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The good news is that when you’re trying to find the best cell phone provider, you have several good options to choose from.
The bad news is that the most well-known carriers are generally stupidly over-priced and they tend to nickel and dime you for everything.
What many people don’t realize, however, is that you have other options. You can move to a provider where you can get the same exact coverage for a fraction of the cost. This is through a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) – a company that leases the wireless infrastructure from the major cell carriers and then provides you with cell service for a lot less money.
I learned about MVNOs and switched our phones over from Verizon to an MVNO called Total Wireless back in 2017. I was blown away that we were getting the exact same Verizon coverage for so little money. We suddenly had a much better plan with a lot more data for $60/month total for our two phones… incredible.
Now that we’ve moved back to the U.S. from our few years in Panama, it was time to dig in and re-evaluate the best cell phone provider for our needs.
So after way too much research as usual (my blessing and curse in life), I determined that Visible was exactly what we needed.
I’m going to tell you why I consider Visible to be the best cell phone provider, our transition and experience so far, and the only cons I can think of. Plus, I’ll give you a way to get in on a great deal!
Why an MVNO?
Since most folks don’t understand what a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is, I want to touch on this a little more before I go into declaring the best cell phone provider.
First off, understand that just because you might not be familiar with MVNOs doesn’t make them worse than the standard carriers we’ve come to know and hate over the years. In many aspects, they’re the same and in some cases much better.
It’s probably pretty evident that most MVNOs don’t generally spend a lot of money on advertising though Mint Mobile has been doing more than a lot of the others lately. Regardless, when you don’t advertise as much, your name’s not going to be as familiar as the major players who do (Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T).
The main difference between a regular carrier and an MVNO is that the MVNO leases the phone and data service from the regular carriers in bulk. They can then create their own cell phone provider business using the infrastructure they’re renting. In other words, you can get the exact same coverage that you get through Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T but just through another company renting out those lines.
The other difference is that the big cell providers are generally post-paid plans (though you can usually find pre-paid there as well). However, MVNO plans are usually strictly pre-paid plans. That means that when you have a plan with an MVNO, once you pay – say for the month – you get what you pay for and that’s it.
I actually like the pre-paid better just because you know what you’re paying – there are no overages. That can be a double-edged sword though. If you run out of data on a plan with a fixed amount of data, sorry Charlie! That said, some of the providers will let you buy small add-on data that you can add to your plan at any time.
And you usually don’t get all the bells and whistles with an MVNO or even things like roaming. But many do have added functionality like being able to use your phone as a hotspot and WiFi calling.
For most folks, you’re not going to notice any difference at all. An MVNO would provide everything you need without feeling like you’re missing anything.
Assuming you already have an unlocked paid-off phone that supports the bands needed, you’re good to go. You sign up and select to port your number if you want to keep it, get a SIM card from the MVNO, pop it in your phone, activate service with them, and you’re done.
Once you have that freedom from the big carriers, you can bounce around to find the best cell phone provider for you. Since you usually pre-pay monthly (though some carriers like Mint Mobile do longer terms), you don’t have much to lose. You can change carriers on a regular basis if you want or you can stick with what you got if you like it, turn on auto-pay, and just enjoy!
Why I think Visible is the best cell phone provider
Ok, so why Visible? What makes Visible good enough for me to consider it the best cell phone provider for us?
That’s the key phrase there in that I consider it to be the best cell provider for us. There’s so much variation in what we all need or want and in how we use our cell phones that it may or not be what you’re looking for. That’s what you’ll need to determine.
Here are the things that I like about Visible…
It’s essentially $25/month per line (taxes and fees included). They do a weird thing where they tell you it’s $40 for one line, $35 for two, $30 for three, and $25 for four. It’s silly that they even say that anymore because they have something called Party Pay which basically means you’re paying $25 per line no matter if you have one phone or a bunch of them.
Party Pay was something they created long ago where you can create or join a group and recruit family, friends, or strangers to be a part of it to bring the price per line down. You still each get separate billing so it makes it easy and you don’t need to know or care about the other people on it.
However, they changed it so now there’s no cap on the number of people allowed in a group. So when you activate your phone, you’re notified in the app that you can join or create a Party and you’re even prompted with some suggestions. You click to join the Reddit_Upvote group since it has almost 60k people in it and call it a day. That’s all there is to it and now your monthly bill will be $25… easy peasy.
Unlimited text, talk, and data
Now, this is something that’s going to vary for people.
When I’m looking for what I consider to be the best cell phone provider, I don’t want to think about limits on my phone. That doesn’t mean I plan to blow up my phone every month, but @#$% happens. When we lost the internet at our place in Panama for 53 days, I was grateful to not have any data limits on our cell phones.
If you’re someone who doesn’t use much data on your phone, that probably won’t be as important to you. When we were using Total Wireless for several years while in the U.S., the shared 30GB of data we were getting every month was nothing to scoff at and we never had a problem with it. I would imagine that would be plenty for the far majority of users, too.
Still, unlimited is more. It’s, well, unlimited. Visible gives you unlimited data, voice, and text. And they don’t throttle your data once you hit certain amounts like other plans, which is nice. However, you are always deprioritized over regular Verizon customers (though I have yet to see anything noticeable on my side for this).
And, in case you’re wondering, if you have a phone capable of 5G, you’ll be able to take advantage of that in areas where that’s available, too. That was a nice bonus for my Samsung Galaxy S21 5G phone!
Using my phone as a hotspot to get work done on my laptop when there’s no Wi-Fi available is important to me. Heck, when we lost our internet for 53 days as I mentioned above, I ended up using well over 100GB of data per month for my laptop, allowing Faith to do her homeschooling, and being able to continue to stream on the TV in the evenings… and that was just from my plan. Lisa used a lot of data on hers as well.
Obviously, that’s an unusual case, but in the odd scenarios when the @#$% hits the fan, having an unlimited hotspot in your plan can be crucial. Many of the others limit you to something like 10GB per month, which may or may not be suitable for you.
This used to be a huge deal years ago as the other carriers were not great in the Northeast Ohio area. Now, the big carriers all tend to have good coverage here.
However, I’m familiar with Verizon coverage and don’t know of too many weak spots around here anymore so I’m happy to stay with the Verizon coverage… without the Verizon price!
And if you’re unaware, Visible is actually owned by Verizon. Verizon themselves won’t tell you about it though because they like charging you more money than you need to be spending. However, owning Visible puts Verizon in the game to compete against other pre-paid brands such as T-Mobile’s Metro by T-Mobile, AT&T’s Cricket Wireless, and Dish’s Boost Mobile.
Bring your own phone or buy one from Visible
When you sign up for service, you have the option to bring your own phone or buy one from Visible.
If it’s time for a new phone, buying one from Visible is the easy route to go. They have tons of Android and iPhone models available that you can pay for outright or monthly over time at a 0% APR.
Or you can try their compatibility checker on your existing paid-off phone. If it comes up as compatible, they’ll ship you out a SIM card and you’ll be ready to go.
Either way, it should be pretty painless for you. You get your new phone or just the SIM card if you already have a supported phone, activate the service, and call it a day. Assuming you’re going to keep your phone number, they’ll walk you through porting it over from the time you sign up until it’s complete.
And finally, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll want to take the 30 seconds to join the Reddit_Upvote Party Pay group as well to ensure you’ll only pay $25/month each month that you decide to keep the service.
Welcome to Visible… my choice for the best cell phone provider out there right now!
So bringing a compatible device or buying one from them is straightforward. However, there’s a third more complicated and unique option that I went with… bringing over a phone that shows as incompatible on their checker:
Lisa’s unlocked Moto G Power phone showed as compatible (here’s an Amazon affiliate link to the current Moto G Power) but my unlocked Samsung Galaxy S21 5G did not (and here’s a link to the current Galaxy S22).
We also decided to get Faith on the plan as well. She’ll be 12 next month and she’s responsible enough for it. Besides, it’ll make me feel better that she can call in an emergency. She’s now using my old unlocked Samsung Galaxy S8 and that came back as incompatible as well.
So one compatible phone and two that weren’t… lovely.
This becomes a little more fun because I know that our unlocked phones should work fine on their service. If they work on Verizon (or Total Wireless in our case), then they should work fine on Visible as well – especially because they’re new-ish phones. They’re all CDMA-capable phones which is what Verizon (and Visible) use.
So I did what I do best because I truly felt that Visible would be the best cell phone provider for us… I spent a lot of time researching.
Our situation is a little unique because we use Google Voice so we only care about data. We don’t really have much of a need for voice minutes, texting, or even the physical phone number itself. All our calls and texting go through Google Voice and use Wi-Fi or data so we can just use the app and call it a day. In other words, we don’t care about porting phone numbers or anything like that since the phone numbers that we actually use are “in the cloud” with Google.
But I’ll give you the quick summary anyway in case you care. I decided to take a chance and did things differently with a leapfrog approach. I ordered just one SIM card that I knew could be activated on Lisa’s phone since I doubted I would be able to activate the SIM card on the two Galaxy phones (even though they should work just fine once activated).
Once I received the SIM card, I installed and activated it on Lisa’s Moto G Power phone successfully. Then I moved it to my Galaxy S21 phone, logged into my account on the Visible app, and activated the SIM card successfully. I tested everything and it worked fine.
I ordered another SIM card for Lisa’s phone, repeated the process, and installed/activated it on Faith’s Galaxy S8 phone. Success.
Then I ordered a third card for Lisa’s phone and she got to keep that one. Of course, that was a success again since her phone was supported.
I did these one at a time because I didn’t want to spend money needlessly if it wasn’t going to work. But now, we’re good to go!
On another note, during the transition to the Galaxy S8, I was having an issue and decided to contact Visible support even though that phone came up as unsupported. They still helped me out (via chat) and I was very happy with the prompt service and knowledgeable tech on the other end.
Could the best cell phone provider have any downsides??
Of course. There’s no perfect carrier out there just like there’s no perfect business.
That said, here are the nitpicky downsides that I’ve found.
1) Each phone line needs its own account – This took me a little bit to figure out since I didn’t see anywhere under the first account to add another line. But once I realized that, no big deal – you put the credit card in, select autopay, if you want, and you’re done. There’s not much else to do with it really.
I think the reason that I’d consider this a downside is that because you need to create an account for each line, each account needs to have a different email address. So I created an account using mine, another using Lisa’s, and another using Faith’s. But I still like to see the emails just to keep an eye on things so I ended up creating rules in Lisa and Faith’s email accounts to forward these to me.
Trivial but still strange that they require separate accounts regardless.
2) The hotspot is capped at 5 Mbps – Hotspot access is unlimited as far as capacity goes but it is limited in speed. 5 Mbps should be enough to get work done on a laptop and you could probably even stream a movie at that speed, but that’s going to be about it. It doesn’t leave you much breathing room.
My understanding is that this was put in place to prevent abuse that might have been a problem years ago with people just making the hotspot full internet access for their whole home.
I haven’t needed the hotspot yet but I don’t see this as a huge problem. However, something like 10 Mbps would probably have been a little nicer.
3) No roaming – This is the case for all MVNOs that I know of (except for Google FI sort of), but there’s no roaming option available. That means you’ll only be on Verizon towers wherever you go and can’t jump to T-Mobile or AT&T when Verizon doesn’t have a signal. Granted, this is something most people don’t use anyway because it’s usually expensive, but it’s still a nice option to have if you need it.
Get the first month of service for $5!
Hopefully, you can see why I consider this the best cell phone provider out there right now.
There are less expensive providers and plans you can find but this really seems to be the best bang for the buck. I don’t want to worry about limits but I also don’t want to pay a lot of money and this fits the bill perfectly!
So here’s the deal. If you’re interested in trying out Visible to see if you agree that it’s the best cell carrier, I can offer you a referral link to try it for a month for only $5!! I’ll get a month for $5 as well so we both win on this!
Remember, this is a month-to-month service so if you don’t like it, you can just bail whenever you want.
This is where it gets interesting though. They only let you have 12 referrals queued up at a time so I set up links for all three of us to give you more of a chance to get in on the deal. I’ll let you choose who you want to try to get the $5 month from. If one of the links doesn’t give you the offer, try one of the others…
- Jim – https://www.routetoretire.com/go/visible-1/
- Lisa – https://www.routetoretire.com/go/visible-2/
- Faith – https://www.routetoretire.com/go/visible-3/
If this is something you’re interested in, I wouldn’t wait since these will likely go pretty fast. But if you miss the $5 promo from the links, you can still sign up for service through my normal Visible link. $25 is no $5 for sure but it still ain’t bad for what you’re getting!
A couple of important points to note on moving to an MVNO (or any cell phone provider for that matter):
- If you have a phone that you bought through the carrier, it might be locked. To move it to a new carrier, you’ll need to check with your current carrier to see if they need to unlock it first. Be aware that they’re not going to unlock it if it’s not paid off.
- If you port your number to a new provider, your account with that provider will essentially be closed with a final bill. That means if you have a contractual obligation to pay off a phone, for instance, whatever’s left will come due at once.
Assuming you’re good on the above, get ready to taste the freedom and savings outside of the big monster carriers!
And that’s all I’ve got today. I’ll be curious if you’ll agree with Visible being the best cell phone provider or if there’s another carrier you like better. Let me know in the comments.
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!