There’s a lot of emphasis by wireless networks on upgrading, updating and keeping up with what’s new and overhyped in technology. But unless you’re a serious fan of technology with an attention deficit disorder, for most people frequently jumping to a new phone is both unnecessary and costly.
Major carriers and smaller companies renting space on their networks – known as MVNOs – all offer plans for customers who would rather forgo a new handset and two-year contract, and supply their own device.
But if you’re really looking to save, MVNOs are your best bet. You may not always get the bells and whistles that Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile offer, but you’ll make up for it with money in your pocket.
Here's a full list of phone plan deals if you want to Bring Your Own phone or you can jump to BYO phone deals for the Sprint network, T-Mobile network, AT&T network, and Verizon Network.
Before you switch - know your cell phone
Not all phones can be used on all networks, as US carriers don’t all run on the same kind of technology.
Cell phone companies operate under one of two types of networks; either CDMA or GSM. Out of the biggest US carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile run on GSM networks, while Sprint and Verizon Wireless use CDMA.
GSM-compatible phones use a SIM card, a small removable card that stores data needed to identify a subscriber on a wireless network. You can remove your SIM from your current phone and insert it into another compatible device, provided it’s either with the same carrier or you’ve ‘unlocked’ it from its original network.
In contrast, while phones running on CDMA networks can be unlocked from a network, they will need to be reprogrammed to work with a different carrier, as CDMA networks use electronic serial numbers to identify subscribers.
So if you have a phone that’s out of contract, or you’ve purchased outright, you’ll need to check if it’s compatible with your intended wireless operator before being able to sign up for service.
Carriers that use multiple networks for maximum coverage
Network: GSM (T-Mobile) AND Sprint
Prices from: $15 per month for calls, texts and data
Unlike other MVNOs, Ting doesn’t require customers to lock in a specified amount of voice, text and data use with an inflexible monthly plan.
Pricing is divided into blocks of minutes, messages and megabytes, and each month customers are billed for each ‘bucket’ their phone use falls into .
For example, if you’re not big on talking, but love texting and browsing the web, you may only make 100 minutes of calls in a month, but send 2000 texts and use 2GB of data. Instead of wasting money for minutes you’ll never use in order to get bigger allotments of text and data, with Ting you’ll pay $3 for your voice calls, $8 for the texts and $29 for your 2GB of data. Along with a $6 monthly service fee for your device, you’ll pay $46 in total for that month’s usage.
For the average user, expect to pay around $39 each month for Ting service: a $6 service charge for one smartphone, $9 for 101 – 500 minutes of voice, $5 for 1001 – 2000 texts and $19 for between 501MB and 1GB of data.
Ting allows customers to bring their own device, or purchase from a selection of devices from its website. However, your phone will need to be a Sprint device to be compatible, and Blackberry devices are ineligible - but the iPhone 6 and 6s, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the HTC One M9 are all available, as are a range of affordable Android smartphones from LG, Samsung, Huawei, Motorola and more.
Network: GSM (T-Mobile) AND Sprint
Prices from: $49.99 per month
ROK Mobile combines low-cost unlimited cell phone service with unlimited streaming music and radio for just $50 per month. While the company only offers a single monthly plan so far, it does include unlimited talk, text and unlimited data, 5GB of which is at high-speed.
As well as your cell plan, you’ll also receive access to ROK Music , a digital music service with over 20 million streaming songs. Customers can search for songs and artists, or use the included Pulse personal radio filter to discover new music. The filter allows users to select songs based on their current moods or status and according to era or popularity.
ROK Mobile uses Sprint’s LTE network as well as over 20 million WiFi hotspots nationwide to cover customers, and all hotspots are free to use if you have a ROK Mobile plan. Customers can bring their own Sprint device to the service, and ROK is also compatible with many network unlocked GSM devices from other carriers.
There are a few cons – ROK Mobile currently doesn’t offer international service, although plans to in the future. The company may also throttle the top 5% of data users during congested periods; however, the good news is that customers can sign up for a free 14-day trial of the ROK Music App before committing to the full ROK Mobile cell service.
Carriers that use WiFi and cellular to save you $$$
Prices from: $10 per month
Republic Wireless offers unlimited plans based on five price points, with plans starting at a low $10 per month. The service uses a combination of WiFi hotspots and Sprint's cellular networks to offer unlimited data, calling and texting, with plan prices determining how much cellular access you'll receive each month.
Republic's $10 per month plan operates exclusively over WiFi. Customers will receive a phone number that will allow them to make calls and send messages, but will only work over a WiFi connection.
For $17.50 per month, you'll be able to make and receive calls and messages over Sprint's cellular network as well as via WiFi. You'll also get a base data amount of 500MB of 3G/4G LTE on this plan, and you can add extra data at any time.
Plans go up to $85 per month, which gives you 5GB of high-speed LTE data to use (as well as unlimited WiFi use), and all the calling and texting you can handle. And as of July 2015, any data you buy each month, but don't use, will be refunded back to your account as a bill credit on your next statement (more info on Republic Refunds is available here).
Add-on data is available for $15 per GB, with 500MB priced at $7.50. Customers can buy extra data whenever they need via the Republic Wireless smartphone app.
Customers can't bring their own phones to Republic, as devices must have the company's 'hybrid calling' software installed in order to work with its network. Republic Wireless does, however, offer a 30-day money back guarantee for customers wanting to give its service a try.
Prices from: $0 per month
RingPlus offers a wide range of plans that feature both WiFi and cellular calls, texts and data . Plans are offered on a month-to-month, contract-free basis, and as Ring Plus’ cell service is powered by the Sprint network, customers can bring their own Sprint device to the company’s plans.
Like other MVNOs on this list, RingPlus gives customers the chance to save on their cell phone bills by making voice calls over WiFi instead of over 3G or 4G LTE cellular networks. It's also one of the few carriers to offer a totally free plan to low-use customers.
The company's free plan includes 125 minutes of calls, 50 texts and 15MB of data - for zero dollars per month. If you want to splash out, you can upgrade to the $4.99 Renoir plan, which will give you 500MB of data, 500 cellular talk minutes, and 500 text messages.
RingPlus currently offers thirteen paid plans, ranging in price from $5 up to $109.99 each month (for the 40GB Van Gogh plan). But for average users, expect to pay between $19.99 (for the 2GB Miro plan) to $39.99 per month (for the Kandinsky plan, with 4GB of LTE data).
Subscribers will also receive access to members' benefits, including advanced usage controls and parental filters, low-rate domestic roaming, free radio stations, voicemail-to-email and the RingPlus Cloud Translator, which offers real-time live translation in over 29 languages
Prices from: $18.99 per month
Another low-cost prepaid provider backed up by Sprint’s nation-wide network, TextNow claims to save customers more than $500 in their first year of service by offering unlimited voice calls over WiFi.
The company has three plans available, starting at $18.99 per month for unlimited texts and domestic/Canada calls, unlimited (slowed) cellular data and data over WiFi, and 500MB of full-speed data on the Tall Plan. For heavier users, the $39.99 Venti plan gets you unlimited WiFi use, unlimited cellular texts and calls, and unlimited slower cellular data with 2GB at high speed (and 4GB of high-speed data is available for $59.99 per month on the Quattro Plan).
All of TextNow’s plans include unlimited WiFi calling and data , and as the plans don’t allow for overages, are great for customers not wanting to be hit with excess data or call fees. New customers will, however, need to buy a refurbished device from TextNow in order to access the service, or bring their own compatible device from Sprint.
Customers will be charged automatically each month to renew their TextNow plan, although this can be cancelled any time as there’s no lock-in contracts. TextNow also offers a 30-day money back guarantee for anyone interested in giving its service a try risk-free.