with 1 GB of 3G data. The one drawback here is that calls are limited to 20 minutes in length, before you get disconnected and need to redial. It’s part of a ‘fair-use policy’ – budget carriers have to stay budget, and this is one way to do that. If your calls don’t tend to last long, it might not be that big of a deal.
One side note: a good many of these wireless providers stay cheap by using VoIP for calls and texts. So, instead of calling over a network like usual, it’s actually more like using Skype – just with an actual phone number. Bad Wi-Fi or data connections might hamper call quality, though, so keep an eye out for that.