(MoneyWatch) When you think about getting a cell phone, you no doubt consider signing on with one of the big carriers, like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint. The other players, like Republic Wireless, Virgin Mobile, and TextNow -- collectively known as MVNOs, or Mobile Virtual Network Operators -- are an afterthought, if considered at all. That's because MVNOs, who lease bandwidth from carriers like Sprint, traditionally balance very inexpensive service by offering old or subpar phones. All that has now changed.
Republic Wireless now offers the Motorola Moto X -- a well-respected, premium smartphone (and Motorola's first flagship Android phone after being acquired by Google). The Moto X is available for $299 without a contract. That's a few hundred dollars less than you'd pay elsewhere for a no-contract Moto X. More importantly, though, the Moto X can be paired with wireless plans as low as $5/month.
For $5/month, you get to use your Moto X in Wi-Fi-only mode; there's no cellular service at all. But you can step up to $10/month for unlimited talk and text on the Sprint cellular network; $25/month bumps you up to 3G service, and $40/month adds 4G service.
As I have written a number of times before, the downside to MVNOs like TextNowand Republic Wireless is that their cellular bandwidth is leased from Sprint, which doesn't have the most robust network in the US. If you live and work in an area that's well-serviced by Sprint, though, you can easily cut a typical cell phone plan from over $100/month to $40 or less by making the move to republic Wireless. And this could well be the first volley in a mobile war that lowers prices and increases options for everyone.