PROS / With access to AT&T’s top-tier network, Consumer Cellular’s customers can depend on connectivity almost anywhere in the country.
CONS / The company only offers a handful of low-data options, with nothing available over 4GB.
VERDICT / As with its phone offerings, Consumer Cellular is a great choice for people who need dependable connectivity – just not very much of it.
Consumer Cellular is a curiosity in the mobile internet world. As a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), it leases access to AT&T’s network, one of the strongest and most reliable in the nation and a great option for frequent travelers. Yet most of its plans are low-usage, targeting people like senior citizens who tend to not get online as often as their younger counterparts. The company has even partnered with AARP for discounts on monthly service.
If you only need a small data allocation every month, but you need it to be dependable, Consumer Cellular could well work for you. The company doesn’t have dedicated mobile broadband plans; rather, it has combination data and text plans that are designed for smartphones but can be used by portable internet hotspots. They start as low as $2.50 per month for 30MB of data, but most users need at least the $10, 500MB plan. Options go as high as $40 per month for 4GB, and while you can go higher for $10 per gigabyte, you’re throttled to much lower speeds if you do – Consumer Cellular’s lease deal with AT&T doesn’t let it maintain a higher data rate. If you somehow manage to use up 10GB of data in a month, despite those throttled speeds and paying $100 for the month’s usage in the process, you’re cut off until the next month’s service begins.
Consumer Cellular doesn’t carry any USB sticks, so you need to buy its mobile hotspot if you want broadband internet on the go. There’s just the one device, a ZTE-made hotspot that can connect to 4G LTE networks and supports up to 10 devices at once. The hotspot costs $80 upfront, but you don’t have to worry about activation fees, and returning it is free if you do so within Consumer Cellular’s 30-day guarantee – there aren’t any restocking fees to speak of.
The cheapest mobile broadband providers operate on weaker networks. This isn’t a surprise, but when you need reliability without the cost, pickings are slim. Consumer Cellular isn’t a perfect solution – limited high-data options and hotspot selection drag it down from true greatness – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a superb option for certain users. With AT&T’s network backing it up and some of the best customer service in the business, it’s worth checking out.