It’s time to rethink how you approach buying a new mobile phone service plan. With the cell phone technology evolving and the market changing, carriers have to change too. What you knew about buying a cell phone a few years ago may have changed by now. As far as the market is concerned right now, the big move is to purchase an unlocked phone, then to bring it to the best carrier for your budget. When you think carriers, you probably think of Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or TMobile.

If you want to save money, you can look beyond those four and to smaller services.

Unlocked Phones: How to Find a Carrier

Now, whether you bought a new phone or decided to bring your phone to a new carrier, there are a few different considerations to make. First, make sure it is an unlocked phone. If you have to unlock it yourself, you will have to get an unlock code from your carrier. This process varies by carrier. Some will have you call their customer-service department, whereas other providers have an online form for you to fill out.

Once the phone is unlocked, you have to research its compatibility. There are two networks: CDMA and GSM. Many phones are limited to one or the other. Spring and Verizon use CDMA, whereas AT&T and TMobile use GSM. Find out which one your phone uses. Some phones may be compatible with both, but before you pick a carrier, make sure that your phone is compatible.

Once you have an unlocked phone, you are ready to hit the market.

How to Choose a Carrier

Once you branch out away from the Big Four, you’re bound to realize that there are a lot of providers that make a variety of promises. How do you know which one to pick? Your decision, at first, should revolve around coverage. Then, you factor in budget and lifestyle. Most subscribers choose a new mobile plan based on how much data they use. If you’re a heavy data user, you’ll want to go with a provider that offers low prices for 4G data. Smaller carriers offer prices much lower than the Big Four.

The Smaller Four

In the world of smaller carriers, you probably have heard of Cricket, Boost Mobile, MetroPCS and Virgin Mobile. These providers have a large advertising budget, particularly because they are owned by three out of four of the Big Four. Sprint owns Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, whereas Tmobile owns MetroPCS and AT&T owns Cricket. These companies tend to have their starting prices around $30 a month.

Although owned by big names, each of these companies offers lower prices to their consumers. Of course, you may be limited as far as the benefits of the larger company, but these carriers have fair coverage and are much cheaper. Of course, one of the benefits of these companies is that you can take your unlocked phone from one of the Big Four and use it comfortably with the smaller companies.

The Other No Contract Providers

If you’re not sure that you want to bring your phone to any of these providers, that’s fair. There are still countless other options available to you:

CellNuvo
Consumer Cellular
Mint SIM
FreedomPop
Republic Wireless
Project Fi

When it comes to these carriers, keep in mind that they do have to piggyback on larger towers.

AT&T
Consumer Cellular
Sprint
CellNuvo
FreedomPop
Project Fi
Republic Wireless
Ting
T-Mobile
Consumer Cellular
Mint SIM
Project Fi
Republic Wireless
Ting
US Cellular
Project Fi

If have an unlocked phone from a major carrier, then it’s important that you know which towers the mobile phone is compatible with. If you don’t have this information and try to switch your phone to an incompatible carrier, it’s going to be a big headache. You have to make sure that you do the right amount of research before bringing your phone over.

When it comes to cell phone plans, the more you spend doesn’t always equal the best service for your budget. While carriers like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile dominate the market, you do not have to choose one of them. You can take your unlocked phone to several other smaller carriers that may offer you better prices for similar coverage.