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1 year later, Visible's Party Pay remains one of the best deals in phone service

You get the full coverage of Verizon's network and a per-person rate as low as $25 a month. There's one weird catch, though.


Start or join a quartet -- friends, roommates, even total strangers -- to score big savings from Visible.

Giuseppe Elio Cammarata/EyeEm/Getty Images

When is a family plan not a family plan? When it comes from Visible, a Verizon-powered prepaid carrier that offers unlimited phone service at reasonable rates. How reasonable? Individuals pay $40 a month. But groups can get service for as little as $25 per person by signing up for Party Pay, an offer that first hit the scene about a year ago. Notice, however, that I said "groups," not "families."

That's because Party Pay really isn't intended for people who live under the same roof (unless we're talking about, say, college roommates sharing an apartment). Instead, each person gets billed separately; you actually don't have the option of letting a single person pay for all the lines, which is how a traditional family plan works.

CNET's John Falcone recently learned that firsthand when he set up a "party" consisting of himself and his mother. (That would bring the rate down to $35 per person per month. With three people it drops to $30; with four, $25.) Although she has a separate residence, he wanted to cover the bill for both lines. But he couldn't put them on the same credit card; Visible requires separate billing. The workaround was to use two different cards.

Strangers with benefits

So what happens if you can't enlist two, three or four friends into your party? Believe it or not, you can do this with strangers as well. In fact, there's an entire community on Reddit devoted to helping people find Party Pay parties. That's where CNET's Mike Sorrentino turned in hopes of getting that $25 rate -- and it worked. He's been in a group with total strangers for the past two months. "So far, so good," he reports. (Your mileage may vary.)

If you're the one starting the group, there's surprisingly little risk. Each person not only gets billed separately, but also gets their own account with unlimited calls, text messages, data and mobile hotspot. There's no overlap, no possibility of interference. Someone might suddenly decide to bail on the group, however, leaving you with a higher monthly rate until you're able to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, if you're a joiner, the main account holder could decide to boot you at any time, with no warning or explanation. (In fact, party members have no direct way to communicate with one another, according to Sorrentino.) In an ideal world, your party would consist of people you know, the better to reduce any "flake" risks.

Other things you should know about Visible

Party Pay isn't the only thing that distinguishes Visible from other carriers. For example, if you need help, there's no physical storefront you can visit or even a customer-service number to call. Instead, every bit of Visible business -- billing, tech support -- is handled via the Visible app.

What's more, Visible isn't a traditional MVNO. Instead, the carrier "sits on top of the Verizon network," according to a company representative. That means you get the exact same network coverage as Verizon customers. (Check here to make sure your phone is compatible, unless you're planning to buy a new one from the carrier. Right now, you can get a $150 prepaid Mastercard and free Bose headphones when you buy an iPhone 12 or other select phones.)

But do you also get the same performance? In its early days, Visible imposed a speed cap. That's been removed "for a limited time"; it remains to be seen whether the cap will return, or what it will look like on a 5G network. Speaking of which, 5G is coming soon -- but no specific date has been announced.

It's weird that Visible doesn't make Party Pay more accessible to those living under the same roof. In fact, it's borderline hostile to families in that respect. But for quartets of friends, co-workers, even strangers you meet on the interwebs, Visible's group plan is one of the best deals out there.

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