Last year, we took a look at five great low-cost alternatives to high-priced monthly wireless bills from the big four. Well, we’re happy to report the trend has caught on — we’ve got 10 coming your way this year. Thanks to more and more smartphone makers putting out near premium phones at affordable unlocked prices, more and more people are moving away from contracts and subsidized pricing. Not good news for the big four (well, three of the big four, anyway), but great news for all of you who want to trade in an $80+ monthly bill and pick up one under $30 ‐ so, everyone. But keep in mind that the following 10 providers offer excellent values for specifically $30 or less. So if you’re willing to up your spending by just another $10 or so, you’ll get even more value, most likely in the form of a bigger data allotment. Either way, it’s incredible how much $30 can get you these days.
We’ll also be looking at which networks these carriers (mostly mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, which license wireless networks from the big four) are using, so be sure to refer to PCMag’s 2015 Fastest Mobile Networks results to look at which network has the best coverage in your area.
One more note: throughout the post, global text will refer to texts sent from the U.S. to other countries. No roaming features unless specified.
Here’s that outlier in the big four. T-Mobile boss John Legere likes to talk up how different T-Mobile is from the other telecom giants, and while he might overstate his case sometimes, there’s no denying there are good deals to be had if you go pink. Their $30 per month plan isn’t as simple as we’d like — you need to buy a special SIM card activation kit for $3 for either T-Mobile.com or Walmart, then follow a somewhat lengthy setup process. But, once you’re done, you have a $30 per month plan that nets you 100 minutes, unlimited text, unlimited global text, and unlimited data with the first 5 GB at LTE speeds. This plan banks on you not using cellular calling much, but in the age of texting and VoIP, that’s not a big loss.
Giv Mobile uses T-Mobile’s network. Their $30 monthly plan gives you unlimited everything except for 3G/4G/LTE data — that includes talk, text, data, MMS, and global texting. You also get 1 GB of 3G/4G/LTE data and $5 of international calling credits, with rates varying by country. Then, there’s the charity part — it’s called Giv Mobile for a reason. Giv Mobile contributes 8 percent ($2.40 in this case) to a charity of your choice. A pretty good deal, but getting throttled down to 2G speeds after 1 GB of data will be a non-starter for some.