Tween Begging for a Cell Phone? How to Add a Line Without Going Broke

three teenage girls on their cell phones
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2017.

With a wife and two kids to support, Zak Wilson is a guy who has to stick to a budget.

But when it came to cell phone service, he could never find the sweet spot — reliable service he could afford. Every carrier he tried was either too pricy or too glitchy.

Too expensive: Wilson was with Verizon Wireless for years, but was frustrated because it cost so much. He was paying around $180 a month for cell service for him and his wife.

“It was ridiculously expensive,” Wilson recalls.

Too unreliable: Looking to save money, he switched to a discount carrier. It was cheaper, but he got tired of the hassles — like dropped calls.

It was time to look for another option. That’s when he tried Twigby.

What is Twigby? It’s a discount wireless carrier that’s making a splash in the competitive world of low-cost, no-contract cell phone service.

“The cost savings is extreme,” Wilson says. “Now, for both phones, we’re paying maybe 60 bucks.”

Even better: He and his wife can finally afford to add a phone for their oldest daughter, who just turned 12 and is starting the seventh grade.

“I surprised her with it on her birthday,” Wilson says. “I had been telling her no.”

Life in Discount-Carrier Land

Wilson is a 43-year-old salesman who lives in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. A budding entrepreneur, he’s working a couple of part-time jobs while setting up his own e-commerce business.

One thing’s for sure: Money is tight, but he needs reliable cell phone service for his work.

Years ago, he originally hooked up with Verizon Wireless because the provider was offering deals through Costco, his former employer.

It eventually got too pricy, though.

“With the data plans, it’s expensive,” Wilson says. “I felt like I was paying for double internet — home internet and phone internet.”

He switched to another carrier to save money, but got fed up with its service. Whenever he had a technical problem, he had to post a query on an online bulletin board and wait for an emailed response.

“It might take a couple days or a week to get an answer,” he explains. “You can’t call anybody if you have a problem.”

That’s life in discount land. A number of discount wireless providers have been criticized for poor customer service — too slow, haphazard and difficult to understand.

Well aware of these kinds of criticisms, Twigby has taken pains to make sure its customer service is prompt, efficient and helpful. Instead of a call center for customer service, the carrier has an online chat feature.

“They get right back to you. Most of the time, there’s an instantaneous response,” Wilson says. “They’re very quick and knowledgeable.”

Beyond the Big Four

In the United States, most cell phone users are tied to one of the “Big Four” wireless carriers. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint have more than 412 million collective wireless subscribers.

These are big-time, mega-corporations with Super Bowl ads, celebrity spokespeople, storefront locations and vast networks of cellular towers

Then there’s everyone else — a slew of independent providers, all competing for a small corner of the cell phone market.

“Maybe 95% of people are with one of the big carriers, and 5% are OK with more budget-friendly brands,” says Twigby representative Chris Alarcon. “We’re in a hyper-competitive industry, with a lot of companies fighting over that 5% of the American population.”

Twigby launched in late 2015 and has been gaining momentum ever since, company officials say.

It’s an MVNO, a Mobile Virtual Network Operator. Dozens of these companies buy connection wholesale from the big wireless carriers and resell it to customers.

Twigby is on Sprint’s cellular network for voice calls, texting and data, and it uses Verizon’s network as a backup for calls and texting.

No More Dropped Calls

One thing Wilson appreciates is the lack of dropped calls.

“We used to have dropped calls in our house, and we’d have dead spots every time we’d go on the road,” he explains. “I haven’t experienced that at all with Twigby. I think it’s because they have double coverage with both cellular networks.”

His phone, a Samsung Galaxy J3 Emerge, works fine on Twigby’s network, but Twigby sells a large assortment of phones. Even better, Twigby recently launched a new promotion where new customers get 25% off the first six months of service.

After years of being unsatisfied with his cellular service, Wilson finally feels like he’s getting more for less.

“It’s far and away a huge upgrade,” he says. “What we have now is very similar to what we had with Verizon. It’s just that the cost is so much cheaper.”

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s clearly paying too much for wireless service.