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How to save on mobile plans: Your guide to 16 no-contract carriers

Rick Broida | April 25, 2014
The mobile-phone industry is in a state of flux. Where once you had little choice but to buy a subsidized phone from a major carrier and pay two years' worth of whatever monthly fees it chose to levy, now you have options aplenty.

In business since: 2014

Along with H2O Wireless, Ultra Mobile is among the few carriers to bundle international calling and texting along with the usual menu of services. The $19 starter plan includes unlimited global texting and $1.25 of "call anywhere" credit, while the $29 plan adds 1,000 international minutes (which are good for calls to over 70 countries).

Ultra Mobile doesn't sell phones and its website does a poor job explaining the company's BYOD options. Basically, you pick the plan you want, then order a standard or micro SIM card ($9.95) for your unlocked GSM phone. But it's only deep within the site's FAQ pages that this latter aspect is mentioned. Also, Ultra's data allotments are capped, meaning once you hit your plan's limit, data gets turned off (rather than throttled) unless you buy more.

UppWireless

Piggybacks on: T-Mobile

Starts at: $15/month for unlimited phone minutes/texts, 1GB data

BYOD: Yes

In business since: 2014

The $15 package offered by UppWireless seems a tantalizing deal. All you need is an unlocked GSM phone and the company's $9.95 SIM card, or one of the handful of Android phones available for purchase.

But there are catches. For starters, all calls and text messages rely on voice-over-IP apps (which leverage Wi-Fi when available). For iOS users, that means using the company's UppTalk app. Android users have it easier: UppTalk can utilize the stock Phone and Messaging apps, making for a more seamless switch.

Furthermore, as with Republic Wireless, UppTalk doesn't currently support short-code messaging, meaning you won't be able to get two-factor authentication messages, airline boarding passes and the like. And as of press time, you can't port your existing number.

Virgin Mobile

Piggybacks on: Sprint

Starts at: $35/month for 300 voice minutes, unlimited texts/data

BYOD: No

In business since: 2001

You can't bring your own, but anyone shopping for a new smartphone would do well to consider Virgin Mobile, which offers a good mix of popular and exclusive models, most at discounted prices. At press time, for example, you could buy the iPhone 5c (16GB) for $314.99, versus $549 if purchased contract-free from Apple.

What's more, Virgin offers some of the most competitive plans around, starting at $35 monthly for unlimited messaging and data (or $30 if you sign up for autopay and use an iPhone). Just be sure to check the coverage map, as Virgin doesn't provide the same roaming blanket as Sprint proper, a potential problem if you live, work and/or travel in remote areas.

Zact Mobile

Piggybacks on: Sprint

Starts at: $1.88/month for 0 voice minutes/0 texts/50MB data

BYOD: No

In business since: 2013

Created with families in mind, newcomer Zact borrows a page from the Ting playbook, offering customizable rate plans you can share with up to six users. But Zact offers far more granularity in choosing how many minutes, messages and megabytes you want per month, and will even issue an account credit if you don't use the full amount of your selected tiers.

 

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