After a decade of being a Verizon customer I have grown to dislike them.   Their coverage is the best of all 4 carriers in America.  It is the ONLY provider that actually has usable service at my home.   Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T either have no coverage of so many dropped calls as to be unusable.    That made searching for Verizon Alternatives via an MVNO, third-party companies that buy “air time” from the 4 major carriers in bulk, easier.

Total Wireless

After some research I found Total Wireless to be a decent option.  After working with them I found their customer service to be superior to Verizon.  The network coverage and reliability was, from what I could tell, EXACTLY the same as Verizon.  Makes sense as they are doing nothing more than subletting the Verizon network.    Best of all I could have a “family plan” with multiple lines on one shared billing account.

However, I quickly learned that you cannot tether your phone.  That meant I was completely disconnected when trying to use my laptop anywhere that did not have WiFi.  Boo.  That is a huge deal-breaker for me as I often travel with my laptop and need to connect for business — or a movie on Amazon Prime.    I started looking for another carrier and settled on US Mobile.  More on that next.

Total Wireless Good Parts

  • They have shared data and minute plans for families.
  • Great customer service.
  • Lots of data for a great price — $60 for 15GB per month plus unlimited talk/text.
  • Full Verizon network coverage.

Total Wireless Bad Parts

  • No phone tethering.

US Mobile

When looking for MVNOs that allow tethering it appears there are only a few options.  Of those US Mobile looks like the best.    They had reasonably price plans, or so I thought.   Turns out the devil is in the details.  They ONLY allow tethering on their high-end unlimited plans.   When all is said-and-done you actually only have 3 choices if you want to tether: $51/month (advertised as $47) for nearly-unusable 1Mbps unlimited data, $51/month for 5Mbps, or $79/month for whatever-the-network-can-handle Mbps.     All come with unlimited data, talk, and text.

Oh, and by-the-way, you must be on US Mobile’s Super LTE network (that is Verizon).   Also don’t make the mistake I did and buy the “Create a line” SIM card from your US Mobile account — that is only a GSM LTE SIM which will be useless for Verizon access.  That’s $4 down the drain from a crappy website design and useless customer service as US Mobile.  Make sure you only order the “Start Kit” with the black “Super LTE SIM” (aka Verizon SIM).

Copying from other ISPs in both mobile and at-home providers unlimited really means “until you use more than we like.   The low-end plan caps you at 12GB/month until they slow things down to the unusable point.   15GB for the mid-price tethering plan, and 16GB for the “ludicrous” plan (stealing a page from Elon Musk) are the laughably-slow speeds for the other 2 levels of service.    This is why so many people have disdain for US ISPs — they really are bastards, but this is America’s subpar connectivity world we live in.

At the end of the day, $51/month for unlimited data, talk and text at 5Mbps is good enough for the work I do while on the road.    It should suffice for movies as well, if not in HD at least in standard definition.  I can live with that.  It is also FAR less costly than Verizon equivalent plans with a 2GB monthly plan starting at only $40 PLUS the $20/line access fee PLUS fees.

Unfortunately the experience starting off with US Mobile has been a nightmare.   Their customer service people are clueless.  They also do not have a usable mobile app to quickly check minutes and their website, while easy to use, is clearly put together by junior programmers from Ohiostan; not the most functional site where it matters most.

US Mobile Good Parts

  • Less expensive than Verizon.
  • Allow tethering.
  • Full Verizon network coverage.

US Mobile Bad Parts

  • Mediocre customer service — kind of like Verizon.
  • Higher costs than most other MVNOs.
  • Imperfect web interface, no usable mobile app.

Verizon

Verizon, one of the primary carries in America, is not an MVNO but I put them here for comparison.    Why did I leave Verizon?  For paying a HUGE premium you get mediocre-at-best customer service.    Their pricing is , in my view, VERY dishonest; you cannot get a plan for the prices they advertise as EVERY SINGLE PLAN incurs a $20 surcharge to “access the network”.

What really made me move was the “well we are THE Verizon God” attitude.  Verizon networks are hugely oversold; probably because they are the only network that works in many places.  But that also means that when you go to ANY event with more than 100 people showing up — like the dozens of live music events here in Charleston — the network crashes.  You’re lucky if you get a signal and if you do it disconnects you.  While Verizon may deny it they appear to still be doing the old-school “roaming disconnects” to appear as though they have more network capacity than they do when a tower is “full”.    What really irked me is EVERY TIME I spoke to Verizon about connectivity and capacity concerns they basically said “that’s just how it is” or “what do you want ME to do about it?”.    While the Verizon MVNOs that I am using will not fix the connectivity issue, at least I’m not paying a 25% premium in monthly fees to get the “go f-yourself” attitude from them.

Verizon Good Parts

  • Best network of the 4 US Mobile Carries
  • Allow tethering
  • Shared limits family plans

Verizon Bad Parts

  • The attitude.
  • Mediocre customer service.
  • Highest costs by 25% – 100% more than any Verizon MVNO.

 

Summary

If you want the best network for your mobile device go with Verizon, but choose a Verizon MVNO.

If you don’t ever connect your laptop to your phone to access the Internet then go with Total Wireless.   If they had ANY tethering option I’d still be with them (or switch back if they add it).

If you need to tether then US Mobile is one of the few options out there.  Though based on the initial experience I’d certainly consider switching to someone else with Verizon and tethering.

Thankfully moving your number around it SUPER EASY these days.  Literally takes less than an hour when you activate a new SIM on a new provider — just make sure you have your account number (many MVNOs hide this from you, so you may need to call/chat them) and your account PIN.      The other nice thing is that all these MVNOs have pay-as-you go aka “monthly prepaid” service which means you can switch at any time and only lose that part of the month remaining on your account.   Just be sure to turn off auto-billing/auto-pay if you enabled it when activating your new SIM from your preferred MVNO.

Overall, this has been an exercise in patience.   Saving nearly $1,000/year in cell phone bills and not worrying about data caps and overages is worth it.

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