Cricket Wireless Review – How To Cut Your Cell Phone Bill In Half And Get Better Service

The year is 2010 and cell phones are blowing up (popularity wise, not in a Note 7 way).  I had just switched from Sprint to Verizon with a beautiful plan that came with:

  • 700 minutes per month
  • Unlimited text messages
  • Unlimited data (!!!!!)

That's right kids; unlimited data used to be included in almost every plan!  Later that year I got married and upgraded to a family plan. 

For 2 smartphones and 1 dumb phone, I was paying $180 per month.  I was happy with the service I got from Verizon and took full advantage of the unlimited data, using 10 GB-20 GB of data per month.

A few years go by and unlimited data plans start getting killed off.  Suddenly this plan is a hot commodity.  People are selling their phone plans on Ebay for $500+ because they come with grandfathered unlimited data.  I hold on for dear life and continue to send Verizon $180 per month for the privilege of unlimited data.

Finally in 2015 I can't take it anymore. Verizon decides they're going to start charging everyone with an unlimited plan an extra $10 per month just because they can. After they threw that in my face I decided I was going to find a new carrier.

After hours and hours of research I found a really cheap plan with Cricket Wireless. I wasn't really sure if I could trust their coverage so I bought the cheapest phone I could find that had 4g ($25 on ebay) and a Cricket sim card.  I signed up for a 1 month plan for $30 and took their network for a test.

If you're curious what a $25 smartphone from 2015 looks like, here it is.  The beautiful ZTE Prelude 2 with it's 3.5" screen rocking a 480 x 320 resolution...

In the previous month I had tested T-mobile and found their service to be pretty spotty.  I live in the Midwest near Kalamazoo, Michigan so most of the time I'm near moderately sized cities (for the Midwest anyways) but sometimes I'm out in the middle of nowhere and T-mobile had no service out there.

Cricket's service was surprisingly good and I didn't notice any difference between Verizon and Cricket. That was all the info I needed to make the switch and start saving almost $100 per month.

When I switched from Verizon to Cricket I went from paying $180 per month to $100 per month.

  • With Verizon I had 2 smart phones and 1 dumb phone.
  • With Cricket I had 5 smart phones.

I was able to add 2 more family members to the plan and still pay almost half as much.

What is Cricket Wireless?

Cricket isn't their own cell phone company.  In fact, they're owned by AT&T. This is actually a common arrangement in the cell phone industry and it's known as an MVNO which stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator.

These MVNOs don't own any of the cell phone towers; they just get the service through one of the big 4 providers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile) and sell their services under a different name.

So when you're using Cricket's service, what you're really doing is using AT&T towers. The only difference between AT&T and Cricket's service is that Cricket has no roaming and your data speeds are capped at 8 Mbps.

If you don't know how 8 Mbps translates into real world talk, basically you can stream HD videos with your mobile data and notice no difference.  The only time you'd even notice that the data is slower than the actual AT&T network is if you are downloading huge files like movies or games. For 99.99% of people there is no difference in the speed you get with Cricket and Verizon or AT&T.

Cricket isn't the only MVNO out there. Virgin Wireless is an MVNO on the Verizon network. Boost is an MVNO on the Sprint network. There are tons and tons of MVNOs out there all relying on different providers and offering different plans. The reason I chose Cricket is because they had the best plans at the lowest prices while still having awesome service.

Verizon is known for their extensive network and great coverage but even their MVNO plans were more expensive than what Cricket had to offer.

Here's a snapshot from Wikipedia showing all of the MVNOs that operate under AT&T's network.

So Why Do MVNOs Exist?

You might be thinking this sounds too good to be true.  If you still get to use AT&T's network, then why does Cricket even exist?  Why doesn't AT&T just force you to get your plan through them instead of Cricket and charge you twice as much?

There's a couple of reasons.

1 - MVNOs are basically wholesalers.  AT&T can treat Cricket as 1 customer.  Then Cricket can turn around and resell that service to millions of people.  When anyone has a problem with their billing, their service, or their dog eating their phone, they will call Cricket instead of AT&T.  Cricket is responsible for attracting new users through advertising and dealing with all of the headaches that come with running a company.  AT&T can sit back and collect their monthly rent from Cricket without having to deal with any of the head aches.

Admittedly this analogy breaks down a little bit since AT&T bought Cricket and folded them into their company but this is the basic premise of all MVNOs.  Just like large manufacturers like Nike don't sell their shoes directly to you; they sell them to a store which then resells those to you and handles all of the customer service and sales process.

2 - MVNOs allow carriers to attract new customers.  The executive paying $100 per month for 1 phone line is a different target customer than the college student who wants a pre-paid plan for $30.

T-mobile had a plan that offered just 100 minutes but had unlimited data for $30 per month. This plan was HUGELY popular with people who wanted unlimited data and it was only offered online through a convoluted process that you had to spend hours of research to figure out.

My parents are in their 50's and they're not going to jump through all of those hoops to figure that stuff out to save $50 per month on a phone plan so they just go with Verizon or AT&T and are totally satisfied.

By separating their plans into high end and low end, the carriers can attract different groups of customers and maximize their profitability.

Cricket's Physical Locations

In the U.S., Cricket has over 1,300 stores. One of the concerns people have with MVNOs is that they won't be able to find someone to help them if anything goes wrong.

Cricket has stores all over the country, even in smaller cities.  In my experience, the staff in these stores are SUPER helpful and they'll bend over backwards to help you with any problems you have.

When I first switched to Cricket I tried to save some money and buy my own SIM card from Amazon.  After I installed the SIM card I couldn't get my phone to work so I tried the online support which was totally useless.

I went to a brick and mortar Cricket store that's less than a mile from my house and in under 5 minutes I was out the door with a new SIM card for free!

Even during the whole activation process and changing plans/lines, the staff at the Cricket store was helpful and patient and knowledgeable.  They could answer all of my questions and never had to call corporate only to get put on hold and not find the answer to my question (looking at you Comcast).

What Is Cricket's Service Like?

Network Coverage

In the last few years I've tested my Cricket service with these trips:

  • Drove to the Upper Peninsula where I could never get service with Verizon.
  • Drove to Washington D.C. and back to Michigan.
  • Drove to Chicago, flew to Denver, drove 2 hours west of Fort Collins into the wilderness (literally, the Rawah Wilderness if you're into backpacking).
  • Flew to North Carolina
  • Flew to Cancun, Mexico

And the service I got with Cricket was better than Verizon for that entire time.

That's right.  I was paying half as much but I was getting better coverage and the only time I noticed a difference between Verizon's coverage and Cricket's coverage is when I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I was able to get service with Cricket while my family members were left with no signal on Verizon.

Crazy.

When I went to Mexico for a week I figured I wouldn't have service.  No biggie, international travel basically always means your phone is useless except when it's on Wifi so I wasn't surprised.

Until the plan landed and I had 4G.  Then I got a phone call and some text messages.  Turns out I had the same full coverage service I got in the United States while I was in Mexico at no extra cost.  I didn't have to change my plan or call customer service, everything just worked like I was back at home.  

My wife is also on Cricket and she didn't get service while we were in Mexico so I can't guarantee this will work but at least while I was down there my phone worked fine.  That's more of a side benefit for me than a necessary feature so if you are counting on having service while you travel internationally then you'll want to do a little more research and make sure you're getting what you need.

Speed Limits

I mentioned earlier that Cricket caps your data speed at 8 Mbps.  This is still fast enough to stream 1080p HD video while you're on mobile data so you won't ever notice any slowness.

Cricket offers 2 unlimited plans and one of them caps your download speed at just 3 Mbps.  This will effectively limit you to 480p which is roughly DVD quality.  However, you can pay extra and get the 8 Mbps download speeds if you want.

Hot Spot Costs Extra

If you want to be able to run a Wifi hotspot, you'll have to pay an extra $10 per month.

A Wifi hotspot turns your phone into a Wifi router and lets other people around you connect to the internet through your phone.  This is really nice when you're traveling and want to get on the internet on a computer or tablet that doesn't have a 4g connection.

There is a way to get around this $10 per month fee if you have some technical savvy which I'll detail later on.

The MyCricket App

Cricket's app is fairly standard and on par with their competitors.  From the app you can:

  • View the usage for all lines on your plan
  • Change any plan at any time if you want more/less data
  • Contact customer support instantly through chat

Here's a couple screenshots from the app showing what it looks like.  It's really easy to use and I love being able to adjust my plan on the fly.  If I know I'm going to be using a lot of data I can just change my plan to unlimited then change it back later.  These changes don't take effect until the next billing cycle so you do have to plan ahead of time if you're going to adjust your plan.

Click any of the pictures below to view the full size version.

What Plans Does Cricket Have?

Cricket has a lot of different options with their plans so it should be easy to find one that fits your needs.

All of Cricket's plan prices are the total cost.  Your monthly bill will be exactly what you see below.  All of the fees are included in that price so you won't ever get surprised.

Also, Cricket has no overage charges.  If you go over your monthly data allotment, they just reduce your speed to 128kbps.  This means your internet is still usable, just slow.  Like browsing Instagram means waiting 4-5 seconds for a picture to load.  It's really slow. But it's better than getting surprised with a $500 over charge.

Here is a list of their plans for 1 phone line.  They all include unlimited calls and texts.

Plan

Price ($ per month)

Talk & Text Only (No Data)

$25

2GB per month

$30

5GB per month

$40

Unlimited (3 Mbps max speed)

$55

Unlimited (8 Mbps max speed)

$60

But the real magic with Cricket is their family plan.  They have a special deal where you can get 5 lines for $100 per month.  They have discounts for each additional line you add and it caps out with 5 lines and a total discount of $70 which means your bill is only $100 for 5 lines.  That comes out to just $20 per phone per month; you won't find a better deal out there.

If you are consistently going over or under on your data, you can just adjust your plan in the app and it will take effect when your billing cycle resets.  This makes it easy to only pay for what you need and avoid getting a plan that offers too much for your usage which means you'll save money.

A nice, unexpected surprise I got from Cricket is that they randomly increased our data plans for free!

I got a text message out of the blue one day that said my 5 GB per month plan was now 8 GB per month.  I didn't have to call and request this, it just happened automatically and I was still paying the same every month. 

I don't know what caused them to increase my data and when I look at the sign up page right now there is no 8 GB option.  My only guess is that it's a loyalty bonus when you've been with them for a while but either way it's a nice gesture and not something you'd see from the 4 major carriers.  Cricket's customer service is above and beyond the norm in every way.

Buying a Phone To Use With Cricket

When buying a phone for the Cricket network, you want to find one that is listed as being compatible with AT&T.


Some phones (like the iPhone) come with support for all carriers built in so an iPhone used on Verizon will work on AT&T and Cricket as well.

Remember the old days when you'd sign a 2 year contract and get an iPhone for $100 or even for free?  Well you weren't really getting an iPhone for free.  Your carrier was taking that $800 phone and charging you $40 per month for it.  You just didn't see the $40 per month charge because it was rolled up into the total cost of your plan. So you kept paying $100 per month and every 2 years you got an upgrade.

In recent years carriers have started to move away from this model. Now most of them provide the option for you to get a discounted phone but they'll explicitly tell you that the new phone will add $30 per month to your bill and you'll basically be taking on a 2 year loan to buy a cell phone.

Cricket has discounts on phones that are about $200-$300 below retail price for new customers. If you're switching over to Cricket and want to buy a new phone then you should take advantage of these deals since their prices are much lower than you'll find anywhere else online for a brand new phone.

But if you're looking to save some money and you don't want the latest and greatest phone, you can buy a used phone. My favorite place to buy used phones is Swappa. When you're selling a phone, they just charge a flat $10 fee which they roll into the price and is covered by the buyer.  

As a buyer I love Swappa because you can find phones that are in almost-new condition for about 30% less than the price of a new phone. If you aren't a phone fanatic then you can find models that are a year or two old and can be picked up for $100 or even less. Swappa also has great customer service and they'll intervene if there are any problems with your transaction. Most of the time everything goes smoothly though and you won't have to deal with anyone.  It's almost the same as buying a phone from Amazon but you'll be saving hundreds of dollars and be guaranteed that the phone is in good shape before you get it.

How To Transfer From Your Current Provider to Cricket

To transfer your service from an existing carrier to Cricket just requires you to have your PIN from your current provider. If you don't know your PIN you can just stop in a store or call their customer service and ask for it. They'll probably want to verify your ID since this PIN is the only thing stopping someone from stealing your phone number and porting it over without your knowledge.

Once you have the PIN, go to a Cricket store and tell them you want to switch to Cricket and let them know what your PIN is. They'll initiate the transfer which can take up to 4-6 hours. 

Before the transfer is complete, your service will still be active on your old carrier so you won't notice any differences.  Once the transfer happens your service will briefly drop out (I think I lost service for 30 seconds) and then it will reconnect on the AT&T network.

Then you're done!  You might get a nice bill in the mail from your old carrier if you have any early termination fees but other than that you shouldn't need to do anything else to switch carriers.

Cricket Wireless APN Settings

This isn't something you will usually need to change, but if you're having problems getting picture messages, group texts, or other weird things with your data and messaging, you might need to manually enter the APN settings.

Cricket has a great guide here you can check with step by step instructions.  If you're just looking for the specific APN settings, here they are:

  • Name: Internet
  • APN: ndo
  • MMSC: http://mmsc.aiowireless.net
  • MMS Proxy: proxy.aiowireless.net
  • Multimedia Message Port: 80
  • MCC: 310
  • MNC: 150
  • APN type: default,mms,fota,hipri,supl
  • APN protocol: IPv4
  • APN roaming protocol: IPv4
  • Turn APN on/off: ON
  • Cricket Wireless Hotspot Hack

    If you don't want to pay the $10 per month for the option to use the Wifi hotspot, there is a work around that you can do with a little technical know-how.

    To do this, your phone needs to be rooted/jail broken.  If you don't know how to do that, stop here and don't read any further. This stuff is technically complicated and if you screw it up, your phone can be ruined. Like it won't work AT ALL.  Rooting your phone also usually voids your warranty so don't expect to get much help from customer support if you screw this up.

    Alright, disclaimer out of the way, here's how you do it.

    • Get an app named "root file explorer" or something similar.
    • Go to the system folder and make sure it's in read/write mode.
    • Find a file named build.prop and edit it.
    • At the bottom add this text - net.tethering.noprovisioning=true

    If you want a full guide with step by step pictures, check it out here.

    Complaints About Cricket

    In the 3 years I've been with Cricket, I don't have too many complaints.

    The only problem I've run into recently is when I bought a used Samsung Galaxy S8+ on Swappa, I can't get the phone to update to the new version of Android. The updates come from AT&T and since I don't have an AT&T SIM card, I can't get the update!

    There are some work arounds you can do but they're pretty technical. My plan is to just buy an AT&T SIM card for $10 online and pop it in so I can get the updates.

    I never had this issue with my older phones and I know that this issue doesn't affect iPhones since that's what my wife uses and the updates come directly from Apple.

    I haven't seen many complaints about the service and from my experience, there are no issues with it. The coverage on the AT&T network is awesome and I don't miss Verizon one bit.

    Further Reading

    The best place to read up on Cricket or see other people's real world experience is the Cricket Wireless subreddit. There are tons of customers in there sharing their knowledge and experience and should be more than enough reading material to help you make the decision on whether or not to switch.

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    8 comments

    1. I have had cricket for 2 year before I had straight talk then before AT&T. I have always stayed on AT&T network because they have best reception in my area. semi rural. Over the years I noticed a decline In reception now my data is horrible constatly lagging even with 4g LTE. But 4g LTE coverage has gone down too. I will be using youtube on 144 or listen to a low bit podcast or browse online and it all lags alot of the time even with 3 bars. I will do a speed test and starts slows for a couple seconds but ends fast 4-8mbs. But is still lagging, Its like the system knows i am doing a speed test. I should be fine with under 1mbs. I have a samsung s7 for 2 years and got a replacement 8 months ago with no change.

      1. Wow that sucks, sorry to hear. I don’t run speed tests often but I always seem to get 8mbps download speeds and can stream Twitch.tv on 480p and 720p with little to ok buffering.

    2. I’ve been using Cricket for a little over a year and I’m really happy with the service. The price is great, and my coverage is much better than what I had with Boost Mobile. I live in Pennsylvania and at my home the coverage is fine with just about any carrier, but I do travel to some remote places and Boost’s coverage was really spotty. Last year I took a trip with a friend to Acadia National Park in Maine. I had no reception just about anywhere and my friend had really good coverage pretty much everywhere with Cricket. I switched right after that and no I’m rarely anywhere without coverage.

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