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How Do I Decide Which Carrier Is Right for Me?
Thinking about switching wireless carriers? With dozens of options to choose from - including the four major mobile providers plus a slew of smaller carriers - it can be tough to sort out the best cell phone service provider for your needs.
What to Consider When Choosing a Cell Phone Carrier
- Your budget: Obviously the amount you want to spend on service should be a major consideration in your wireless service. With options ranging from Wi-Fi plans like TextNow all the way up to the priciest carrier, Verizon Wireless, there's a plan to fit any budget.
- Network coverage: All carriers in the United States operate on one of the four main networks: AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon. Depending upon where you live you may find that one network has better coverage than the others for your location.
- Your device: Are you going to bring your own phone or will you need to buy a new phone? Some carriers sell phones for use on their network while others require you to have a compatible device of your own.
- Cell phone plan options: Some carriers focus on providing unlimited talk and text plus all the data you could ever need. Others are hyper-flexible, allowing you to choose exactly how much you want of each component.
The best carrier for you is the one that combines all of these elements in the way that most closely fits your needs.
Cell Phone Coverage
Coverage is one of the most important factors when it comes to choosing a mobile network. Not only should you make sure that there's a 4G LTE signal where you live, but also where you work and anywhere else you may visit frequently.
Regardless of whether you choose a smaller carrier or one of the big guys, your mobile service will run on one of the big four networks. Check out our network coverage maps for the answer to "Which network has the best cell phone coverage in my area?"
Keep in mind that even though many people put Verizon at the top of the list but that doesn't necessarily mean Verizon is the best choice everywhere.
You may find that Sprint customers have a great signal in your area, or that AT&T carriers offer the cell phone plans you're looking for.
Other Factors That Impact Coverage
- Whether you live in a metropolitan or rural area - all four networks offer strong cellular coverage in most major cities.
- Surrounding buildings or landscape features - working in a high-rise or living in the mountains can have a significant effect on your wireless signal.
- How new and powerful your smartphone is - the newer your device, the more powerful its internal antenna, which means - generally speaking - the better your signal reception will be.
Again, you're looking for the best blend of features, carrier coverage, and price when shopping for a new wireless carrier.
How Can MoneySavingPro Help Me?
Our mission here at MoneySavingPro is to help you:
- Find the best cell phone deals
- Get the most bang for your buck out of your monthly plan
- Find a wireless carrier you're happy with - both service and rates
In terms of deciding on the best carrier for your needs, we've got the resources to help you make the right choice.
How Choosing a Smaller Carrier Saves You Money
If you've heard of companies like Straight Talk and Cricket Wireless then you're already familiar with Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs).
These companies lease extra space on the big four networks and resell it under their own brands. Why are MVNOs among the cheapest cell phone service providers? Because they don't have the overhead and marketing costs of the big guys. And, since they don't own the towers or equipment, they don't have the related maintenance costs either.
Benefits of MVNOs
- Savings of 50% or more off your monthly bill
- Reliable service on the same 4G LTE networks you're used to
- Flexible custom plans so you don't overpay for what you don't need
- No contracts, credit checks, or overage fees because MVNOs are prepaid cell phone companies that only offer no-contract plans
- Quality customer service
- Easy online signup and SIM card activation
- Easy to bring your own mobile phone and keep your phone number
Now that you know the advantages of going with an MVNO you'll also want to know how to easily compare rates and plans. We make it a snap with our cell phone companies comparison tool.
Other Things to Consider
There are a few other factors you'll want to think about before making a final decision on your new carrier.
- Customer service: Do you prefer live chat or 24/7 phone reps? Each carrier handles support a little differently.
- Website user-friendliness: The less tech-savvy you are, the easier you'll want the carrier's site to operate.
- Number of lines: You might think you need to stick with a major carrier to get a great rate on family cell phone plans. With MVNOs you're likely to pay less regardless of how many lines you need, although some providers don't offer a way to manage all of the lines from one account.
- Data options: Even among carriers with the best unlimited data plans there may be variants in data speeds that can affect functions like your favorite video and music streaming services. Always read the fine print!
If you're still feeling loyal to the big four we've also got you covered. Check out our comparisons of:
Have more questions, like how to decide between a CDMA and GSM phone carrier or what exactly is 4G? We've got more answers in our comprehensive collection of wireless carrier guides.
Don't forget to check out our MVNO reviews to learn the pros, cons, and features of the best small wireless carriers.