Total Wireless is one of the more popular mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). An MVNO is a cell phone service provider, usually on the smaller side, that doesn't operate its own wireless network but instead sets up a deal with one or more major carriers. It purchases minutes, text messages and mobile data from these major carriers wholesale, and then resells them to its customers.
Total Wireless runs on Verizon's network and has been around for almost three years. The company's brand is owned by TracFone. You can compare MVNO plans at Wirefly.
Plans Available with Total Wireless
Every plan on Total Wireless offers unlimited minutes and text messages, with the mobile data allotment being the difference in pricing with all of them. Customers can bring their own devices to Total Wireless with any of the carrier's plans, assuming those devices are compatible with Total Wireless. Since Total Wireless is on Verizon's network, phones would need to work on its CDMA network.
The carrier currently has two single-line plans available.
The basic Total Wireless plan with talking and texting only is $25 per month or $23.70 if the customer sets up Auto Refill.
For $35 per month or $33.20 with Auto Refill, the customer gets 5 GB of mobile data.
The carrier has three shared family plans available.
The cheapest family plan is $60 per month or $57 with Auto Refill, it includes 15 GB of mobile data and it's for up to two lines.
The next step up is $85 per month or $80.70 with Auto Refill. It includes 20 GB of mobile data and it's for up to three lines.
The most expensive family plan is $100 per month or $95 with Auto Refill. It includes 25 GB of mobile data and it's for up to four lines.
There's also an add-on option that allows the customer to get another 5 GB of mobile data for $10. This is available with both single-line and family plans. If the customer doesn't use the entire 5 GB, unused data carries over every month as long as the customer has active service.
Although the most common way to use this 5 GB add-on is for a customer to get it when their plan's data runs out, they could also add it to the $25 plan that only includes talking and texting. If they use less than 5 GB of data per month, this would end up being the more affordable option compared to the $35 5 GB plan. For example, if the customer used 2.5 GB per month, they'd end up spending $30 per month on their plan plus the 5 GB add-on or $28.70 if they set up Auto Refill for their plan.
Customers who want to make international calls can do so with a $10 add-on card. There is also a per-minute rate for these calls depending on the country the customer is calling. Rates are lowest for calls to Mexico, which are 2.5 cents per minute.
For the amount of data it offers, Total Wireless has very low rates, making it a bargain for customers.
The Total Wireless Experience and Review
Getting started with Total Wireless is quick and simple. A new customer can purchase a phone from Total Wireless or bring their own device and active it with a SIM card kit. Signup can be done through the Total Wireless website.
If the customer sets up Auto Refill, which is Total Wireless' auto pay feature, the discount for doing so applies right away. It's important to note that the prices for Total Wireless plans don't include any taxes or fees, which means the actual price can be a bit higher.
Data Use and Speed
Data speed used to be an area where Total Wireless was okay, but nothing special, as it was limited to about 5 Mbps for downloading and 2 Mbps for uploading. Fortunately, in August of 2017, the LTE speed restrictions were taken off of MVNOs running on Verizon's network, which means Total Wireless data speeds can be significantly faster than before.
Even when Total Wireless had those limits in place, they didn't have much of an effect on the user experience. Websites still loaded fairly quickly, even when compared to the speeds of major carriers, and it was possible to stream videos in 1080p high definition (HD) without experiencing stuttering or other problems. The speed was also more than sufficient to watch Netflix content and listen to streaming audio.
Since the restrictions are now gone, speed is even better. HD video content loads almost instantly if the user is in an area with a good connection.
Calling and Texting
Verizon's network is known for being the best in the nation, and Total Wireless customers benefit from that. Calling is reliable whether making or receiving them, dropped calls are extremely rare and Total Wireless customers have a signal in most areas of the country, especially in major cities.
There can be a bit of static here and there, although this is often actually an issue with the phone and not the network. One way for the customer to test this is by using Wi-Fi calling. If the static is still present on a Wi-Fi call, then it's a matter of the device and not the mobile network.
Texting is another area where Total Wireless is as reliable as it gets. There are no issues with sending or receiving SMS messages. The only potential snag can be with sending MMS messages to devices that are on AT&T's network, and that's simply because customers on Total Wireless can send MMS messages that are a bit larger than AT&T customers are able to accept.
It is possible to connect a phone on the Total Wireless network to a computer with tethering and share the phone's mobile data. By doing this, the customer can use the internet on the computer with only the phone's data plan. Data speeds are fast while doing this, although how it compares to a customer's home network will depend on how fast that home network is.
However, Total Wireless doesn't technically support any tethering, and it mentions tethering in its Terms and Conditions as one example of unauthorized use of its services. The customer essentially tethers at their own risk. If Total Wireless finds out that a customer is tethering, the carrier could end up shutting down that person's account or send them a warning telling them not to do it again.
TracFone and the brands it owns have a mixed reputation when it comes to customer support. Some have no problem with it, but there are also plenty of people who have had issues and have made their problems well known online.
Tests were conducted of Total Wireless' customer service options to assess the quality of the service and how long it took to receive service.
On tests conducted over several different days and during different time periods each day, there was an average wait time of about two minutes. Even after holidays when companies tend to have much higher customer service queues than normal, Total Wireless was still able to deliver chat support in a little over five minutes.
Chat representatives with Total Wireless proved knowledgeable and helpful. Overall, chat support was extremely efficient and effective.
Just like with the chat support tests, the phone support tests involved calls on several different days and during several different times of day to get a balanced look at how Total Wireless performs. Several calls were answered right away, a few were answered in about two minutes and the longest wait time was right around the seven-minute mark. Total Wireless also provides the option of getting a call back in about three to five minutes instead of waiting on hold.
On one test, the call was disconnected immediately upon a representative answering because there wasn't any problem to deal with. A Total Wireless representative called back immediately and left a message with a callback number. This is a huge plus, because dropped calls are frustrating when a customer calls in for support. Phone agents were friendly and helpful, making the phone support experience with Total Wireless a point in its favor.
Porting a Phone Number
If the customer wants to port out a phone number that they have with Total Wireless, then they need to call the carrier and request a number release. This is one area where a phone call can take a bit longer. Even though the customer may get someone on the phone right away, they'll need to be transferred to the department that handles porting out, and it can then take 20 to 30 minutes or more for someone to pick up, depending on the time of day.
Porting a number in to Total Wireless is simple enough, and in that case, it's more about the customer's previous carrier than Total Wireless when it comes to how quickly the process goes.
Whether a customer is porting in to Total Wireless or porting out, it's a good idea to start the process about a week in advance of a cell service plan expiring to ensure that they don't lose their phone number.
Total Wireless Summary
The biggest benefits with Total Wireless are how cheap its plans are considering the amount of mobile data they offer, along with the fantastic network coverage it has courtesy of being on Verizon's network. Because of those factors, Total Wireless is an excellent value.
The customer support is the main potential drawback. Although the tests in this review didn't find any issues and actually found the customer support quite good, others have had issues with it.
Total Wireless Recommendation
Based on its value and the quality of its service, Total Wireless will be a good choice for the typical consumer and anyone who is looking for cheap cell phone service. There is a possibility of having issues with the customer support, but many customers won't even end up needing that.
Those who use a substantial amount of mobile data could find that a plan through T-Mobile or another carrier better suits their needs, though.
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