MVNOs and the Nexus 4: The Best Experience for Frugal Tech Enthusiasts
I've recently started using the Nexus 4, and I am loving it. Making the switch presented me with the task of choosing a new carrier. I was previously using a Nexus S 4G on Sprint. The plan was to upgrade to the Galaxy Nexus LTE. My Sprint upgrade was timed with the release of the Nexus 4, and I started to tease the idea of switching carriers. Additionally, I was frustrated with the delay the Nexus phones have in getting their upgrades (as they have to be approved by Sprint) on the CDMA networks. The reviews of the Nexus 4, while not outstanding, we're enough to convince me it was the phone for me.
My search for a new carrier started with the obvious 2 choices ATT and T-Mobile. At Sprint I was paying $80/month for 450 minutes and unlimited data. My Nexus S had 4G but not LTE, 4G coverage was spotty at best in St. Louis, and we have yet to get LTE coverage. ATT plans were either overpriced, or had unrealistic (for me) data caps. T-Mobile was left and had some compelling plans. I ultimately had to rule out the very compelling $30/month prepaid plan. It had unlimited data and text, yet only 100 minutes (which would not work for me). I was left with the $60/month (2GB of un-throttled data, then unlimited throttled data) plan. T-mobile also offers a 500 minute plan with 2GB of data and unlimited text for $50/month, but this requires signing a 2 year contract which is not ideal. Enter MVNOs.
MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator, it is basically a cell service that contracts to access the wireless networks of the major carriers. You get the same coverage as the major carriers, except no LTE. You do get HSPA+, which can get you up to 6 Mbps. I ended up going with Straight Talk at $45/month. Unlimited minutes / text / and web.
I also recently discovered Net10 also offers a similar plan for $45/month (regularly $50/month). I'm sure there are other services out there that offer similar plans and rates. The best part is that you aren't tied to a contract and can switch services at any time (and with number portability, you don't have to change numbers). Being on Straight Talk for the week or two I've had it, I've had better service in areas where I would not get Sprint coverage (I think it is connecting to ATT's network). The only caveat that affects me is international roaming. Major carriers have roaming agreements for places like Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean which is important to consider if you travel to those places. Straight Talk only works on the US.
Josh Topolsky has been saying that he cannot live without LTE on his phone. I truly believe that is the case for him, and probably about 20% of Verge users. For the 80% that don't live in LTE markets, or are just fine with HSPA+ data speeds, MVNO's are the way to go. The only way to stick it to the carriers who compromise phones and implement data caps is to go around them, and MVNOs like Net10 and Straight Talk (even prepaid T-mobile plans) are the way to do that. The only way to change the way wireless companies work is to vote with your wallet, and I really like being able to vote monthly, versus every two years. Compare the $300 price of the Nexus 4 with the $100 cost of an SIII and (or even a free LTE phone) to the $20-$40 more a month you'd be paying, and you'll be beating the house in as little as 10 months.
Plus the straight from Google updates is like a getting a free slice of key lime pie at the end of dinner.