Specialty prepaid carriers promise subscribers low monthly rates and no contracts while also letting their customers connect over the networks of major wireless providers. But our testing of cellular networks around the country found that, in exchange for those low monthly rates, you’re likely to get performance that lags behind what the larger carriers offer to their customers.
Take MetroPCS, a T-Mobile-owned prepaid wireless service, which uses its parent company’s network. After testing network performance in six cities across the country, MetroPCS turned in the best performance of the five prepaid carriers we measured. MetroPCS recorded average download and upload speeds of 16.7 Mbps and 9.1 Mbps, respectively — strong results, but not quite up to the 22.7 Mbps down and 13.2 Mbps up we recorded using a T-Mobile phone in those same cities.
The difference was even starker for AT&T-owned Cricket Wireless, which recorded substantially slower speeds than its parent company, even though Cricket and AT&T use the same network. In our tests, Cricket tallied national download and upload averages of 4.5 Mbps and 3.8 Mbps, respectively. That’s a far cry from the 20.8 Mbps down and 9.1 Mbps up that AT&T averaged.