Small carriers can shrink your cell phone bill

Consumer Reports looks at mobile virtual network operators

You see ads for cell phone companies all the time, but when is the last time you seriously considered switching?

While it may seem like a hassle, switching to a different carrier, maybe one you’ve never even heard of, could save you big money.

There are cheaper options other than the big four carriers. They’re smaller carriers known as mobile virtual network operators, MVNOs. They lease what’s called “excess wireless capacity” from the big four carriers, which means they use some of the same towers. But some people are skeptical of them.

Small carriers are able to offer consumers cheaper plans mainly because they don't need to build and maintain cell towers themselves.

“The smaller carriers usually give you a smaller bill. Consumers see the value in these kinds of companies because they’re not paying for services they don’t need,” said Consumer Reports’ Bree Fowler.

If you don’t need services like extra data, HD streaming, and hot-spot tethering, you can save money.

So how much can you save?

You could pay $70 a month with AT&T for unlimited talk, text, and data, or you could stay on the same network with Straight Talk mobile and pay only $44 a month. That’s an annual savings of $312.

Verizon offers an unlimited deal for $65 a month, or you could use the Verizon network with Visible, which offers an unlimited deal for $40 a month with some phone restrictions. That’s a $300 difference.

You could pay $60 a month for an unlimited deal on T-Mobile, or you could use their network with TextNow and pay just $40 a month. That’s $240 less each year.

CR’s most recent member survey on cell-phone service providers show that people who made a switch over the past few years were usually happy with their new choice.

Consumer Cellular, Google Fi, and Ting topped CR’s most recent survey as well as the two previous ones.

One downside to choosing most smaller carriers is that if a big carrier has network congestion, it slows down the data speed of the smaller guys on its network first.

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