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Prepaid Plans are Cheaper, but are Slower

July 17, 2015 - Written By Alexander Maxham

How much does it cost for a single line at any of the big four carriers? The cheapest is around $80, if you don’t bring your own phone. While prepaid carriers like MetroPCS, Cricket, and many others can cut that in half. Sometimes even more. But what’s the difference? Why is MetroPCS cheaper than it’s owner T-Mobile?

There are a few technical reasons, but they all point to the fact that they are slower in terms of data speed. For some that may not matter as much. Tom’s Guide recently did a test in several cities in the US and found that MetroPCS posted speeds of about 8.1Mbps down and 5.2Mbps up. While it’s owner, T-Mobile posted speeds of 22.7Mbps down and 13.2Mbps upload. That’s almost double what MetroPCS had. Those speeds are still pretty respectable, but it does mean that apps are going to be slower to download. And if you’re in an area with more people on that tower, your speeds are going to be even slower.

Basically, prepaid carriers and MVNO’s don’t get the same priority on the tower as postpaid customers. So if the tower is congested, the first ones to get slower speeds, and could even get kicked off the tower, are the prepaid customers. While that doesn’t happen often, it does happen. Carriers call it Network Management. It’s to ensure that everyone has a favorable experience.

Cricket has a hard cap, actually, of 8Mbps. That’s still not a terrible speed, but just remember if you’re in an area where AT&T doesn’t have the best speeds, you could be seeing a lot slower speeds than that. Prepaid carriers have been often looked at as “cheap phone service”, that’s really what it is. And if you don’t care about speeds being around 5-10Mbps, then by all means, check out prepaid and save yourself quite a bit of cash each month. But if you want the faster speeds for when you need to download a game before you hop on this plane, then you may want to stick with the big four – meaning AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.