Consumer Cellular is a low-cost cell phone service provider that you may have first heard about through one of its TV commercials.
Those ads say the service can cut your cell phone bill in half, but is it worth the savings?
Everything to Know Before You Sign Up for Consumer Cellular
I first tested Consumer Cellular in 2019 and signed up again in late 2021 because there have been some big changes with the service.
In this article, I’ll explain the pros and cons that you need to know before you sign up.
Table of Contents:
- What Is Consumer Cellular?
- Is Consumer Cellular’s Coverage Any Good?
- How Much Does Consumer Cellular Cost?
- What Phone Options Are Available With Consumer Cellular?
- How Is Consumer Cellular’s Customer Service?
- Consumer Cellular Pros and Cons
What Is Consumer Cellular?
Consumer Cellular is what’s referred to in the wireless industry as a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO for short.
I’ve tested more than a dozen MVNOs, so I can simplify it for you.
Unlike Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, MVNOs don’t own cell phone towers. Instead, they partner with one or more of the major networks to provide coverage.
MVNOs like Consumer Cellular typically offer cheaper plans than the three major networks.
Consumer Cellular was founded back in October 1995. It currently targets the senior population, although it’s available to people of all ages. It has more than four million customers.
The company was sold to private equity firm GTCR in late 2020.
Is Consumer Cellular’s Coverage Any Good?
Consumer Cellular has two network partners: AT&T and T-Mobile. Customers can access one of those wireless networks, not both.
The network is chosen based on your location. Enter your ZIP code here to confirm coverage.
I tested Consumer Cellular using AT&T’s network. For my 30-day test, I had no issues with call and text performance from my location in Los Angeles, California.
For data needs, 5G speeds are available in many locations with a compatible device.
During my testing period, I conducted 10 data speed tests using the free Speedtest app, and the average 5G download speed was more than 70 Mbps.
That’s fast enough to stream video, browse the web and use apps without issues.
Data Speed Test Results
|Date and Time||Download Speed (Mbps)||Upload Speed (Mbps)|
|11/10/21, 8:08 AM||74.3||22.1|
|11/11/21, 8:21 AM||74.7||24.8|
|11/12/21, 6:13 AM||73.5||26.5|
|11/13/21, 6:01 AM||74.9||27.3|
|11/13/21, 8:51 PM||67.9||18.9|
|11/15/21, 7:13 PM||71.1||24|
|11/16/21, 6:30 AM||75.9||25|
|11/16/21, 3:42 PM||74.2||25.5|
|11/17/21, 3:53 PM||71.8||26.5|
|11/18/21, 5:08 PM||75.8||25.1|
If you currently have service on either the AT&T or T-Mobile network, you can expect a similar experience with Consumer Cellular.
How Much Does Consumer Cellular Cost?
Consumer Cellular’s plans are a decent value for people who don’t use a lot of high-speed data throughout the month.
The plan that I tested offers unlimited domestic talk, text and 3GB of data for $25 a month.
Although there is an unlimited data plan option, it’s pricey at $55 a month for a single line of service. That’s a minimal savings compared to major wireless networks.
Here’s a look at Consumer Cellular’s single-line plans that were updated in late 2021:
|Unlimited talk, text and 1GB of data||$20|
|Unlimited talk, text and 3GB of data||$25|
|Unlimited talk, text and 7GB of data||$35|
|Unlimited talk, text and 10GB of data||$40|
|Unlimited talk, text and 15GB of data||$45|
|Unlimited talk, text and data (reduced speeds after 50GB)||$55|
|Unlimited talk only plan||$15|
These prices include a $5 monthly discount for AutoPay and E-Billing. Taxes and fees are extra with all plans.
Consumer Cellular lets you share your plan with up to three people. Add a second line for $20 a month and get additional lines for $15 a month each.
With this option, all lines on the account will share the same bucket of data.
If you go over your data limit, Consumer Cellular will automatically upgrade you to a more expensive plan.
You should receive a usage alert when you’re approaching your limit.
Although there are no overage penalties, customers who are upgraded to another plan will have to pay more for the new plan.
Customers will stay on the upgraded plan unless they choose to downgrade.
If you’re not carefully monitoring your data usage through the Consumer Cellular app, you could easily end up paying more than you intended to.
I would like to see Consumer Cellular make the automatic upgrade an optional feature.
AARP and USAA Discounts
AARP members get a 5% discount on their monthly service. Consumer Cellular says this saves the average customer $24 a year.
In addition, AARP members get an extended 45-day risk-free guarantee.
If you don’t have AARP, the money-back guarantee is limited to 30 days. Learn more about the fine print of this offer here.
In addition to AARP, Consumer Cellular has partnered with USAA to offer members a 5% discount on their monthly service and 30% off all accessories.
Postpaid, Not Prepaid
Consumer Cellular is a postpaid service. The company will send you a bill for the previous month at the end of your cycle.
This is how Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile typically handle billing as well.
Most low-cost providers are prepaid. I prefer the simplicity of prepaid services that allow you to pay in advance and don’t require a credit check.
With prepaid services, there are zero surprises when it comes to billing.
What Phone Options Are Available With Consumer Cellular?
Consumer Cellular lets you bring your own phone or purchase a new one.
If you want to keep your existing device, visit Consumer Cellular’s website and confirm that it’s compatible. Your phone must be unlocked and compatible with GSM network technology.
If it’s compatible, you can order a free SIM card online. Once delivered, you’ll insert the SIM card into your phone and activate the service.
This is what I did. Simple step-by-step instructions are included with the SIM card.
If you prefer to purchase a new device, Consumer Cellular’s website sells about two dozen Apple and Android phones, plus even a flip phone.
There are budget and high-end options, including the latest models. Most are sold at full price.
You can either pay for the device in full or apply for 0% financing spread over 24 months, with a down payment required.
If you prefer to shop in-store, Target sells some Consumer Cellular devices.
Whether you bring your own phone or purchase a new one, you can keep your existing number if you want to. Learn more about that process here.
How Is Consumer Cellular’s Customer Service?
Good customer service is difficult to find, but this is one area where Consumer Cellular has gained a lot of recognition over the years.
What’s the secret? U.S.-based customer service representatives.
I tested Consumer Cellular’s phone and chat support several times during my 30 days with the carrier. Agents were always helpful and answered my questions appropriately.
But every time I called customer support, the automated message said the company was “struggling with high call volume and staffing challenges.”
As a result, I waited between 8 and 15 minutes for a representative to join the call.
Customers can also reach out to support through chat. This may be a quicker way to get help during peak times.
If you prefer in-person customer support, there is an option for you. Although Consumer Cellular has no retail locations, it partners with Target to offer sales and support.
I visited my local Target to check out the Consumer Cellular display:
During my visit to Target, I noticed signage for Consumer Cellular and a number of other wireless providers. A store employee offered to help me choose a plan, but she wasn’t pushy.
Many low-cost cell phone service providers have limited customer support options, so I appreciate Consumer Cellular’s approach.
All of this may ease fears for people overwhelmed by the process of switching providers.
Consumer Cellular Pros and Cons Summary
|Affordable plans for light data users||Expensive unlimited plan|
|AARP discount||Automatic upgrade feature|
|Top-ranked customer support||Few phone deals|
Consumer Cellular does a great job of marketing its service to people over 50, but many seniors use their phones just like everyone else –- talk, text and data.
For light data users, Consumer Cellular’s plans are the best value. The unlimited data option is less competitive.
Think about it this way:
- Visible, a Verizon-owned company, offers unlimited talk, text and data for $25 a month with its Party Pay feature.
- Mint Mobile, a T-Mobile MVNO, offers an unlimited plan for $30 a month.
In other words, some wireless providers offer unlimited data plans for the same price as Consumer Cellular’s 3GB plan.
But there are other differences to consider besides pricing, specifically customer service.
And for many who aren’t particularly tech-savvy, customer support alone makes Consumer Cellular a good option to consider.