Finding a cell phone plan that's right for you doesn't have to give you a headache. Let's walk you through the steps you need to take to find the best cell phone plan.
Budget: Determining how much you're willing to pay each month is the most important step. The cheapest cell phone plans might not have all the features you want, though.
Data: Are you a Low, Medium, or Heavy data user? Whether you're streaming music on Spotify, taking a Snapchat, playing a game, or just browsing the web, everything uses data. Find out how much data you need here.
Coverage: Is this for business or pleasure? Either way, it's important to go with a carrier that covers where you live and work.
Best Cell Phone Carriers
You're probably already familiar with Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. These major networks tend to offer the widest assortment of plans and phones while offering solid coverage across the country. They're not the only ones out there providing phone service, however.
Local carriers and Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) are small providers that can pack big savings. These carriers, like MetroPCS or Cricket Wireless, buy network space from the big guys while offering often hidden deals. Some, like FreedomPop, even offer free cell phone plans!
Cell Phone Plan Types
The days of contract plans are a thing of the past. Every major carrier has unloaded a bevy of new plans to suit any customer. Which one is right for you?
- The Postpaid Plan: The replacement for contract plans. These no-contract plans offer the service and features you want without a contract tying you down.
- The Prepay plan: Pay only for the services you want. You don't pay for what you don't use. A prepaid plan is perfect for the cost-conscientious.
- The Unlimited Plan: Never pay an overage charge again. Unlimited data plans are back and let you do what you love, always.
- The BYOP Plan: Bring your old phone with you to a new plan or carrier. Sometimes you can teach an old phone new tricks.
- The Family Plan: One plan, many lines. Share your data with the whole family all on one bill.
- Cell Phones for Seniors: For the tech novice and savvy alike, stay connected with friends and family with ease.
Do You Need Unlimited Data?
Is unlimited data truly unlimited? Well, sort of.
Not many plans offer truly unlimited data. After you reach a certain threshold (Usually after you exceed 20GBs of data consumed) your service will be deprioritized and your data throttled to slower speeds.
Throttled data means you've been restricted to severely slower speeds. The kicker? Cell phone providers are legally allowed to do this after you've exceeded your monthly threshold as long as they duly notify customers.
Do you even need unlimited data? Our data usage calculator can help you answer that question.
Switch to a Cheaper Cell Phone Plan
Between the major carriers and the MVNOs, there are well over a hundred cell phone service providers across the United States. Don't let these options overwhelm you, there's a plan and a carrier that's perfect for you. When it comes down to it, though, the best cell phone carrier is for you to decide.
Here's what you should consider before switching to a new plan or carrier:
- Hidden prices and fees
- Contract or no contract?
- Will I be making long distance or international calls?
- Do I need data, or just talk and text?
- Can I keep my phone number?
- Customer service
- Value for your money
Best Cell Phone Coverage
That new Samsung Galaxy phone you got on an unlimited plan won't do you any good if you don't get service where you live.
According to trust mobile network survey company RootMetrics, Verizon comes out on top in terms of both coverage and network reliability. Based on their testing, Verizon results were the strongest among all carriers in the city, state, and national levels in 2016. Here's the breakdown on network reliability in 2016 across the major carriers:
- Verizon Wireless clocks in at 95.2% reliability
- AT&T takes second place at 92.4% reliability
- Sprint comes in at third with 88.6% reliability and
- T-Mobile rounds out at last place with 82.5% network reliability
You can check out our national coverage maps to see if you're covered.
It's important to note, however, that coverage and network reliability may change depending on where you live. Some T-Mobile customers report that they receive excellent coverage in urban areas, but coverage may be spotty in the countryside. Other hindrances that may impede cell phone coverage include:
- Environmental features like mountains
- Buildings and other man-made obstructions
- Distance to the nearest cell phone tower
The same goes for all the MVNOs like Virgin Mobile or Consumer Cellular. Because they use the networks of the major carriers, they are subject to the same network reliability.
CDMA vs GSM
Did you know? You could have been a GSM for years--and never realized it?
Don't worry, it's nothing deadly, but understanding whether you're a GSM or a CDMA is important when switching to a new carrier. GSM is used on AT&T and T-Mobile networks while CDMA phones are designed for Verizon and Sprint. If you're on an MVNO, they'll use the configuration of the company they buy network space from. Some carriers, like Straight Talk, operate on all major networks making switching a breeze!
Compare Cell Phone Plans
We know that finding the best cell phone plan for you can be tough. Relax, we've got you covered.
We've done the hard work for you and designed our Cell Phone Plan Comparison Tool to be intuitive, easy-to-navigate, and packed with all the essentials you need to know before you buy phone service. You'll see a side-by-side comparison of every cell phone plan across each major carrier being offered on the market today.
Use our filtering tools to add lines to a family plan, set how much data you need for an unlimited plan, and your budget for a prepay plan. Each plan has a cost breakdown where you can see up-to-date prices and promotions, the duration of your contract plan or monthly installments, and more.
We've uncovered the hidden fees and true costs cell phone carriers charge you and put them front and center. With MoneySavingPro you can shop with confidence that you're paying for exactly what has been listed.