Best Cell Phone Plan
The best cell phone plans offer a wide selection of the most popular phones, provide excellent coverage in your area, and have several features packaged together at an affordable price. However, there are many factors to take into consideration when upgrading or purchasing a new phone.
In my research, I made sure that cost, coverage, and contract terms were at the top of my list. Because everyone uses their cell phone differently and for different reasons, I have reviewed the top cell phone companies to help you find a company that best suits your needs.
Best Cell Phone Plans: What to Consider
Americans use their cell phones a lot. According to Digital Trends, Americans spend an average of 4.7 hours every day on their phones.
Before making the switch to a new cell phone plan, you should first take a look at you and your family's cell phone usage habits. How much data do you spend in a month? How many text messages you send, and how many minutes have you spent in calls? Knowing this information helps determine what kind of plan you might need. By taking a little effort in measuring your cell phone usage habits, you may discover that you could save money by downsizing
A plan that is too expensive can obviously put an unnecessary strain on your finances while a cheaper plan may not have the features that you need. If you are looking for the best cell phone deals, here are a few considerations that should be at the forefront of your mind:
Before you sign up for a new cell phone plan, you'll need to be sure that the provider has adequate coverage in your area. The best deal in the world is useless if your calls don't connect and downloads take forever. However, when it comes to the top cell phone carriers, there is a lot more to consider than the splotchy coverage maps that providers like to show in their commercials.
First, you have to consider your specific area. One cell phone provider might serve your neighborhood better than another. This can be hard to determine but there are ways to get an idea of what sort of coverage you might be facing. Check to see if there are towers in your area or check local coverage maps. You can ask friends or check local user reviews to hear from people in your area that actually use the service.
Streaming music and videos, playing games, uploading photos to social media, and using your smartphone as a mobile hotspot can use a lot of data. According to Time Magazine, the average cell phone user eats up about 3GBs of data every month. This is where the information regarding your cell phone usage habits comes in handy. Compare this information to the plans and terms offered by your current cell phone provider. Do you have the options of unlimited talk, text, and data? How much do you pay for these additional features?
If you find that you need to limit your data usage, or don't use your cell phone for anything more than calling, checking your email, and light web browsing, you won't need the additional add-ons some cell phone providers advertise. If you can choose not to pay for the features that you won't use, or can find a more basic plan, you could save quite a bit of money.
The way people are paying for cell phone service has been changing in the past few years. Although you might still be on your typical two-year contract, the big cell phone providers are slowly phasing out contracts. According to the Huffington Post, all but one of the best cell phone providers have abandoned contracts.There is no cause for alarm, however, as you may find there are several benefits to choosing a no-contract plan. Consumers are offered a greater degree of flexibility when choosing to forgo a contract with one of the best cell phone providers.
Now, cell phone companies allow you to choose or bring your own phone when signing up for their service. You may also be able to select from a wider range of plans that cover the general data usage habits of the average cell phone user without paying hefty fees every month. Some plans even allow you to pay-as-you-go.
The only downside, however, is that if you plan on upgrading to a new phone when switching to one of the best cell phone providers, you may have to pay more upfront for your phone in exchange for smaller monthly fees. If that is out of your budget, find a cell phone service that offers a payment plan.
With these considerations, you can find the best cell phone company for your area and your specific needs.
Comparing the Best Cell Phone Plans
This table provides a breakdown of the average plan the top cell phone providers might offer at the time of this writing. For additional information, or to see how these cell phone service providers stack up against the competition, check out our compare cell phone plans tool. You may also want to go to the company's website if you need more information to help you decide based on your needs.
There are so many different options for cell phone service right now and so many factors to consider to get the very best deal for you. Most people now buy and pay for phones in monthly installments in lieu of paying the full price of the phone upfront. You can also bring in a used device, such as one from a friend or family member who has upgraded to a newer model.
The Best Cell Phone Companies
I've narrowed down the best wireless carriers to these five options. Take a look at the pros and cons of each to see which of the top cell phone companies is the best for you.
Verizon Cell Phone Plans
- Offers both contract and pre-paid plans
- Nationwide and international coverage
- Good customer service
- Supports the top phones and smartphones
- Large 4G and 4G LTE coverage area
- Contracts come with certain fees
- Offers some expensive plans
Verizon Wireless is one of the best cell phone service providers in the nation with coverage in all 50 states. They have the size and infrastructure to accommodate quality service and offer a wide variety of cell phone plans to choose from.
In terms of the phones themselves, Verizon supports all of the latest smartphones which you can get for free or discounted when you sign up or renew a contract.
Customer service is excellent and is available 24/7 by phone. You can also visit any one of the many local stores for assistance. On customer reviews site, many consumers note that they were pleased with the level of customer service that they were provided. However, a few reviewers didn't experience the same quality of service and wrote that they were frustrated with certain representatives.
Another aspect of the service that consumers enjoyed was, of course, the coverage. Even customers that wrote negative reviews couldn't help but comment on Verizon's reliable cell phone coverage.
One drawback to choosing Verizon is the fees that come with many plans and contracts. You may get charge for the early termination of a contract, activation, or going over data limits if your plan is not unlimited. Some consumer reviewers wrote that they were charged a fee and never told why.
AT&T Cell Phone Plans
- Offers both contract and pre-paid plans
- Supports the top phones and smartphones
- Nationwide and international coverage
- Supports 4G and 4G LTE
- Contracts come with certain fees
- Remote regions may not have quality coverage
AT&T offers great nationwide cell coverage to all 50 states. However, some more remote regions might have sparse service, especially in Alaska. The company has the largest 4G network with impressively fast speeds. Plus AT&T offers a huge variety of top phones many of which support 4G and 4G LTE.
Like Verizon, AT&T offers a number of different plans and offers deals on phones when you sign up or renew a contract.
Everything from the most up to date smartphones to more simple phones are available, some of which are free with a contract. AT&T also supports all the important features that a cell phone should have like three-way calling and push to talk. All of these things together mean that the company has so many options that most customers will be able to find something that fits their needs.
Unfortunately, there are some fees to deal with when you sign up for one of AT&T's contracts. You have to pay and activation fee when you begin, an early termination fee if you want to cancel prematurely, and fees for when you go over any data limits that your plan might have. However, fees like this are fairly typical among the top providers.
Sprint Cell Phone Plans
- Great individual plans
- Informative website
- Nationwide and international coverage
- Supports top phones and smartphones
- Contracts come with certain fees
- Coverage not as good in western states
Sprint offers some great prices for individual plans and their prices for smart phone plans are some of the most competitive among the top cell phone service providers. Their "Simply Everything Plan" is one of the best totally unlimited plans that you can get.
While they have some very competitive and affordable plans, the general variety of great plans to choose from is a bit more limited compared to other top companies. Their plans focus on data and most come with a contract. Like the other top competitors, Sprint's contracts come with some fees like activation fees, early termination fees, and data overage fees.
However, Sprint is gaining some ground in the no-contract area of the industry that they previously had no presence.
Sprint is no slouch when it comes to the selection of available phones. They have the top phones for anyone who wants the latest and the greatest smartphones or more simple phones for anyone who prefers more basic functionality.
Sprint has many avenues of support if you find that you need assistance. You can reach their customer support services by phone, email, or live chat on their website. As often is the case, consumer reviewers are split on this issue. Some experienced consistently good support while others were disappointed.
T-Mobile Cell Phone Plans
- No contracts
- Unique plans
- Lower cost plans
- Less impressive coverage
- No contracts means no cheap phones
- Mixed customer service response
T-Mobile is, in many ways, the most unique of the top 4 US cell phone service providers. It eliminated contract plans since March 2013. This may be appealing to many customers who don't like the idea of being tethered to a plan for an extended period.
The no-contract plans that they do offer include several quality features including unlimited talk, text, and data as well as family contracts. This combined with the price, makes T-Mobile one of the best unlimited cell phone plans.
However, because T-Mobile doesn't have contract plans it doesn't offer as many discounts on phones. Other top services like Verizon and AT&T provide discounted or even free phones when customers sign contracts. You can pay for phones with a payment plan rather than paying full price all at once.
While T-Mobile's coverage is decent and includes 4G and 4G LTE coverage, there is better quality national coverage with its competitors. Customers may have trouble finding service in more rural areas in the US. However, coverage is good in metropolitan areas.
- No fees or hidden charges
- Unlimited 4G data plans
- Affordable service
- Poor customer service
- Limited nationwide coverage
- Brand is being absorbed into T-Mobile
MetroPCS is probably the most affordable option in the top 5, especially since they don't surprise you with hidden fees and charges. However, their plan and phone options are somewhat limited. You can find more comprehensive and specific plans with other top cell service providers.
There is both good news and bad news for anyone thinking about choosing MetroPCS. The company recently merged with T-Mobile. The good news is that MetroPCS will be getting the network capabilities of T-Mobile and add the iPhone to its inventory. Right now, customers can buy their own iPhones and then sign up with MetroPCS because T-Mobile's network can support it. On the other hand, MetroPCS will slowly be phasing out of existence as a brand within the next few years.
For anyone who is considering MetroPCS for the remaining years it is available, you may eventually be encouraged to switch to T-Mobile.
The affordability of the service and the fact that there are no fees make MetroPCS appealing, and because of its merging with T-Mobile it has a bigger company supporting it. However, the company is on its way out. Even if it can't be called a sinking ship, it is definitely one that is about to be retired.
Who Has the Best Cell Phone Coverage?
Today, there is more than just one type of coverage to choose from. There are 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE networks to consider and each one has a different web of national coverage. However, there are certain providers that have generally better coverage than others. Which one is right for you?
Verizon Wireless Coverage
Verizon has been the uncontested coverage king for a long time. They have the most wide-ranging coverage in the US in both 3G and 4G LTE.
Their 3G network reaches about 98% of all Americans, making it the most inclusive network that is available. Verizon's 4G network is completely LTE which is the fastest type of network. Plus, 4G LTE coverage is getting closer and closer to the same level of coverage as their 3G network, serving 95% of Americans.
According to the company's website, Verizon also covers "over 200 countries" in their Global Services plan. The covered countries may have access to 3G or 2G data or voice and messaging only.
AT&T Wireless Coverage
AT&T is right behind Verizon in several categories including coverage. Still, their 3G and 4G networks are wide-reaching. Of course, the further you get from populated cities, the greater the likelihood of spotty coverage.
AT&T's 3G network is wide reaching and most areas of the country will have access to some quality of their coverage, although rural areas will have poor coverage. The 4G coverage is also exceptional and their LTE coverage boasts fast download speeds and streaming capabilities. AT&T also offers plans that include international talk, text, and data.
T-Mobile's performance has grown leaps and bounds in the past year. They have always had good plans and deals but now their speeds are making them even better. They spent 2013 rolling out their new 4G LTE network and their speeds are now incredibly fast. In fact, they now have the fastest download speeds in the industry. However, their nationwide coverage is still not as good as other services like AT&T and Verizon.
Sprint sets itself apart from the crowd with its truly unlimited data plans. This means they would slow down your download speeds after a certain amount of data each month. This is a practice that many other companies with supposedly "unlimited data" employ in their plans. However, in terms of coverage and overall data speeds they are behind the rest. Their coverage is spotty even in some cities and they have slow 4G LTE speeds compared to the rest.
Before you sign up for a cell phone plan, consider other factors like pricing, plans, and available devices before making a final decision. Overall, Sprint has the best nationwide coverage but that doesn't mean they have the best coverage in your specific area. Check your local coverage before signing up.
Best Cell Phone Plans
Cell phone companies offer multiple different plans to cater to the personal preferences and data usage habits of nearly anyone. If you're interested in switching to one of the top cell phone carriers, here is a comprehensive list of what options may be available to you.
No Contract Phone Plans
Typical contract cell phone services are an expensive monthly cost that you can't get out of until your term is over. Unless you want pricey early termination fees, you might be stuck with a bad plan. The best no-contract phone plans aim to solve this problem by offering a surprising combination of quality, flexibility, and data, all for a low price. Here are few things to be aware of:
- Cost: While you will pay more for the phone upfront you will typically have a lower monthly plan cost. This varies from provider to provider so check with the particular company before making a decision.
- Selection: No contract plans may not offer cheap high-end smartphones when you sign up, because (unlike a contract) they can't inflate the price of service in order to cover the cost of the plan.
- Network: Most no-contract carriers are known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which means they provide service via an arrangement with one or more of the four main carriers. Your coverage won't be as good as if you actually subscribed to a service with one of the four main carriers, but it will still be solid.
Bring your own phone plans allow you to buy a service plan and apply it to a device you already own. Many of the top wireless carriers will offer discounts and special perks if you sign up for their service when bringing your own phone.
If you like your current phone but still plan to switch to a different cell phone provider, you should be aware of SIM cards. These cards contain your subscriber profile and are what activates service for your phone. However, different phones require different SIM cards. Check your phone's compatibility with a provider before you purchase a plan.
Sometimes you may be asked to unlock your phone so it can be compatible with another carrier's service. This isn't as simple as swiping the lock screen to access your phone. Our guide on how to unlock a phone will take you step-by-step through the process to activate your phone for a new service.
Prepaid Cell Phone Plans
For folks who only need a basic wireless plan or don't like the idea of signing a two- or three-year contract, finding the best prepaid cell phone plans may be ideal. They offer many of the same discounts and services a BYOP plan offers, but with the added bonus of getting a new phone.
One of the greatest advantages of a prepaid cell phone plan is that it's excellent for budgets. Because you don't accrue charges and don't typically have to worry about unexpected or unauthorized fees and overages, you know exactly what you're going to pay.
Alternatives to the Best Cell Phone Plans
If you're unhappy with your current plan or are looking for a service not offered by your current cell phone carrier, then you may be interested in a cell phone provider that offers some of these specialized services.
- International Calling: International cell phone plans are great for lengthy vacations or for contacting friends and relatives overseas.
- Family Plans: Family cell phone plans offer better deals, discounts, and perks than single plans. If you find that your children use a lot of data, or are constantly texting and talking, a family plan may be right for you.
- Senior Plans: A mobile phone is a personalized choice at any age. If you or a loved one needs a senior cell phone plan, we can find the best cell phone service for you.
- Cheap Cell Phone Service: If you're on a tight budget or don't need the latest and greatest phones, you can still get quality service when searching for cheap cell phone plans.
How I Found the Best Cell Phone Plans
There may be an overwhelming amount of options and services to choose from when looking for the best cell phone provider. We evaluated cell phone providers from large to small to see who offered the best combination of coverage, plans, and features for its cost. We researched plans from the following carriers: AT&T, Boost Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Cricket, GreatCall, MetroPCS, Net10, Republic Wireless, Sprint, Straight Talk, T-Mobile, Tracfone, Verizon Wireless, and Virgin Mobile.
To determine the best plans, we looked at monthly plan prices, options for BYOP, speed, and extra features such as senior plans and international calling. All plans we researched have unlimited calls and texts options. Lastly, we checked with each carrier to see how easy and painless the process to switch took. Some were better than others, unsurprisingly, but the top four cell phone carriers make it a breeze to get a new phone (or activate your old one) when subscribing to their service.
Customer service, legitimacy, and company reputation are three important factors to consider when doing business with any of the companies reviewed in this article. Head over to the American Customer Satisfaction Index for a numerical analysis of customer satisfaction within the cell phone industry.
Best Cell Phone Plans Recap
Just because the cell phone provider you subscribe to currently isn't on the list, that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. Keep in mind that each individual cell phone provider on this list can be a great choice if you find a plan that works for. Whatever service you choose, make sure it is the best cell phone provider for your area coverage-wise and investigate local options as well as the ones on this list.
The best cell phone plans offer a wide selection of the most popular phones, provide excellent coverage in your area, and have several features packaged together under an affordable price.
Cell phones can be a costly expenditure to make, and more often that not, people spend way too much money without realizing there are better alternatives. If you're looking for a new phone, check out our review of the best place to buy used cell phones. If you're unhappy with your current phone or plan to purchase a new one, knowing how to sell used cell phones might be helpful to you.
Best Cell Phone Plans FAQs
What carriers have unlimited data plans?
Most cell phone carriers these days offer unlimited talk and texting plans. Carriers that offer unlimited plans include Verizon, AT&T, Google Fi, Sprint, and T Mobile. Unlimited data plans are less common, but are available from Sprint, Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and Metro PCS.
What is the cheapest cell phone company?
The cheapest cell phone company will vary based on how you use your phone. People who rarely use their phone will probably find a prepaid phone to be the cheapest option. International travelers with low data usage can get great value out of Google Fi. Republic Wireless is a great, all around, cheap option.
Which cell phone provider is fastest?
As a no-contract cell phone provider with a limited network, T-Mobile used to be in the middle of the pack when it came to the top mobile providers. However, after their new network recently rolled out their overall quality went through the roof. They had always offered good month to month plans but their network couldn't back it up.
Now they have the fastest data speeds in the market. If you are looking for a carrier that offers blazingly fast download and upload speeds then T-Mobile is number one. However, their coverage is still limited.
How can I deal with poor reception?
If you live in a rural area with weak cell reception there are several ways you can boost or cope with this issue. First, check your provider. If your poor reception is caused by your provider's weak coverage of the area, you may just have to switch to another carrier with better coverage. However, some areas of the country are difficult to reach for all companies so you'll have to try other tactics:
- Keep your phone charged. Some phones tend to have better reception when they are running on adequate power. It takes plenty of power to connect a call; if your phone's battery is low it may have a harder time finding a signal.
- Find your home's hot spots. There may be areas around your house that have stronger signals than others. Place your phone in these areas and use speaker-phone or a Bluetooth headset to communicate while your device remains stationary.
- Step outside or near a window rather than making calls from the middle of buildings.
- Use a cellular repeater. A repeater is a device that can boost a weak signal in a certain area. Install it outside that area, preferably somewhere that has at least two bars of signal and it should increase the signal around it.
How can I use my cell phone while abroad?
Using a cell phone while you are outside the country can be very expensive and reception largely depends on the carrier. Most people choose to use their cell phones only for emergencies while traveling abroad. To cut down on costs while keeping your phone one just in case you need it, turn off data and GPS.
Some providers have roaming plans, but these too can be pricey. However, some are better than others. As of last year, T-Mobile started including roaming data and texting in its popular "Simple Choice Plan." Not every country is covered in any of the top wireless companies' roaming plans. However, a list of the covered location should be provided by each carrier.
Which cell phone companies offer unlimited data?
You can find unlimited data plans offered by a number of carriers, including T-Mobile, Sprint, Cricket Wireless, and Boost Mobile. These plans can be pre and post-paid, and let you surf the web as much as you'd like. The plans may throttle your speed if you use too much data in a month.
How much is a Verizon plan for one person?
A one person phone plan on the Verizon network will cost anywhere from $35 to $110 per month. The $35 plan includes unlimited talk and text plus 2GB of data per month. The $110 plan provides the same unlimited talk and text and an impressive 24GB per month.