Optimum Mobile review: Better than expected

Is $30 per month for unlimited text, calls, and data too good to be true?

Altice Mobile review
Bottom Line
Altice Mobile delivers a reliable nationwide mobile service that includes optional international data roaming for a very competitive price. It's unfortunately hampered by its limited handset support and limited activation areas.
Competitive pricing
Good coverage
Healthy data speeds, including 5G in some areas
International data roaming packages are available
Mobile hotspot included
Limited handset support
Service activation is limited to areas where Optimum and Suddenlink run
Can't easily swap phones
Mobile hotspot is limited to 600Kbps

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 Optimum Mobile is promising, so I decided to take for a spin. Here’s my hands-on review.

What is it?

Optimum 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 Optimum 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, Optimum 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.

  1. You can only sign up for service if you live in a ZIP code that’s located within Optimum 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 Optimum Mobile’s network coverage area, which is truly nationwide.
  2. If you bring your own unlocked device, you have to provide its International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number when signing up for service so Optimum 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 Optimum Mobile only supports a small number of unlocked handsets — mostly recent devices from Apple and Samsung.
  3. Alternatively, Optimum 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.
  4. Once you receive your Optimum 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 Optimum 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…
  5. Once your SIM is active, forget swapping phones. It looks like Optimum 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 Optimum 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 Optimum 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, Optimum 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!

Altice Mobile speed tests
Optimum Mobile speed tests

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 Optimum 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.

Bottom line

Optimum 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 Optimum 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, Optimum 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.

Update 10/8/20: Optimum Mobile has changed its rate plans for new customers. The new plan options are quite competitive, but there is no longer an unlimited option.

The new plan options include:

  • $12 monthly – unlimited talk, text, and 1GB high-speed data
  • $20 monthly – unlimited talk, text, and 3GB high-speed data
  • $30 monthly – unlimited talk, text, and 20GB high-speed data

In addition, these new plans do not come with free international data roaming. International roaming is now only available as tiered packages broken down by different country packages and for varying rates, which is confusing and inconvenient. As a result, we’re dropping our initial review score from 4.4 to 4.0.

Update 8/17/21: Altice Mobile has rebranded itself as Optimum Mobile. We have updated this story to reflect that.

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