When shopping for a cell phone provider, you will notice that the MVNOs such as Xfinity Mobile, Visible Wireless, Cricket, Mint Mobile, Google Fi, and Total Wireless offer cheaper monthly plans compared to the big three – AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. That’s for good reason. The service offered by the MVNOs is not the same service offered by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. So what’s the difference?
When you have phone service with an MVNO, your service will be deprioritized when the network is congested. When your service is deprioritized, you will see lower speeds. At all other times, you will get fast speeds.
MVNOs are not very transparent about how bad the deprioritization will be for their customers. Deprioritization is different from data throttling where data speeds are reduced after you consume a certain amount of data.
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MVNO Deprioritization – Deep Dive
Here’s a handy guide to understanding how the MVNOs are deprioritized.
Quality of Service Indicators
Quality of Service Indicators (QCI) indicate the priority of traffic on a network. QCI values range between 6 and 9. Higher numbers mean lower priority. For example, Q7 has a higher priority than Q9.
Here are the QCI classes used by the three major telecom providers on their LTE networks. Best post-paid customers are on the lowest QCI class (note that not all customers of Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile get the highest priority).
Verizon uses two QCI classes – QCI 8 and QCI 9
AT&T uses 3 QCI classes – QCI 7, QCI 8, QCI 9
T-Mobile uses 7 QCI classes – QCI 6, QCI 7, QCI 8, QCI 9
MVNOs are arranged by prioritization(best prioritization to the worst)
- Google Fi – QCI 6
- Mint Mobile – QCI 7
- Xfinity Mobile By The Gig Plan and Unlimited plan – QCI 8
- US Mobile – (5G devices – QCI 8)
- Total Wireless – QCI 9
- Visible Wireless – QCI 9 (Visible+ is QCI 8 )
- Cricket Wireless – QCI 9
Note that the QCI classes above only apply if the network is congested. Otherwise, you will get the full speed (that is, there is no deprioritization)
Xfinity Mobile now offers the highest priority (QCI 8) on its By the Gig and Unlimited plans
Among the MVNOs, Google Fi has the best prioritization while Visible and Total Wireless have the worst prioritization. Google Fi uses T-Mobile and US Cellular networks and is priced higher than Visible and Total Wireless, both of which use Verizon network.
Mint Mobile offers the best of both worlds – decent prioritization and decent price.
Xfinity Mobile By The Gig Plan gets the same priority as the best Verizon post-paid customers. If you have a 5G compatible phone, you will get a higher priority irrespective of the plan you have.
Should you still go with an MVNO?
MVNOs are deprioritized only when the network is congested. Otherwise, you will realize full speeds. Congestion happens mostly happens during peak hours and in crowded locations. Most MVNO users will not notice the deprioritization.
Since you are paying much lower monthly prices compared to the big three post-paid customers and still get to use nationwide networks like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, you are getting an excellent deal financially.
What are the downsides of going with MVNOs?
- Post-paid customers of AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile get great offers on phones every 2 years. That’s not the case with MVNOs. MVNOs may offer deals when you first sign up with them. But existing MVNOs rarely get good deals on the latest phones. In most cases, you have to buy your own phones without any discounts.
- The selection of phones offered by MVNOs is limited. MVNOs don’t support all the phones. If you plan to bring your own device, check with the provider if the phone is compatible with the network.
- Customer service offered by MVNOs is not that great. Be prepared to wait in line longer compared to the big three post-paid customers.
- Big three networks have relationships with local cell phone operators in rural areas to fill their coverage gaps. But MVNOs don’t offer roaming coverage. You are limited to the native coverage offered by the parent networks. If you spend a lot of time in rural areas, this is something to consider.
Signing up with an MVNO can save you money. But you need to understand that your service will be deprioritized during peak hours. The level of deprioritization varies between networks. Google Fi, Xfinity Mobile, and Mint are least affected by deprioritization whereas Visible and Total Wireless are the most affected. In addition to deprioritization, you need to consider the coverage map since MVNOs don’t offer roaming.