Using an alternative to the big four wireless providers is a great idea for many of us, and here are some reasons why.
When we talk about phone companies most of us automatically think of the big four here in the U.S.: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. But they're not the only choices when it comes to who you get your service from and the popularity of alternative carriers is on the rise.
It's not difficult to understand why. Having a carrier that uses the same nationwide networks the big guys do without some of the baggage that comes along with those big guys is an attractive position for a lot of people. There is a lot to talk about, both good and bad, in any discussion about finding the right carrier and if a smaller alternative option is best for you. The advantages for you are especially important to consider.
You can save a lot of money
Depending on how you use your phone (as always) you can save a nice chunk of money every month. Different companies use different ways to price out your data. Some will let you buy several months worth of data at significantly less compared to a monthly payment. Others let you buy an amount of data and use it until it's gone, and others charge a flat fee and bill or credit you based on how much data you used in a month.
Not everyone needs an unlimited data plan.
The things they all have in common as that you're not paying for data you didn't use. Combined with cheaper prices per block of data this can mean a smaller bill if you don't use a lot of data. Alternative carriers are not for people who need unlimited data, but not everyone needs unlimited data.
Take Mint SIM for example. The company doesn't sell unlimited packages, but uses T-Mobile's network to offer ultra-cheap 4G LTE data — as low as $2 per gigabyte — in bundles of 2GB, 5GB and 10GB. And by bundling service into multiple months, you pay less when averaged out over a 12-month period.
This is the biggest reason people choose to move away from the big players in the industry and try something different. If you look at where you use your data and how much you use, you could be one of those people.
You might get a better coverage map
An alternative carrier doesn't own the cell towers and infrastructure they use to provide service. They lease it at a set price from the bigger carriers and resell service to you and me. Sometimes they lease from more than one carrier and can provide service in all the places from both.
No carrier is good everywhere, but unless you're in a very rural part of the country you'll have at least one company with good service. A company that can offer service using two coverage maps has an advantage for anyone who spends time where they are covered by at least one.
Not all carriers do this, so be sure to do your homework when you choose. Two notable examples are Net10 and Red Pocket that lease service from all four major carriers, or Project Fi which leases service from T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular.
You're paying for calls, texts, and data. That's usually all you're going to get.
There's no denying that some of the perks phone carriers can offer are nice. Unlimited texting to Canada and Mexico is a good example. But some folks just don't need anything extra.
By not having extra services the price can be cheaper. If you don't need anything more than basic service and 4G data, an alternative carrier could be great for you. Some alternative carriers do offer perks for calling and texting internationally, so when you're shopping be sure to check on them.
No credit checks
Times can be tough and less than great credit can make getting a post-paid account with the big four carriers difficult. And a credit check leaves a record on you that can adversely affect something like a car loan or mortgage.
If you don't want to go through a credit check for any reason, you might choose an alternative carrier that doesn't require one. Most don't, and you simply pay up front for what you use.
Bring your own phone
As long as it's compatible with the network you choose, you can bring your existing phone and use it without any problems.
You can also buy any unlocked phone that works with the network from anywhere you like. This gives you a lot of choices from most all companies making phones today.
Best of all, you can change phones at any time. If you like the phone you have now you can use it until you like something else better. With the cost of the service being completely separate from the cost of your phone any decisions are yours to make.
While they aren't for everyone, you can see there are some really compelling reasons to give another carrier a try, even if they don't have the brand-power the bigger ones may.
Updated June 2017: We made sure the information here was great and still relevant!
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