If you’ve decided that the time has come for you to go with a new wireless cellular service provider, then you might not be sure as to how best to proceed. There are several issues that you should consider, such as price, perks, how widespread the network is, and whether the company receives positive consumer feedback. We’ll take a few moments to talk about all of those factors as it relates to two providers, Consumer Cellular and Straight Talk. Once we’re done, you should have a better idea of which one is going to work best for you.
We’ll start by going over the main points you should know about these two options.
- Theirs is a service marketed mostly toward older adults, or those who do not use a great deal of streaming data
- They share the networks of AT&T and T-Mobile, so there are few areas of the country where consumers have any issue with their service
- They have plans with a limited talk for $15, and you can add streaming data for as little as an additional $5 per month; unlimited texting capabilities come with all of their plans
- They offer very little in the way of perks, instead choosing to lure customers with very cheap prices
- Straight Talk has come extremely affordable plans; however, during peak call times, their clients are prioritized behind other customers of the networks that they use
- They use the wireless networks for T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T; which one you can expect to use depends entirely on what model of phone you have
- You can sign up with them over the phone or via their website, but if you want a brick-and-mortar location, their products and services are only sold through Walmart
- You get a reduced rate on their plans if you are willing to sign up with autopay, and they have both unlimited plans and those with limited data
The History of Consumer Cellular
Consumer Cellular is a postpaid mobile virtual network operator based in America. It was founded in 1995 by Greg Pryor and John Marick. The company offers accessories, no-contract cellphone plans, and cellphones. Their headquarters is in Portland, OR, and they have more than 2,400 employees. They focus their marketing more on older adults, especially those over the age of 50.
They use the networks of T-Mobile and AT&T. They also resell wholesale wireless services to additional virtual operators. In 2019, the company stated that it had reached 3.5 million customers. The Inc 5000 list has named them one of America’s fastest-growing companies every year in the last decade.
Their business model is somewhat atypical if you look at their marketing and focus. Most national providers are trying to get high-use clients to sign on with them. Consumer Cellular is trying to snare more casual cellphone users, which is to say, those who don’t use a tremendous amount of data.
The History of Straight Talk
Straight Talk is one of the more prominent divisions of parent company TracFone Wireless. TracFone Wireless is a no-contract mobile phone provider. They offer prepaid products in America and several other countries, and they’re sometimes abbreviated as TFWI. TracFone is part of America Movil. They are the largest telecommunications company in Mexico.
TFWI offers all sorts of products and services under several brands. They hold agreements to use the networks of some of the most notable operators in the United States. That includes US Cellular, the Sprint Corporation, AT&T Mobility, and Verizon. In 2015, they had more than 25 million subscribers in the US and other countries.
Straight Talk has an exclusive agreement in place with Walmart. It is a joint venture which makes the store chain the only brick-and-mortar locations where you can get their products. You can also sign up with Straight Talk over the phone or through their website, though. They have many different plans and rates, some of them with limited data, others that are unlimited. You can often get reduced prices for their plans if you sign up with their autopay program.
Does Consumer Cellular or Straight Talk Have the Better Coverage Area?
The coverage area for your cellular service provider is always going to be a legitimate source of interest for you as a consumer. It might be the one determining factor that makes you go with one option over another. Consumer Cellular is in a somewhat unique position because they use the networks of both T-Mobile and AT&T. Those are the second and third-best networks for 4G LTE services in the nation, respectively. T-Mobile covers 59% of the country, while it’s 58% for AT&T. Both of these remain behind Verizon, which stands as the clear number one.
Consumer Cellular might seem like more of a regional carrier, but there’s no denying that their coverage is better than several of the other smaller providers that are out there. They’re well known in the Northwest, and there aren’t going to be many areas where service is a problem. There are still some spots on the map that even the overlap of T-Mobile and AT&T’s networks are going to miss, but it’s a distinct rarity.
With Straight Talk, you get another situation that is someone unusual. They use the networks for all of the major service providers, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T. If you sign up with them, that means your 4G LTE streaming data could be coming from any one of those four.
The way that is determined is through which brand and model of device you’re using. You might be assigned a different network based on whether you are using an iPhone, an Android, an LG, or some other brand. If you want to sign up with them and this is a concern for you, then you should stop by Walmart and talk with them about it, or reach out to them over the phone or via Live Chat. Which network you’ll be using is no small thing, so that’s certainly a question that you’ll want to be answered.
Their Service Plans
Consumer Cellular offers a single line with a talk plan of 250 minutes per month for $15, which is almost unheard of by today’s standards. You can get a plan with an unlimited talk for $20 per month. As for plans with streaming data, you can get one with 500MB per month for an extra $5 added to your bill. 3GB will be an additional $10 per month. 10, 15, and 25GB per month will cost you an extra $20, $30, and $40 per month, respectively.
As you can see, Consumer Cellular’s plans feature extremely low prices for a very stripped-down service. It’s quickly evident who their target market is: those who don’t talk on the phone regularly and those who use limited streaming data.
The service plans for Straight Talk include several tiers. There are five different options, the cost of which are $10, $30, $35, $45, and $55. With the $55 plan, you get unlimited streaming 4G LTE data. If you get one of the limited plans, then your speed will drop to 2G once you’re through your allotted data for that month.
Straight Talk’s service plans do not include any hotspot tethering, so keep that in mind if it’s a feature that is vital for you. The streaming video you get with them is the 480p resolution, which is the industry standard. During high volume times for calls and data usage, Straight Talk’s customers are prioritized behind those of the network they are using, like Sprint, T-Mobile, etc. This might be irritating for you, but it is that approach that allows Straight Talk to offer the dramatic price reductions for their service plans.
Do These Companies Offer Any Perks?
Some individuals shop for cellular service plans according to which one is going to give them the best perks. If that sounds like you, then probably neither one of these companies is going to wow you. With Consumer Cellular, you can get a discount on your bill if you are an AARP member. Again, this serves to reinforce that the company has specifically targeted older adults. You can also add family and friends for $15 per line, which is Consumer Cellular’s way of trying to entice you to bring some additional business their way.
With Straight Talk, the perks are also incentives. If you refer a family member or a friend, then you can both score a free month of service. You may also earn points by doing things such as auto-renewing every month. You can use these points to get things like high-speed data add-on cards or a free service plan.
If you’re hoping for things like free Disney+, Hulu, or streaming music, you will need to look elsewhere. It seems evident that both of these companies aren’t going to try and dazzle you with add-ons as a way of securing your business.
As for limitations with these companies, we just talked about the lack of perks. In addition, there might be issues with coverage area if you go with Straight Talk. That is all going to depend on which network they’re using, and this, in turn, will depend on which device you have.
Once more factor to consider is that there are certain phone models that neither of these companies might allow you to use. This is more likely if you have a lesser-known brand of phone. With Consumer Cellular, for instance, you get a choice of iPhones, Samsung models, and a few Motorolas. You’ll have to check in with them if you want to be sure that a device you already have will run on their network.
Which Phone Models are Compatible?
If you look at the websites for both of these companies, you’ll quickly see that there are many more phones available from Straight Talk than there are from Consumer Cellular. While there are iPhones, LGs, and Androids that both of them offer, Straight Talk has many more models at a wider price range.
This goes back to Consumer Cellular is all about the basics. It would seem that they’d prefer not to confuse or overburden their potential customers with a huge variety of choices. Regardless of which company you end up choosing, though, the same formula is going to be the same: if you buy your phone from the company rather than bringing your own, that’s going to mean more money added to your monthly bill. That is, of course, unless you elect to buy your new phone from them outright when you sign up with the company.
What About Customer Service?
Customer service for both of these companies seems to be fine. With either one, you can talk to someone over the phone about a problem with your bill or any other issue, or you can reach out to them via Live Chat on their websites.
Consumer Cellular does not have its own stores. However, their products and services are featured in over 350 Best Buy locations, so if you need to speak to one of their representatives in-person, you can do so there. Since Straight Talk’s services and products can be purchased at Walmart, there are many more places you can go if you need to talk to one of their salespeople face-to-face. There are more than 4,700 Walmart locations in the US, so Straight Talk would seem to have the edge in this regard.
So, Which One of These Companies Should You Choose?
Which company seems best for you is going to depend on a couple of different factors. Consumer Cellular has pretty good coverage since they are reliant on T-Mobile and AT&T’s networks. Their plans are extremely cheap. However, there are severe limitations depending on which plan you get from them, both as it relates to talking capabilities and streaming data. You also get the bare minimum with perks.
Straight Talk offers you more phone options. Their coverage is somewhat of a crapshoot because you won’t know until you talk to them about which network they’ll be using for your device. Once you determine that, you’ll probably be in a better position to decide between these options. Straight Talk’s plans are reasonable, but you’ll likely pay a little less with Consumer Cellular across the board.
The bottom line is that you will need to determine where in your life you are and which of the features we’ve described seem most critical to you. Consumer Cellular is mostly for older adults, like retired individuals, let’s say. Straight Talk delivers a no-frills approach that will probably save you money over a more prominent brand like Verizon or T-Mobile.