Google Fi, Mint Mobile, Visible: what wireless networks are small providers using?


Sarah Tew / CNET

When it comes to choosing a wireless service provider, there are many options beyond AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Your cable provider – especially if you have Optimum, Comcast’s Xfinity, or Charter’s Spectrum – has probably tried to switch you to their mobile service in the past year or so. You also have smaller players like Mint Mobile, Visible, Boost Mobile, and others.

Here’s the not-so-secret twist: These providers don’t actually run their own cellular networks, for the most part. Instead, most are what are known as MVNOs (or mobile virtual network operators) which partner up with the larger operators and piggyback on their networks. Let’s break down who is partnering with whom and if features like 5G are included.

Mint Mobile uses T-Mobile

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Sarah Tew / CNET

Ryan Reynolds’ mobile operator currently uses T-Mobile’s service for its network.

Is 5G included? Mint has access to T-Mobile’s 5G network, which now reaches 300 million people with its low-speed service and 150 million people with its faster mid-range offering. Like T-Mobile, Mint also includes 5G access with all plans as long as you have a 5G phone.

Google Fi uses T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular

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Sarah Tew / CNET

Google’s mobile phone service uses a merger of different networks to provide the service. Now that T-Mobile and Sprint have merged, it largely only uses T-Mobile as well as US Cellular, the latter being more of a Midwestern brand.

Is 5G included? 5G is included with all Fi plans, but you must make sure it works with T-Mobile’s 5G network. At the moment, this list includes a variety of Android phones, namely recent Samsung Galaxy devices as well as the Motorola One Ace 5G, but it does not allow the iPhone 12 to access 5G on Google Fi.

Visible uses Verizon

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Visible is a sub-brand of Verizon and as such operates on its network.

Is 5G included? Visible plans include access to Verizon’s 5G network. This includes Verizon’s national low-band network as well as its fastest millimeter wave service available in parts of certain cities. Speeds, even on the faster version of 5G, will be capped at 200 Mbps.

Boost Mobile uses T-Mobile (for now)

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Sarah Tew / CNET

Boost Mobile, which moved to Dish from Sprint as as part of the T-Mobile / Sprint merger last year, works on the T-Mobile network. Dish is in the process of building its own 5G network and will begin transferring users from those areas to its service as soon as it becomes available.

The first city, Las Vegas, is should be on in the third quarter of the year. As part of the merger, Dish was given the option to continue using T-Mobile’s network for seven years as it develops its own network.

While T-Mobile was supposed to be the roaming network, last month Dish announced new deal with AT&T which will leave it roaming on the latter’s wireless network for 10 years. While he can still use T-Mobile for some of that time, expect to use AT & T’s network when he’s not alone with Dish.

Is 5G included? Boost does not charge extra for accessing 5G.

US Mobile uses T-Mobile and Verizon

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Sarah Tew / CNET

US Mobile, a new player in wireless gaming, uses a combination of T-Mobile and Verizon.

Is 5G included? US Mobile includes 5G with all of its plans, but whether you sign in to Verizon or T-Mobile isn’t as straightforward as an option like Google Fi. While this service will automatically switch you to the network with the best coverage, US Mobile actually sends you two SIM cards when you sign up. The black SIM card is for Verizon (what the company calls Super LTE + CDMA) while the white SIM card is for T-Mobile (what the company calls GSM).

Spectrum Mobile uses Verizon

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Charter’s Spectrum Mobile uses the Verizon network for its coverage.

Is 5G included? Spectrum Mobile includes access to Verizon’s 5G networks. Data speeds are not capped but, by corporate disclosures, your data may be slowed down in high traffic areas with a lot of network congestion. The company says that once the congestion “subsides”, however, “your speed will return to normal.”

Xfinity Mobile uses Verizon

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Sarah Tew / CNET

Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile uses the Verizon network for its coverage.

Is 5G included? Like Spectrum Mobile, Comcast’s offering has access to Verizon’s 5G networks. As with this service, data speeds aren’t capped, but Comcast notes in its disclosure That in high traffic areas where Verizon’s network may be congested, Xfinity Mobile customers may see their data slowed down until the congestion subsides.

Optimum Mobile (formerly Altice) uses T-Mobile

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Sarah Tew / CNET

Optimum Mobile (formerly known as Altice Mobile), which is available to Optimum and Suddenlink users, uses the T-Mobile network.

Is 5G included? Optimum Mobile includes 5G with all of its plans, although if you go over your data limit, you’ll be “down to 2G speeds” for the rest of your billing cycle. Optimum sells 1 GB, 3 GB and unlimited data plans. For the latter, your speeds will slow down after using more than 20GB in any given month.


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