Project Fi is unique, but if for some reason you can’t or don’t want to subscribe to it, here are some awesome alternatives.

There is nothing else like Project Fi in the U.S. Google’s alternative carrier is a unique combination of flexible, powerful and intuitive. With one SIM card, it dynamically switches between three carriers in the U.S. and provides effortless worldwide roaming while abroad. With its app, it’s easy to top up on data or share the cost of a plan amongst a group of people.

Project Fi: Everything you need to know

But Project Fi isn’t perfect, or at least not perfect for everyone. Case in point: It’s a lock-in strategy for Google, since recent Nexus and Pixel devices are compatible with the service. And it’s relatively expensive, with a flat rate of $10 per gigabyte of data.

So I thought it would be nice to try to find other carriers in the U.S. that offered at least approximations of Project Fi’s service while ensuring compatibility with a wider range of phones. To do that, I made a set of criteria for the alternative providers:

  • It must have an intuitive and flexible payment schedule
  • It must have inexpensive talk and text in the U.S.
  • It must ensure data is relatively affordable
  • It must be compatible with most unlocked phones
  • It should have robust roaming capabilities
  • It should have data rollover or credits for unused data
  • It should offer service through more than one U.S. carrier (for redundancy)

As I said at the beginning, there is nothing else like Project Fi in the U.S., but some providers come relatively close to hitting all of the above criteria. Here’s what I found.

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Ting

To many of its long-time users, alternative carrier Ting is a darling of flexibility and customer service. The main appeal for Project Fi admirers is the flexible, modular plans, which let you pay for exactly how much talk time and texting you need, along with simple, affordable data tiers.

Prices for a single line start at $32 for 100 minutes of talk and text and 2GB of data, but it’s not much more to add considerably more from each category. It’s also just $6 per additional line, which is pretty great.

Ting also has access to two networks, Sprint and T-Mobile, though unlike Project Fi you can’t dynamically switch between them — your phone may be compatible with both services, but you’ll need to choose whether you want GSM or CDMA service, and can switch SIM cards based on your location and coverage.

One thing I constantly hear about Ting, too, is that it offers fantastic customer service and flexibility. And while its roaming rates are not included in the base package like Project Fi, they’re relatively inexpensive.

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Cricket Wireless

AT&T’s discount brand, Cricket Wireless, doesn’t tick every box for Project Fi wannabes, but it comes close on a few. For example, it offers excellent nationwide coverage, since it runs on AT&T’s network, and as a result should be compatible with almost every unlocked phone sold in the U.S. today.

It also has simple, inexpensive and flexible plans that offer unlimited U.S. talk and text, plus the ability to roam in Canada and Mexico on two of the higher-tier (but at $50 and $60, still affordable) plans.

There are a couple of caveats, though: Cricket limits LTE download speeds to 8Mbps, and 4G speeds to 4Mbps, which is considerably slower than what AT&T’s network is capable of. Mobile hotspot is only available on the 8GB plan, and additional data is $10 per gigabyte, which matches Project Fi.

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Consumer Cellular

Like Ting, Consumer Cellular operates on T-Mobile’s GSM network, but it also has access to AT&T’s coverage if you need it. It’s got a reputation for amazing customer service, and its flexible plans are really quite generous: you start at $10 for pay-per-usage calls and add either a bucket or talk-and-text or just a healthy smattering of data. 5GB is $40, which isn’t particularly cheap, but if you’re just looking for data and a few phone calls, it should be fine. Consumer Cellular also charges a familiar $10/GB for additional data, up to 12GB per month.

Unlike the other choices, Consumer Cellular doesn’t have any roaming capabilities, so if that’s necessary then you’re out of luck. But it does let you add a second line to your account for only $10 per month, and AARP members get a 5% monthly discount, which can add up over time.

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MetroPCS

Finally, MetroPCS is also a fairly good provider, since it now lives on T-Mobile’s network but offers services that are considerably cheaper and more flexible. You can get unlimited talk, text and data, plus hotspot support, for $60 per month, while 2GB of data is just half that amount. MetroPCS doesn’t offer international data roaming, but call and text adds-ons for Canada and Mexico are just $5 per month.

Because MetroPCS runs on T-Mobile’s network, most unlocked phones are going to be compatible with it, which makes it an excellent option for bring-your-own-device enthusiasts.

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The reality

The reality is that nothing in the U.S. is like Project Fi. Google’s carrier experiment may be a little more expensive on a per-gigabyte basis, and more restrictive from a phone choice perspective, but in many ways, and for many people, it’s the ideal network provider.

Of course, not everyone has access to a Nexus or Pixel phone, so hopefully these offerings will come in handy when you’re searching for your next alternative carrier.

Alternative carriers (MVNOS)



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