These carriers offer prepaid services and cater to a specific audience. Some are Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) that do not operate their own cellular network, but lease network space from national carriers instead.
Prepaid and specialty carriers
Virgin Mobile markets its prepaid service to the youth market. Its phones are sold in many retail locations and online. In 2008, Virgin Mobile bought Helio and merged the two operations. As of 2009, Virgin Mobile is now fully owned by Sprint Nextel after a $248 million buy-out.
Things you should know about Virgin Mobile:
- As a CDMA carrier, international coverage is limited.
- There is no activation fee.
- Multiple payment options are available including prepaid "PayLo" plans and monthly plans with no contract. Unlimited data use is available with monthly plans.
- All monthly plans include unlimited nights and weekends.
- Monthly plans also include support for social networking services, navigation apps, and YouTube.
- There are no roaming or long distance charges.
- Virgin Mobile launched its first 4G WiMax phone in May 2012
- Virgin Mobile offers several Android and BlackBerry smartphones. It began selling the iPhone 4/4S in June 2012, becoming the second prepaid carrier after Cricket to do so
What do CNET users think of Virgin Mobile? Opinions ranged from "fun, functional, and affordable" to "horrendous customer service with a misleading Web site."
Boost Mobile is a wireless brand that is wholly owned by Sprint Nextel. Though originally it marketed its service toward a young, urban audience, Boost is now geared toward all budget-minded consumers. It does not require contracts or credit checks. The primary monthly plan offers unlimited calling, messaging, and Web browsing, but customers can also pay by the minute or by the day. All plans feature push-to-talk services. Originally launched in New Zealand and Australia in 2001, Boost USA launched in 2003.
Things you should know about Boost Mobile:
- Boost handsets operate on Sprint CDMA network
- Boost offers a monthly plan with unlimited voice calls, text, and Web browsing. You also can pay for voice calling by the day or by the minute
- Boost neither charges activation fees or roaming fees, nor does it require contracts or credit checks
- Boost Mobile launched its first 4G WiMax phone in May 2012
- It offers Android and BlackBerry smartphones
- Boost's Shrinkage Plan offers reduced monthly rates over time
What do CNET users think of Boost Mobile? Opinions ranged from "great service at a great price" to "nice unlimited plan, but poor service."
TracFone is an MVNO that serves 10 million customers nationwide. The carrier offers services under several brands: TracFone, Net10, Straight Talk, and Safelink. The latter is a government-supported program that provides a free cell phone and airtime for income-eligible customers. Though all service is prepaid, rates, service options, and handset selection will differ between the brands. Unlike most carriers, the carrier offers both CDMA and GSM phones, though handsets are limited to basic models. It does not offer 3G or push-to-talk services.
Things you should know about TracFone:
- TracFone does not permit international roaming, but it does offer international long distance. Also, you can choose to provide friends and family in Canada or Mexico with a local phone number in their area. Calls made to that number will then forward to your U.S. number.
- TracFone offers prepaid service only.
- All services include messaging options
- You'll need to keep an account balance to avoid losing your phone number. Purchased airtime does not expire
- TracFone neither charges activation fees nor does it conduct credit checks
- Your handset choice, rates, and service options will depend on which brand you use
- The carrier offers both CDMA and GSM phones. However, its handset selection is limited to basic models
What do CNET users think of TracFone? Fans say it's "great for occasional users," but others said TracFone "won't stand by the customer."
|TracFone||Boost Mobile||Virgin Mobile|
|Technology||CDMA; GSM||iDEN; CDMA||CDMA|
|Streaming video network||No||No||Yes|
|Music download service||No||No||Yes|
|Mobile TV service||No||No||No|