How to save on mobile plans: Your guide to 16 no-contract carriers

Tired of dealing with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless? We tell you about some good alternatives.

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Forget everything you thought you knew about buying a mobile phone. In just the past year, we've seen more changes to the industry than there are numbers on the dial-pad. The Big Four carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless) have all but abandoned their old business models. Major phone makers like Google, Motorola and even Apple will now sell you their phones unlocked and contract-free. And don't forget the disruptors: The companies offering cheap (or even free) service and feature-packed (but affordable) phones.

For you, this is very good news: It means more options, fewer limitations and, best of all, lower prices. Whereas once you had no choice but to buy a subsidized phone from a major carrier, then pay a hefty fee every month for two full years, now you can choose from a variety of inexpensive handsets, get service from a smaller carrier -- a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO -- and enjoy contract-free service at significantly lower rates.

Here we look at 16 of those MVNOs, all of them offering voice, messaging and data for your smartphone without the heavy yoke of the two-year contract.

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