The Best Budget Unlimited Wireless Plans: Cricket vs. Visible

Visible and Cricket logos on phones

Like the long-distance wars of old, unlimited cell phone plans are becoming a commodity business. It’s a race to the bottom to see who can provide the most features for the cheapest price. The two largest cellular networks are holding all the cards. So, is it Cricket Wireless, or is it Visible Wireless that gets the win for the best-budget wireless plan?

AT&T and Verizon maintain the largest and fastest U.S. cellular networks. They own the wireless networks that are the commodity being sold, placing them in the best position to juggle the creative features to provide inexpensive wireless plans. AT&T owns Cricket, while Verizon owns Visible.

Of course, there are a multitude of Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) cell providers out there such as Straight Talk, Hello, Boost Mobile, Mint Mobile, and many more, but they all have to lease their bandwidth from the big four (well, now three) network providers—Sprint/T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. Generally, these providers generally can’t compete with the likes of Cricket Wireless (AT&T) or Visible Wireless (Verizon) in terms of price and features. As for which of these two is best for you and yours, that depends on which of the plan features is most important to your circumstances.

Things to Consider When Comparing Budget Unlimited Wireless Plans

The plan that provides the most value for you depends on your specific needs. To get the best price for you, providers make certain trade-offs that you need to be aware of. Here are the features that you need to pay attention to:

  • “Unlimited” Data: By now, most of us have figured out that providers play fast and loose with the concept of “unlimited data.” In most cases, the data is unlimited until it hits a limit. Then, it is throttled back so slow that it’s hard to even check your email. Truly unlimited data plans do exist, but they come with other drawbacks.
  • Prioritized Data: Some truly unlimited data plans sacrifice in other ways like data prioritization. Some budget-plan traffic is prioritized below all of the traffic from premium-plan customers. This works really well if you get a good signal in a place where you are not competing with many other customers for priority. However, this is often not as great for densely populated areas.
  • Devices: Bring (or buy) your own phone is the preferred method, as these monthly prepay plans generally won’t subsidize a phone purchase over a long period. However, you can sometimes get a price break or a rebate if you port in your phone number and make a new phone purchase at the same time.
  • Customer Service: Carriers have to make a profit. If they are making your plan cheaper and still giving you great features, they have to cut costs somewhere. Some carriers are taking away voice-based customer service, which allows them to cut costs in a number of ways. For example, reps could service two or more customers simultaneously. It’s a much slower resolution process, but most people just think it’s because of slow typing when chatting back and forth.
  • Cost Structure: Budget wireless plans typically fall into one of two cost structures: progressive discounts that are better for families, or lower cost for individual lines that is better for an individual or a couple.

One of the nicest features that apply to these budget plans is that you don’t need a PhD in business law or accounting to understand the bill. The prices listed below are your all-in cost, including any taxes and fees. That means you won’t be burned by some hidden fee that you didn’t understand when you signed up! Also, these are month-to-month prepaid plans with no contract. If you decide you don’t like the service, you can switch at any time.

Cricket Wireless Unlimited Plans

Cricket is a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T. To use Cricket, you must be able to get a good AT&T signal in the location you are likely to be most of the time. With a stable AT&T signal verified, Cricket offers you a choice of two Unlimited plans.

The Unlimited Cricket Core Plan is not limited by total data, but it is certainly limited in speed. Cricket throttles your data all the way down to a max speed of 3Mbps. Video-streaming data will cap out at 1.5Mbps, which is good enough to get you standard definition (SD) quality on your phone. The Unlimited Plan comes in at $55/month for a single line, but progressive discounts make the plan cheaper with more lines. A family of five pays just $125/month. The plan can support more than five lines (up to nine, according to Cricket), but there won’t be any additional discounts.

Cricket Unlimited Plan

For an extra $35/month, that same family of five can enjoy Cricket’s fastest 4G LTE speeds on the Unlimited Cricket More Plan. They also pick up 15GBs of shared mobile hot spot data, as long as they have a supported phone. Video streams will still be compressed down to SD quality.

Cricket Unlimited More Plan

In addition to strong budget wireless plans that run on the highly available AT&T wireless network, Cricket also provides customers with voice-based customer service. If you do run into trouble, you’ll be able to get access to a real human over the phone to resolve the issue. Cricket also has physical retail stores if you’d prefer to walk through a door and talk with someone.

The Unlimited Cricket Core Plan Is Best for:

  • Customers who can get good AT&T signal where they will spend most of their time
  • Larger families that need great pricing on five lines
  • Families that consume a lot of wireless data but don’t mind the 3Mbps maximum speed
  • Families that don’t need a mobile hotspot
  • When voice-based customer service is important

The Unlimited Cricket More Plan Is Best for:

  • Customers who can get good AT&T signal where they will spend most of their time
  • Larger families that need great pricing on five lines
  • Families that consume a lot of wireless data and need fast 4G LTE speeds
  • Families that have one or more members who need a mobile hotspot
  • When voice-based customer service is important

Overall, both Cricket Wireless Unlimited plans are great for families who will share a bill. Which one is right for you really comes down to how fast you want the connection to be and whether you need mobile hotspot or not.

Visible Wireless Unlimited Plan

Visible Wireless is owned by Verizon. To use Visible, you must be able to get a good Verizon signal in the location you are likely to be most of the time. Visible has just a single plan that comes in at $40/month for unlimited everything, incredible signal coverage, and mobile hotspot.

Visible also brings more to the table with Party Pay. Once you’re on Visible, you can create a “party” invitation that allows four total lines to receive discounts. For every line that joins, it’s $5/month less for everyone. The best part about Party Pay is that everyone gets their own bill! You won’t have to hassle your friends for money every month. If someone drops out of the party, then all other participants lose that $5/month discount until a replacement party member has been added.

Visible Party Pay

Visible sounds like nirvana on paper, but there are a few negatives as well. For one, customer service is provided via a chat window, email, Facebook, and Twitter. In extreme circumstances, you might be able to convince them to give you a call, but there are no guarantees. Also, while the mobile hotspot is great in that there is no data cap, there is a huge downside in that you are limited to a single attached device with a max speed of 5Mbps. Still, this may be enough for business travelers or RVers who need a mobile internet connection to an additional device plugged into the world.

The biggest Visible downside is that while users are able to get up to full speed on the Verizon LTE network, data traffic is prioritized lower than traffic generated by Verizon’s premium plan customers. If cellular data competition is low in your area, you might never notice this issue. But if you live in a more congested area, you might experience slower speeds. For example, I live in a large neighborhood where Verizon has much better coverage than AT&T. In the early morning or late evening, speedtest.net reports speeds over 80Mbps, which is awesome. But I have also run numerous speed tests during the day and found speeds to be as low as 2Mbps. That’s painfully slow for the data junkies out there.

Phones available for purchase on Visible are generally newer models and better devices than those available on Cricket. More importantly, there are some sweet discounts out there for customers willing to port their existing phone number. Currently, you can get up to $200 back in the form of a Prepaid Mastercard Virtual Account when you purchase certain phones over $400. You can also get $100 back for some phones over $200. Visible also supports monthly installment plans for some of the more expensive phones via Affirm.

Visible Plan/Party Pay Is Best for:

  • Customers who need an inexpensive but value-packed unlimited plan
  • A “Party” of four friends or extended family members who want to join together for an extremely cheap $25/month unlimited plan
  • Friends who don’t want to bug each other for Venmo transfers every month to pay the combined bill
  • Data junkies who need truly unlimited high-speed data on the device
  • Customers who spend most of their time in an uncongested area or don’t mind if their data runs a little slower from time to time
  • Road warriors who need truly unlimited (uncapped) mobile hot spot, even if it is only 5Mbps
  • People who don’t mind dealing with chat-based customer service

Compared to Cricket, Visible is a better choice for people who want the benefit of a family plan but need separate billing. Verizon’s coverage is ubiquitous at this point, so Visible may also be a better choice for users in the most rural areas.

Russ Houberg Russ Houberg
Russ is a 20+ year veteran of the Information Technology industry and has been that "techie" for a multitude of people and organizations over the years. He holds several professional certifications including Microsoft Certified SharePoint Master and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. As a published author, he enjoys freelance writing when he has the opportunity.   Read Full Bio »

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