T-Mobile has persuaded a crush of cellphone users to switch over to its service, and many of the features it's pushed — from the end of mandatory two-year service agreements to the rise of unlimited plans — have been embraced by its rivals. But what you might not know is that there’s another carrier that uses the same network as T-Mobile while offering cheaper prices: MetroPCS.
MetroPCS is a prepaid service owned by T-Mobile; it also uses T-Mobile's fast-performing cellular network. MetroPCS offers a wider variety of plans than T-Mobile's lone unlimited plan, and each of those MetroPCS options will cost you less than what you'd pay at the Uncarrier. Stack the two carriers side by side, and you might wonder why you shouldn't opt for MetroPCS instead of its parent company.
Here's a closer look at how T-Mobile and MetroPCS measure up, along with what you gain and what you give up by choosing one wireless provider over the other.
MetroPCS Key Strengths
- Monthly plans cost less than T-Mobile's
- A wider selection of plans
- Perks to maximize your data allotment
- Better selection of low-cost phones
T-Mobile Key Strengths
- T-Mobile customers get priority on T-Mobile's network
- Better customer service
- Monthly installment plans for flagship phones
- Best international plans for traveling overseas
- Better perks like complementary Netflix subscriptions
MetroPCS uses T-Mobile's LTE network. That's good news for MetroPCS customers, as T-Mobile's network compares very favorably to the rest of the Big Four carriers.
In its latest report, testing firm OpenSignal now says that T-Mobile has the fastest network speeds and that it's passed Verizon in terms of 4G availability. RootMetrics ranks T-Mobile's network lower in its testing, though T-Mobile takes issue with the way RootMetrics collects its data. T-Mobile is happier to tout crowdsourced data from Ookla that shows it with the fastest network speeds. However you want to frame the numbers, T-Mobile has a strong network, which MetroPCS subscribers get to enjoy.
But there can be limitations on just how much MetroPCS customers benefit from T-Mobile's network. T-Mobile does reserve the right to prioritize traffic for its own subscribers when there's heavy demand on its network: In other words, MetroPCS customers may face slower speeds if there are lot of other users tapped into T-Mobile's network at any given time.
Still, when we did our own LTE speed testing, we noticed minimal difference between T-Mobile and MetroPCS. T-Mobile had a average download speed of 23.5 Mbps nationally, compared with 22.1 Mbps for MetroPCs. In some of the testing spots around the country, in fact, MetroPCS even outperformed its parent company.
That's not to say that MetroPCS customers won't find themselves deprioritized at some point, but in our experience, the speed gap isn't as noticeable as it is with other Big Four carriers and the mobile virtual network operators that piggyback on their service.
T-Mobile offers a lone plan: a $70-a-month T-Mobile One plan with unlimited data. A $10-a-month add-on lets you stream video at HD resolution, among other benefits, while a $25-a-month package throws in unlimited international calling to landlines and mobile numbers in select countries. A newly unveiled variation on that unlimited plan should appeal to seniors: T-Mobile lets anyone 55 years and older get two lines of unlimited data for $60 a month.
In contrast MetroPCS offers four plans, ranging from just 2GB of LTE data to an unlimited offering of its own. (Previously, MetroPCS's cheapest plan started at 1GB, but the carrier has boosted data allotments as part of a promotion.) MetroPCS's plans for individuals cost less than what you'd pay at T-Mobile. Families who want unlimited data see more modest cost savings at MetroPCS.
For Individuals: MetroPCS's unlimited data plan costs $50 a month — $20 less than what you'd pay at T-Mobile. There are some caveats, though: as with T-Mobile, you're restricted to 480p resolution on video streaming. You also can't tether with MetroPCS's $50 plan, whereas T-Mobile One gives you unlimited hotspot data, albeit at 3G speeds. Paying up for MetroPCS's $60 unlimited plan adds 10GB of LTE hotspot data, but you still have restrictions on video streaming. That costs another $10 per month to lift.
Individual Data Plans Compared
|Amount of Data
|MetroPCS, Tiered Data
|$40 plan used to offer 6GB, but that was part of a summer promotion.
|MetroPCS, Unlimited Data
|$60 monthly plan adds 10GB of hotspot data
|T-Mobile, Unlimited Data
|$10 monthly add-on lets you stream HD video and adds 10GB of 4G hotspot data
For Families: MetroPCS factors in discounts when you add multiple lines. The size of the discounts were more generous over the summer; these days adding an extra line at MetroPCS costs you $30 per line no matter what plan you have. That means more substantial discounts on higher priced plans like MetroPCS's unlimited options.
Family Plans Compared
|2 lines, Unlimited Data
|3 lines, Unlimited Data
|4 lines, Unlimited Data
Extra lines on MetroPCS's $50 unlimited plan come at a $20 discount for each new line, meaning a family of four pays $140 per month. That's a $20 discount from what that same family would pay at T-Mobile. (You can save up to $30 per month if you have three lines at MetroPCS, due to the way T-Mobile prices its discounts on additional lines.)
The discounts aren't as steep for MetroPCS's tiered data plans, where you're only saving $10 per extra line on the carrier's $40 a month 5GB plan. Still, at $70 for two people, that's $30 less than what those same two would pay for unlimited data at T-Mobile.
One of the big tradeoffs when opting for prepaid service over a larger carrier is the quality of customer service you receive, and that's no exception should you choose MetroPCS instead of T-Mobile. In our latest survey of wireless carrier customer support, T-Mobile earned runner-up honors; MetroPCS finished in 7th place out of the nine carriers we evaluated.
T-Mobile offers a full gamut of customer-support options, from online chat to responsive social media. Its phone representatives are helpful and friendly, and our only real complaint is that some support material on the T-Mobile website can be hard to track down.
MetroPCS improved its customer service in our testing, though it still has a long way to go to match T-Mobile. Although phone support is available 24 hours a day, navigating through MetroPCS's menus is a hassle and you won't always get accurate information. We ran into delays in getting responses to questions posed on Twitter and Facebook, and MetroPCS offers no online chat feature to speak of.
You’d expect a major carrier like T-Mobile to offer a wide selection of phones, and you’d be correct: at present, the carrier offers 31 phones, including the latest flagships from Samsung, Apple and LG. (The LG G6, in particular, is a bargain at T-Mobile — $500, which is more than $100 less than what the other major carriers charge.) You can find a few budget-priced phones at T-Mobile, with six handsets currently selling for less than $200. If you go the installment route to pay for your phone, your monthly payment will be less than $10 on these models.
For budget shoppers, T-Mobile just added its own phone — the $150 T-Mobile Revvl. If you don't want to buy that phone outright, you can pay it off in $6 installments over 24 months.
But MetroPCS is the better choice for bargain prices on phones. Of the 34 phones on offer at MetroPCS, 25 have price tags that are less than $200 — and in many cases, special offers lower the price to less than $100. MetroPCS also offers top flagships like the Galaxy S8, but you’ll have to buy that $729 phone outright; MetroPCS doesn’t offer installment pricing. As of this writing, the iPhone 8 is missing in action at MetroPCS, though the carrier offers earlier versions of Apple's phones.
Extras and Perks
You'd expect a larger carrier to offer more bonuses to its subscribers, and that's the case here. But while T-Mobile sets the standard for wireless carrier perks, MetroPCS has a few features of its own that customers will find appealing.
T-Mobile's standout features include its weekly T-Mobile Tuesday giveaways to subscribers and the most appealing international travel plan among the major carriers. Unlimited data subscribers who use less than 2GB of data in a given month can get a $10 credit through the carrier's Kickback program — ideal for families where some members don't use that much data in a month. The Digits program lets you use your T-Mobile number on multiple devices, while subscribers with two lines or more can have T-Mobile cover the cost of their $9.95 Netflix subscription.
MetroPCS can't really match that, but it does offer a few extras that its subscribers will appreciate. A Data Maximizer feature lets subscribers on tiered data plans stretch their data further by streaming video at lower resolutions. If you've got the 6GB plan, you can stream music from Pandora, iHeartRadio, Apple Music and Spotify without using up any of your allotted LTE data.
It's international options where MetroPCS really comes up short compared with T-Mobile. While the Uncarrier lets you enjoy unlimited texting and data in 140 countries (though at reduced speeds) as part of its standard plan, MetroPCS charges extra for international services, and those focus on calls and texting overseas. You can use data from your plan in Canada and Mexico if you pay an extra $5 a month (both country packages are sold separately), while the $10 World Calling plan adds only 200MB of data when you travel in select countries.
MetroPCS offers you a chance to save money over T-Mobile, both on your monthly bill and in the selection of budget phones available through the prepaid carrier. You’ll make some tradeoffs. Your customer service likely won’t be as thorough at MetroPCS, and your network speed could take a hit if T-Mobile prioritizes its own subscribers when there’s a lot of traffic on the network. But MetroPCS offered performance on a par with T-Mobile in our nationwide testing.
Opting for T-Mobile gives you the full Uncarrier experience — the perks like T-Mobile Tuesdays, the wide selection of flagship phones and the full use of T-Mobile’s outstanding network.
Families who need service for more than two lines will want to consider MetroPCS, though only for unlimited data since the discounts on extra lines aren't as generous as they were over the summer. Individuals, on the other hand, can see some serious savings by turning to MetroPCS while getting mostly the same service they’d receive at T-Mobile.
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.