Consumer Reports: Switching to smaller carrier can lead to big cell phone bill savings

You see ads for cell phone companies all the time, but when is the last time you seriously considered switching?

Consumer Reports reveals how changing to a different phone carrier, maybe one you've never even heard of could save you big money.

How much do you pay for your cell phone service each month?

Consumer Reports says there are cheaper options out there. They're smaller carriers known as MVNOs or mobile virtual network operators. And they lease 'excess wireless capacity' from the big four carriers, which means they use some of the same towers. But some people are skeptical of them.

Small carriers are able to offer consumers cheaper plans mainly because they don't need to build and maintain cell towers themselves.

"The smaller carriers usually give you a smaller bill," said Consumer Reports Tech Reporter Bree Fowler. "Consumers really see the value in these kinds of companies because they're not paying for services that they don't need."

That can include things like extra data, HD streaming or hotspot tethering.

So how much can you really save?

You could pay $70 a month with AT&T for unlimited talk, text and data. Or you could stay on the same network with Straight Talk mobile, and only pay $44 a month. That's an annual savings of $312.

Verizon offers an unlimited deal for $65 a month. Or you could use the Verizon network with Visible, which offers an unlimited deal for $40 a month with some phone restrictions, a $300 difference.

And you could pay $60 a month for an unlimited deal on T-Mobile. Or you could use their network with TextNow and pay just $40 a month. That's $240 less each year.

Consumer Reports says there is one downside to choosing most smaller carriers.

If a big carrier has network congestion, it slows down the data speed of the smaller guys on its network first.

Worried about making the switch? Consumer Reports' most recent member survey on cell phone service providers show people who made a switch over the past few years are usually happy with their new choice.

Consumer Cellular, Google Fi and Ting topped Consumer Reports' most recent survey as well as the two prior ones.

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