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Summary: Looking for a new cheap family plan.  Want it all - cheap, painfree transition, maybe even free international roaming?  Good customer service - would be nice, but price beats service quality, but would be a good tie breaker.  

Want to collect your collective wisdom on finding a new family plan, and work through the logistics of switching.  The whole family was on Ringplus for 1.5 years which was fabulous - we spent occasional fees to bump to higher limits, but overall we got obscene amounts of service for free for the time. Alas, all good things must come to an end.  Since then, we switched to Ting which overall is quite good and has great customer service, but -- I find we're spending in excess of $100 between the 4 of us, even though we're not heavy users.  (Heavy user being defined as we're streaming netflix over the cell regularly.  We use about 5-6GB between the 4 of us.)

I find our usage has been creeping up, so looking for alternatives to save money, or at least to stabilize at around $100 per month. 

First, seems that there aren't any cheaper Sprint MVNOs around?  
  * If anybody can suggest a cheaper Sprint MVNO, I would love to hear.
  * Tried FreedomPop, but it uses Voip.  Which means that coverage for voice is only where you have reliable data, and voice coverage is better than data on just about any provider.  This is for a primary phone.  Also, found voice quality to be quite bad (when using FP, Facetime, Hangouts, or Skype tend to have better voice quality than FP, we've found)

We currently have Sprint devices, bought on eBay.  Would like to keep those - iPhone 6 I think has all the bands for all providers in US, on CDMA and GSM.   Supposedly most phones are unlocked, including for domestic.  How to confirm?  Get a random SIM and try on all?  Any recommendations for a cheap SIM with some basic data and voice for test?  Or is there another reliable way to test?  (The 3-in-1 GLOBAL SIM FP cards work, but I don't know whether they're classified as international SIM or US SIM.  I had all devices unlocked for international just to be safe.)  If any phones are locked - can anybody recommend a reputable unlocking service?  Would prefer one that keeps the phone workable on Sprint, too, to keep ouroptions open.

Best I could find was Cricket - they have $100 for up to 5 lines family plan on sale.  https://www.cricketwireless.com/5for100
Does anybody have any experience?  Plus side - ATT has good coverage at our house, so can get good call service when at home as well.  
And they'll throw in new phones which we might sell on eBay and offset our unlock costs.
Con: I've heard that ATT treats cricket as second class citizens on their network, and that they throttle Cricket to be basically useless when their network is congested?  I can handle losing BW and not getting full speed streaming occasionally -  we really don't do that on a regular basis, but it's nice to be able to watch a youtube video or an SNL rerun.  But don't want to lose Google maps, whatsapp, or facetime.

Earlier in the year TMO also had family plans for 4 lines ~ 100$, but it seems that is no longer available.  Plus: I understand some plans include international roaming?  That would be nice instead of scrambling for SIMs internationally.  Does anybody have experience with those?  (FP global 3-in-1 is great in Europe, but in Asia we need to scramble.  In particular, getting SIMs in India and China is a pain.  China is particularly difficult because the dominant China Mobile won't work on Western phones...)  Con: last time I tried TMO, our house had bad coverage so may need to get some sort of microcell router.

From a logistics perspective, how does a switch work - when I sign up for Cricket or TMO online, do they port the numbers immediately if I sign up with the number porting offer, i.e., I'd be out of cell phone service until I get the SIM, or until I get the SIM and unlock the phone if I find one of the phones is locked?

I'll appreciate anybody's experiences!  Thanks!









 

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We've had Cricket for over a year now and with the exception of the one time the entire ATT network crashed for a few hours, never had any problems. You can buy the SIM cards either locally or on Amazon, then when you get them, start the port process that way your phones aren't in potential limbo. I know at least as of yesterday Best Buy had them for $5 each, I know because I went to buy one just for the sim card adapter for my new phone. Cricket's LTE I believe is capped at 8MB down, and when you go over your data limit it is throttled to 2G speed I think. I have never had any problems with speed though.

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Have a 5 line family plan ($100/mo including all fees and taxes) on Cricket and all of us have been happy with it. The 8 mbps download speed limit has never been an issue and the page load speeds are better (due to lower latency) than we used to get with T-Mobile.  If there has been throttling, it has been rare and indistinguishable from normal variations in coverage. 

A couple of friends just switched to Cricket from Verizon and despite the lower quoted download speed, they also get much faster web response where they live.  Before Verizon they had TMO.  After a year of good service, TMO data just stopped working at their home and didn't get fixed.  They switched after 2 months of being told there was no problem at all in their area by TMO customer service.

Cricket's customer service reps all seems to be located offshore they really do suck, but our need for CS has been minimal. Their email customer service via their Zen Desk has been good.

The reason we left TMO several years ago was we take road trips and their coverage, especially in rural areas was terrible. Even in areas where they showed voice and data coverage on their map, data service very rarely worked. On a major highway I travel regularly their data service didn't work at all (repeatedly tested on 4 different phones) and each time I'd open a trouble ticket with TMO they would just close it and say they didn't find a problem, pretty much the same BS response they gave to my friends when their data service quit working.  Word is that TMO has upgraded their network and there is now working LTE service in rural areas, but their coverage in those areas doesn't come close to Cricket/AT&T.


 

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If you need International service, you might consider Project Fi from Google. Not as cheap as the bargain basement of Redpocket, etc, but it is really the only affordable option for those who are outside the US regularly. It would require specific Android phones from Google - the cheapest being the Nexus 5X which can be had for $249 when you sign up with Project Fi - no contract required and after activating the phone you can cancel anytime and they will work with any carrier. Phones MUST be activated even for a day to get the promo price. Cost would be: $20/mo first user for unlimited calls USA & unlimited texts internationally, plus $15/mo per additional user. Data is $10 per gig but prorated if you don't use it all. Consider: $20+15+15+15 = $65 for 4 lines of call/sms service, and data = $10 x 4 = $40 if each person uses a gig of data. There are no roaming fees for data, it is available in almost every country that you travel to. You are at $105 plus some tax. Maybe $125 for 4 people with free international data roaming and free international sms. Most calls internationally are 20 cents/minute from any country.

Again, this requires an investment in phones, but the phones are fantastic for money spent.
https://blog.google/products/project-fi/introducing-project-fis-...

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tyguide said:   If you need International service, you might consider Project Fi from Google. Not as cheap as the bargain basement of Redpocket, etc, but it is really the only affordable option for those who are outside the US regularly. It would require specific Android phones from Google - the cheapest being the Nexus 5X which can be had for $249 when you sign up with Project Fi - no contract required and after activating the phone you can cancel anytime and they will work with any carrier. Phones MUST be activated even for a day to get the promo price. Cost would be: $20/mo first user for unlimited calls USA & unlimited texts internationally, plus $15/mo per additional user. Data is $10 per gig but prorated if you don't use it all. Consider: $20+15+15+15 = $65 for 4 lines of call/sms service, and data = $10 x 4 = $40 if each person uses a gig of data. There are no roaming fees for data, it is available in almost every country that you travel to. You are at $105 plus some tax. Maybe $125 for 4 people with free international data roaming and free international sms. Most calls internationally are 20 cents/minute from any country.

Again, this requires an investment in phones, but the phones are fantastic for money spent.
https://blog.google/products/project-fi/introducing-project-fis-group-plan/

  
I looked at Project Fi, but it's not really interesting for anybody who has the bulk of service in US.  International would be nice as an add-on with little incemental cost over what I can get for 4, but won't drive my decision making.  Pricing of Fi is worse than Ting (125-150 vs 100 based on our current usage), plus add price of phones.  My incremental price for service abroad is about 10$ per month for a SIM in random country (and FP takes care of Europe), plus some hassle.  Not worth the $25 - $50 Fi comes in more expensive. (Plus the device cost, and I prefer iPhone over Android.)

ETA: While Project Fi is not for me or my family in our current media usage, those that are traveling heavily and across several geos may benefit heavily from Project Fi.  I have some friends (taking sabbaticals and travelling, etc.) who swear by it.  I think, basically you must travel enough for this to make sense, plus if you have a family plan most/all users must travel internationally quite heavily, or the incremental cost that accrues to each line can't be justified by usage.  For West/Central-European travel, FreedomPop Global 3-in-1 may be an option. They use Voip for calls, which limits coverage a bit and quality is not quite as good. 

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+Cricket's 5 line plan for $100. 

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I have cricket and works great for us in central wi and my sister in va we are on the same plan.

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Look into Tello. I have 4 lines with varying service. All have unlimited texts, 1-3 GB data on each, and talk time is 3c per minute. You can customize each phone's plan. We average 100-200 minutes per line per month. All-in, we're paying $80-$100 per month for all lines (I adjust data amounts monthly because you can carry forward unused data).

Service is great in my area, and customer service is top notch of any cell provider I've ever had.

You should be able to use the Sprint phones you have.

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