What if I told you that for just $30 per month and a one-time $10 activation fee, you could get a mobile phone plan with unlimited voice, text, data, and tethering — nationwide within the US — along with (almost) unlimited voice, text, and data roaming in 35 countries abroad? Sounds pretty great, right? Well, that’s what Altice Mobile is promising, so I decided to take for a spin. Here’s my hands-on review.
What is it?
Altice Mobile is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that launched in September 2019 and primarily uses Sprint and AT&T’s LTE networks and roaming partners. It’s operated by Altice US, the cable television provider and ISP behind the Optimum and Suddenlink brands that serve customers in parts of New York, New Jersey, and Texas (to name the top markets).
For $30 per month (or $20 per month for existing Optimum and Suddenlink customers) and a one-time $10 activation fee, Altice Mobile offers the following:
- Unlimited video streaming
- Unlimited data, voice, and text nationwide
- Unlimited mobile hotspot
- Unlimited international voice and text from the US to more than 35 countries
- Unlimited data, voice, and text while traveling abroad in more than 35 countries
The plan lets you bring your own unlocked device (BYOD) or pick from a very limited selection of popular Apple, Samsung, and Moto smartphones.
Is there a catch?
Kind of. There are a few caveats. While these will be acceptable to most people, some will be showstoppers for other folks.
- You can only sign up for service if you live in a ZIP code that’s located within Altice US’ Optimum and Suddenlink service areas. I’ve tracked down these service area maps for Optimum and for Suddenlink. Note that this is different from Altice Mobile’s network coverage area, which is truly nationwide.
- If you bring your own unlocked device, you have to provide its International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number when signing up for service so Altice Mobile can check whether your handset is compatible. I tried a couple of older unlocked phones that I know support both Sprint and AT&T’s LTE networks — a Moto G7 and Moto Z3 Play — without success. Undeterred, I tried an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S9+, and that ended up doing the trick. Basically this means that Altice Mobile only supports a small number of unlocked handsets — mostly recent devices from Apple and Samsung.
- Alternatively, Altice Mobile can bundle a new, compatible smartphone with your plan for an additional monthly fee. For example, you can get an iPhone 11 for an extra $20 per month. That’s a pretty good deal, but the company only offers a very limited selection of devices.
- Once you receive your Altice Mobile SIM, you have to activate it by inserting it into the same device you registered when signing up. Sounds simple enough, right? Turns out there’s a catch: you also need to be physically located within Altice US’ Optimum and Suddenlink service areas for the SIM to register! I tried to activate my SIM while in California, and that was a bust…
- Once your SIM is active, forget swapping phones. It looks like Altice Mobile adds the IMEI you supplied when you signed up for service to a whitelist, and only devices on that whitelist are allowed to connect to Altice Mobile’s network — ie. only the device you signed up with.
The “unlimited” data that is available in 35 countries when you’re roaming outside the US is really just 1GB of data at LTE speeds. Beyond 1GB of data, you’re getting 2G speeds. You can purchase another 1GB for 15 days for $15, or another 3GB for 30 days for $30.
How good is its wireless service?
It works quite well. For the past couple months, I’ve used this (old to me) Galaxy S9+ — mostly as a hotspot — in New York City, Las Vegas, and up and down the West coast (including Palm Springs, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland, OR) without any issues. It looks like Altice Mobile connects to Sprint’s LTE network by default, and AT&T’s LTE network as a backup.
In fact, at CES 2020 in Las Vegas, Altice Mobile’s partnership with Sprint rescued me at least once, when didn’t have service on any of my other devices (T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon). I was able to tether my MacBook and get my work done… Good stuff!
As for data speeds, I ran tests in NYC, Las Vegas, SF, and Portland, and consistently saw decent LTE speeds — up to 75Mbps down and 7Mbps up. Upload speeds could be higher, but real-life performance was perfectly adequate. While I didn’t use the phone for calls much, I didn’t experience any issues in my tests.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to use Altice Mobile abroad, but if I do, I’ll make sure to update this review. I typically use T-Mobile and Google Fi when I travel outside the US, so it would be an interesting comparison.
Altice Mobile is the real deal. It delivers reliable unlimited nationwide mobile service that includes decent roaming features for a great price. That’s a pretty unique combination. Sure, there are a few “gotchas” here, the biggest one being that you pretty much have to live within Altice US’ Optimum and Suddenlink service areas to sign up for service. As for the SIM swapping restriction, that’s not a problem case for most people. I also don’t think most folks will mind the very limited handset selection since recent Apple and Samsung phones are supported.
If (like me) you’re a tech-savvy early adopter that changes handsets often and prefers using obscure unlocked devices, Altice Mobile probably isn’t right for you. And that’s OK. You have other options, like Mint Mobile, Google Fi, or even T-Mobile. For the rest of you, Altice Mobile might be worth checking out — assuming you live within Altice US’ Optimum and Suddenlink service areas. The biggest unknown (and a common question with MVNOs), is whether Altice Mobile will remain affordable (or even stick around) long term. Only time will tell.