Save On Your Wireless Bill with an MVNO

Consider an MVNO Rather than One of the Major Wireless Carriers. Potential Savings: $10-50 per month. Difficulty Level: Low to Moderate

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It’s 2019. Cellular service is a necessity. The US has over 400 million wireless subscriptions, with wireless penetration over 120%.[1] For most Americans, cellular service is a major expense, with average wireless bills of just over $35/month per person, before taxes and fees.

Four wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint) control 95% of the US market, with the remainder served by a few regional carriers you probably haven’t heard of. Pricing varies, with T-Mobile and Sprint generally cheaper than Verizon and AT&T for various reasons. Most carriers now offer “one size fits all” unlimited plans rather than charging for voice, data, and texts, with narrow price ranges.

So, with only four options, what can you do to cut your bill? Enter the mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO.[2] MVNOs purchase cellular service in bulk from one or more of the big four and then resell it to customers. For the big four, MVNOs are useful because the MVNO can often reach a segment of the market more effectively. In other cases, the major carrier has significant excess capacity and is happy to sell it to the MVNO for less than it would charge a customer directly. About 7% of US cellular customers use an MVNO.

MVNO offerings vary widely, but one great reason to use one is to potentially save save a lot of money by limiting cellular data usage. Many MVNOs charge per-minute/per-text/per-GB of data rather than offering unlimited plans, though some offer unlimited plans as well. If you are even slightly careful about your data usage (e.g., try not to download movies/podcasts/songs unless you are on Wi-Fi), your bill can be lower, often much lower, than on the major carriers.

For example, we currently use an MVNO for four devices, two of which are heavy users of voice and data and two of which are very light users. Our monthly bill comes in at $77 (before taxes and fees that bring it up to $90). We are careful, but not too careful, about data usage and could probably cut the bill another $10 or so if we made sure to limit larger downloads to Wi-Fi networks. Switching from our previous provider, including transferring phone numbers from our old carrier, took about an hour.

We’ve had positive experiences with, or have heard good things about, Google Fi (Pixel and Moto phones only) and Ting, though there are many, many other MVNOs out there. They may not be a great fit for you, but are well worth considering.

If you are interested in a much lengthier discussion of the US cellular industry, you might enjoy the FCC’s 20th Annual Mobile Wireless Competition Report, which has more data than you’ll ever need about the US cellular industry. Enjoy!

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[1] The average American has more than 1 wireless device.

[2] Some of the most well-known MVNOs are TracFone, Google Fi, Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, MetroPCS, and Ting. Some MVNOs are owned by the major carriers themselves, but most aren’t.