When it comes to picking a wireless provider, there are plenty of options beyond AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. Your cable provider -- particularly if you have Optimum, Comcast's Xfinity or Charter's Spectrum -- has likely tried to get you to move to their mobile service over the last year. You also have smaller players like Mint Mobile, Visible, Boost Mobile and others.
Here's the not-so-secret twist: These providers don't actually run their own cellular networks, for the most part. Instead, most are what's called MVNOs, which stands for mobile virtual network operators. They partner with the larger carriers and piggyback on their networks. Let's break down who is partnered with whom and if features like 5G are included.
Mint Mobile uses T-Mobile
Ryan Reynolds' cell carrier is actually using T-Mobile's service for its network.
Is 5G included? Mint has access to T-Mobile's 5G network and like T-Mobile, Mint also includes 5G access with all plans so long as you have a 5G phone.
Google Fi uses T-Mobile
Google's mobile phone service uses an amalgamation of different networks to provide service. Post T-Mobile's merger with Sprint, the group of three networks dropped to just T-Mobile and US Cellular. Now the carrier seems set to drop US Cellular and will rely mainly on T-Mobile for service.
Is 5G included? 5G is included with all Fi plans, but you will need to make sure your phone works with T-Mobile's 5G network. At the moment that list includes a variety of Android phones, namely recent Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel devices as well as some Motorola phones. Google Fi still does not allow the iPhone to access 5G on its network.
Visible uses Verizon
Visible is a sub-brand of Verizon and, as such, runs on its network.
Is 5G included? Visible plans include access to Verizon's 5G network. This includes Verizon's low-band nationwide network as well as its fastest millimeter-wave service that is available in parts of certain cities. Speeds, even when on the faster flavor of 5G, are capped at 200Mbps.
Boost Mobile uses AT&T, T-Mobile and Dish
Boost Mobile, which was spun off to Dish by Sprint as part of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, runs on AT&T's and T-Mobile's networks. Dish is in the process of building out its own 5G network and will begin transitioning users in those areas to its service as it becomes available.
The first city, Las Vegas, is now live, and last May the company listed 100 additional cities that it planned to expand to. As part of the merger, Dish was granted the ability to continue using T-Mobile's network for seven years as it builds out its own network.
While T-Mobile was expected to be the roaming network, in 2021 Dish announced a new deal with AT&T that will let it roam on the latter's wireless network for 10 years. Although it will still be able to tap into T-Mobile for part of this time, expect to use a combination AT&T, T-Mobile and Dish's own network going forward.
Is 5G included? Boost does not charge extra for accessing 5G.
US Mobile uses T-Mobile and Verizon
US Mobile, a newer player in the wireless game, uses a combination of T-Mobile and Verizon.
Is 5G included? US Mobile includes 5G with all of its plans, though whether you are connecting to Verizon or T-Mobile isn't as simple as an option like Google Fi. Whereas that service will automatically switch you to whichever network has the best coverage, US Mobile actually has two different SIM cards: the black SIM card is for Verizon (what the company calls Warp 5G), while the white SIM card is for T-Mobile (which the company calls GSM).
The Warp 5G network the carrier is pushing uses Verizon's network.
Spectrum Mobile uses Verizon
Charter's Spectrum Mobile uses Verizon's network for its coverage.
Is 5G included? Spectrum Mobile includes access to Verizon's 5G networks. Data speeds aren't capped but, per the company's disclosures, your data may be slowed in busy areas with a lot of network congestion. The company states once the congestion "lessens," however, "your speed will return to normal."
Xfinity Mobile uses Verizon
Comcast's Xfinity Mobile uses Verizon's network for its coverage.
Is 5G included? Like Spectrum Mobile, Comcast's offering has access to Verizon's 5G networks. As with that service, data speeds aren't capped but Comcast notes in its disclosure that in busy areas where Verizon's network may be congested, Xfinity Mobile customers may see their data slowed until the congestion clears.
Optimum Mobile (formerly Altice) uses T-Mobile
Optimum Mobile (once known as Altice Mobile), which is offered to Optimum and Suddenlink users, uses T-Mobile's network.
Is 5G included? Optimum Mobile includes 5G with all of its plans, though if you go over your monthly data limit for its 1GB or 3GB plans you will be "reduced to 2G speeds" for the remainder of your billing cycle. If you have the company's "Unlimited" or "Unlimited Max" plans your data will slow to "3G speeds" after 20GB or 50GB is used, respectively.