Q. T-Mobile no longer sells the cheaper plan I wanted, but its coverage works for me. Am I stuck with T-Mobile One?

A. You’re not, thanks to an underestimated virtue of the wireless industry. Beyond traditional subscription plans, the major carriers sell prepaid plans that are often cheaper—and they wholesale their networks to resellers who may offer even better deals.

That matters now at T-Mobile, where the T-Mobile One plan just revised to include taxes and fees in its $70 price is now the Seattle firm’s sole “postpaid” offering. That’s the industry’s term for plans that require a credit check and bill you for service at the end of the month.

T-Mobile One’s pricing has an appealing simplicity, but its “unlimited” data comes with serious restrictions. It limits video streaming to DVD resolution, a difference you’ll see on larger screens. And it slows “tethering,” sharing your mobile broadband via WiFi with nearby devices, to 3G speeds of at most a few megabits per second.

That’s far below the downloads T-Mobile LTE delivers—16.28 Mbps in the research firm OpenSignal’s tests, 19.88 Mbps in PCMag’s tests last year. Full-speed use of your phone’s bandwidth as a mobile hotspot when an event’s WiFi falters costs $25 extra.

Or you could switch to one of T-Mobile’s prepaid plans, which don’t require a credit check but bill you at the start of the month. They all allow full-speed tethering but don’t require accepting lower-resolution video.

• Its Simply Prepaid plans—$40 for 3 GB, $50 for 5 GB or $60 for 10 GB—include unlimited music streaming and let you add Canada and Mexico to your home rate area for $5 a month extra.

• Simple Choice Prepaid plans—$50 for 2 GB, $65 for 6 GB, $80 for 10 GB—add free roaming in Canada and Mexico and the option of BingeOn unlimited DVD-resolution video streaming. The 6 and 10 GB plans add Data Stash rollover of unused data.

• A $30/month option, only available on the Web and Walmart, includes unlimited texting, 5 GB of LTE and 100 minutes of calls.

Note that all these omit T-Mobile’s free 2G international roaming and installment-plan phone pricing (though Apple and Google offer that directly for iPhones and Pixel phones). If you value those things, consider resellers—in industry jargon, MVNOs, short for ”Mobile Virtual Network Operators.”

These three led reader surveys by Consumer Reports and PCMag:

• Google’s Project Fi, which combines resold coverage from Sprint, T-Mobile and the regional carrier U.S. Cellular, includes free LTE international roaming. But its rates—$20 for unlimited calls and texts, with data $10 a gigabyte minus a refund for the fraction of a gig you don’t use—escalate with heavy data use. And activating service requires Pixel or some recent Nexus Android phones.

• If you talk and text less than average, Ting’s usage-based rates can save you money (for example, 500 minutes, 100 texts and 2 GB for $38), especially in months that see less use than others. This Sprint and T-Mobile reseller also now offers installment-plan pricing on some phones. Its site doesn’t name T-Mobile, due to contract limitations, but purchasing a GSM phone or SIM card will get you T-Mobile’s network.

• Consumer Cellular also offers savings if you talk less than average—250 minutes, unlimited texting and 3 GB of data cost $45. A 5% AARP discount can cut your costs further. This reseller of AT&T and T-Mobile offers installment-plan pricing but not international roaming. It will provide a SIM card based on its judgment of which network covers your area best but will swap that for one on the other network if you ask.
Rob Pegorarois a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com. Follow him on Twitter attwitter.com/robpegoraro.

 

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