Forget everything you thought you knew about buying mobile phone service. Remember the days of the subsidized phone wrapped inside the pricey two-year carrier contract? That’s a distant, unpleasant and expensive memory. Right now, the smart — and increasingly common — move is to buy an unlocked phone outright, then shop it to the carrier that offers you the best bang for the buck.
That carrier doesn’t have to be AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon Wireless. Although the Big Four have expanded their offerings and, to varying degrees, lowered their prices, the real deals still come from the smaller guys — otherwise known as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).