Total Wireless is a brand under TracFone Wireless. It operates on the Verizon network as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), allowing them to provide more affordable rates while “piggy-backing” off the larger Mobile Network Operator (MNO).
How does Total Wireless do this? They purchase minutes, text messages, and data at wholesale from Big Red, then resell them to customers.
But a big carrier like Verizon is always going to prioritize its direct customers over any MVNO’s — so how much performance do you lose with the budget-friendly Total Wireless? Are those savings worth it? Read on to find out in our Total Wireless review.
Prepaid plans + pricing
Prepaid plans and pricing
|Plans||Number of lines||Pricing||View plans|
|Unlimited Talk & Text only||1||$23.70/month*||View plans|
|Extended plan - 15GB||1||$90 per 90 service days||View plans|
|15GB (shared data)||2||$57/month*||View plans|
|20GB (shared data)||3||$80.70/month*||View plans|
*Price with auto-refill
All of Total Wireless’s plans give you the essentials: calls, texting, and browsing. Nothing more, nothing less.
All of Total Wireless’s plans operate on a limited number of days, with an end-of-service period. That means primarily 30 days, but there is a 90-day extended plan. So if you’re looking for a quick-fix Verizon proxy without the hassle of long registrations or high prices — look no further.
Total Wireless offers clean, low prices where many other carriers’ prepaid plans force you to pay more for the same or less. For example, Total’s 5GB plan is $33.20 for 30 days, while MetroPCS charges $40/month for the same and Boost Mobile charges $35/month for 2GB less.
But that better price tag comes at a cost: very few features. Sure, you get unlimited talk and text across the board, but Total Wireless doesn’t offer any unlimited data plans. Both MetroPCS and Boost Mobile do, as does Straight Talk.
Plus, Total Wireless forgoes a mobile hotspot, unlimited music streaming, and caller ID. Once again, MetroPCS and Boost Mobile offer these features in ¾ of their plans, or for a minor extra fee. Total Wireless leaves you high and dry when it comes to additional features.
Finally, though this may not be a factor for all, is the fact that Total’s plans only go up to 4 lines — MAX. After that, you need to start a new account for any additional lines.
But while features fall flat, Total comes through with data and call add-ons. For just $10 extra, you can tack on 5GB of data; for an additional $10, you get global calling. The thing we really like about the data add-on is multi-fold:
- It doesn’t ever expire (so long as your service is active);
- It isn’t spent until you’ve already used up all your data for the month; and
- Any unused data that you’ve added will keep rolling over, month-to-month.
With this feature, you can add on extra data anytime you want, then save it up for when you really need it — like on that road trip to D.C. you’re taking in July.
Phones + devices
|Apple||iPhone SE, iPhone 6-8 standard and plus; iPhone XR, iPhone XS, etc.**|
|Samsung||Samsung Galaxy J7, Samsung Galaxy J3, Samsung Galaxy Note8, Samsung Galaxy S9, S9+, Samsung Galaxy Note9, S10 and S10+, S10E, S8, etc.**|
|LG||LG Rebel 4, LG Premier Pro LTE, etc.**|
|Motorola||Moto G6, Moto E5, etc.*|
**Not a complete list, varies by location.
Total Wireless has a pretty good selection of phones. Apple and Samsung are definitely Total Wireless’s biggest brands. If you want the latest model of iPhone or Samsung — no problem. Total’s got you covered. But any Google fans will need to BYOD.
And if you happen to be a fan of LG or Moto, selection is a little sparse. If you’re really old school, they do offer an Alcatel MYFLIP flip phone, though.
If you’re on a budget, Total Wireless also offers the older models and refurbished phones, too. As a special note, if you bring your phone over from your current carrier, you’ll need to make sure it’s CDMA compatible (the network Verizon runs), not GSM. You can check your device’s compatibility here.
Setting up service with Total Wireless is easy. They give you 3 options: a Total Wireless phone, BYOD, or a Total Wireless hotspot. You can easily buy a CDMA SIM kit and device plan at most major retailers, like Best Buy or Walmart, as well as on totalwireless.com.
Just pop the SIM card into a compatible device, get your new phone number, and you’re activated in 10 minutes or so. If you’re porting your number in, it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 days to cross over.
Coverage + performance
Since Total Wireless runs on the Verizon network, coverage is pretty expansive: Verizon is #1, with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint coming in behind. So you’ll get a decent signal just about anywhere in the U.S.
The numbers back this up, too. OpenSignal rated Verizon’s network as #1 in 3/5 categories in the beginning of 2019, coming in with a draw for the 4th category, and a sneak-from-behind in the 5th by AT&T.
Nevertheless, Verizon’s coverage is undisputed. And Total Wireless runs on Verizon’s network.
But, as alluded to earlier, Verizon has been known to slow down MVNOs using their network in favor of their customers. So you may not enjoy the same swift speed as Verizon customers.
But things are looking up: Verizon used to limit MVNOs to 5Mbps download and 2Mbps upload speeds, but they removed that restriction in 2017. And even when those restrictions were in place, websites still loaded pretty quickly, and it was possible to stream both SD and HD video without many issues. That includes Netflix content and streaming audio.
While Total Wireless claims 4G LTE speeds on their website, it’s important to note that those speeds vary with area. They cleverly circumvent a lawsuit with the phrase “up to 4G LTE speeds” — common practice in the industry.
Do us a favor and run a quick Google search for “Total Wireless customer reviews.” We’ll wait.
Back? Great. As you’ll have found if you actually ran that search, many reviews will tell you the same things about Total Wireless’s customer support: the personnel are bad, they don’t promise a refund, and they’re slow to pickup.
Another common theme had to do with refunds: customers cancelled their account, transferred their phone number to another company, then were denied a refund for the remainder of their Total Wireless service.
You can reach out to Total Wireless tech support in 3 ways:
- Online chat
- By mail
We can’t say for sure that these issues has been resolved since those cases -- so if you do end up cancelling your account, keep track of everything:
Names of people you talk to
And what they told you
Anything you can get in writing, do so.
As an extra measure, try to cancel your account right at the end of your 30 days, so you don’t get charged for any data you didn’t use.
That said, while tech support over the phone is less-than-desirable, staff at physical stores are surprisingly good. Unfortunately, the number of these physical locations are relatively few.
Recap -- is Total Wireless any good?
If you’re looking for a cost-efficient, close-to-Verizon-quality service, then yes. Just be aware that you’ll likely face throttling on occasion, and even your best speeds may be slower than Verizon customers experience.
When it comes to plans, after 4 lines you need to add an account. And, although prices are great, Total Wireless lacks many features that similar competitors include — particularly an unlimited data plan.
Among the 4 plans offered, the value-to-cost ratio of the data depends on how many lines you have: 5 GB for 30 days is suitable for 1 person; 15 GB for 2 people; 20 GB for 3; and 25 GB is alright for 4 lines..
Best for: anyone who just needs to talk, text, and use some data. But if you need a hotspot or like to stream lots of video or audio -- pick a different carrier.
Can I bring my own phone or number?
Yes. Total Wireless has a BYOD program, so you can bring your phone over when you switch. It just needs to be “a compatible or unlocked CDMA phone.”
Can I tether my Total Wireless phone?
You’ll likely be able to successfully tether your phone to your PC to watch YouTube and Netflix, or browse the internet. But that said, it goes against Total Wireless’s terms of service. If you get caught, at best you’ll get a warning; at worst, you’ll have your account shut down.
Is Total Wireless on a GSM network?
No. Since Total Wireless uses the Verizon network, and Verizon uses a CDMA network, Total Wireless cannot operate on GSM.
Does mobile data only involve internet-use?
No, mobile data usage includes calls and texts.