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Budget wireless providers offer flexibility, coverage, and savings

Consumers have weighed in on which companies they like the best

Smartphone on dollar bill
Photo (c) Suriyo Hmun Kaew EyeEm - Getty Images
The big three wireless providers – Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile – dominate the cell phone industry, but with inflation eating away at paychecks, many consumers are looking for a lower-cost alternative.

There are many lower-cost, no-contract providers that use the cellular infrastructure of the big three, and some are even owned by their larger competitors. But which ones are best? We looked at four mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) that have generated the most ConsumerAffairs ratings and reviews and analyzed what consumers like and dislike about them.

In ConsumerAffairs’ 5-star rating system, none of the four providers are that highly rated, but they all make a respectable showing. Here’s how they shake out:

  1. Straight Talk: 3.8 stars

  2. Metro: 3.7 stars

  3. Cricket Wireless: 3.4 stars

  4. Boost Mobile: 3.3 stars

Straight Talk Wireless 

Straight Talk Wireless is marketed through Walmart and the company’s website. Customers appreciate the flexibility of choosing between the networks operated by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

Klu, of Canton, Ga., is a longtime Staight Talk Wireless customer who gives the company 5 stars for its coverage but only 1 star for customer service.

“ I upgraded to a 5G phone that runs off Verizon towers, so now my service is lightning fast,” Klu wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “It does things as fast as my fingers can move. It's awesome!” 

Metro

Formerly known as Metro PCS, the budget provider is now owned by T-Mobile and goes by Metro by T-Mobile. Kathy, of Pittsburgh, told us she has been a Metro customer for two years. She said she likes a lot about the service, including the fact that her bill never changes.

“I received a fantastic smart phone free of charge with my first payment, no strings attached, 2 years ago, and it still runs beautifully,” she wrote. “Why pay more when you can get the best without the extra cost and hassle?”

Negative reviews, meanwhile, cite issues with the company's customer service – a prevailing theme with nearly every wireless provider.

Cricket Wireless

Cricket Wireless is owned by AT&T and has about 10 million U.S. subscribers. Tina, of Cement, Okla., says she loves the service but thinks existing customers should get the same deals on new phones as new customers get.

“We stay loyal to cricket so they should give us better deals on new phones,” she told us.

Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile is another prepaid wireless company that is owned by a larger competitor – Dish Wireless. Amie, of Hudson Falls, N.Y., is a happy Boost customer. Part of that affection may be attributable to what she says is the company’s compassion and understanding.

“I needed an extra day to pay my bill and called them and they gave me a free month,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “Never had that done before with any other company, can't say anything but good about Boost Mobile.” 

Negative comments about all four budget providers mostly concern customer service, not the networks. Plans vary by the amount of data provided and don’t require a contract. 

Consumers also like the prices. Some providers charge as little as $15 a month, which, in some cases, includes 5G access.

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