You may not know this:
There are well over 200 different cell phone carriers out there in the United States. Granted, the vast majority of them are local carriers or smaller MVNOs. Also, the major cell phone carriers you're familiar with have the size and the clout to, well, make their voices heard.
What this means, however, is that you have an enormous amount of choices ahead of you if you plan on switching to a new carrier.
But there's no cause for worry. We've scoured the industry from top to bottom to find out which carriers are the best. However, we've stuck to the carriers with the largest coverage and the most plan offerings.
In this article, we're going to rank and evaluate our top picks for the best cell phone carrier. We'll start with the Big Four, then discuss prepaid cell phone companies, MVNOs, and which carriers offer free cell phone service.
Who is the Best Cell Phone Carrier? - In This Guide
The Best Cell Phone Companies
As I said before, due to the massive number of wireless carriers out there, there are a lot of factors to consider. Do you need a family plan with multiple lines? Is a prepay cell phone right for you? What about unlimited plans? All of the major carriers offer a single line, family, unlimited, and prepay plans. However, each carrier offers different bonuses alongside each plan.
You might find useful perks like high-definition video streaming, unlimited data, unlimited talk and text messages, free international calling, special discounts, and more across the different cell phone companies.
No matter what plan you're looking for, the cell phone companies listed below are sure to offer a plan that suits your needs.
Related: We have an in-depth buyer's guide for the major cell phone providers you can look into that goes into even more detail than what we present here.
Verizon Wireless is arguably the best cell phone company with the most reliable service out there covering 99 percent of the U.S. Although Verizon cell phone plans tend to be more expensive than most other monthly plans, many customers believe it's worth the price for reliable nationwide and international coverage. Verizon Wireless has a variety of plan options (That we also have guides on) including:
Another great thing about Verizon is that they support the best smartphones and cell phones on the market right now. You can get pretty much any mobile phone you desire with them. You can also add a tablet data plan to your Verizon Wireless cell phone plan for a small price.
If you're stuck in a contract with another wireless service provider, you can switch to Verizon and they'll buy out your old contract. If you have a balance on your old device, you can trade in the device and receive cash back for your phone and plan balance.
AT&T is another one of the best cell phone providers offering national and international coverage right now. AT&T cell phone plans are generally cheaper than Verizon, but they provide less coverage. Our guide to Verizon vs AT&T takes an in-depth look at what each carrier offers and compares them.
AT&T offers affordable plans such as:
Pro Tip: BYOP plans may need to be unlocked first. We can show you how to unlock your cell phone.
You never have to worry about overage fees with AT&T. The only real issue with AT&T is that you may not have coverage in rural areas. Additionally, they are known to charge extra fees per month, unless you get a pre-paid plan of course.
If you want to switch to AT&T from another provider, AT&T is similar to Verizon. They say they will credit you buy a new phone from them, trade in your old one and send them your last bill including the early termination fee.
Sprint is up there on the list of best wireless companies. Like the other top wireless companies, they offer similar types of monthly plans such as:
They claim to have better coverage than T-Mobile and just 1 percent less coverage than Verizon. You should take such claims with a grain of salt, however, since they come from the company. Read through our Sprint vs. Verizon comparison for more information.
Sprint supports most top smartphones and has solid individual plans, but its contracts tend to come with extra fees and its coverage can definitely be spotty in more rural areas. On the other hand, Sprint offers the most affordable unlimited individual plan of the top four best cell phone carriers. If you want to switch to Sprint but are still in a contract, they will give you a credit for termination fees and contract balances.
T-Mobile is one of the top wireless carriers with national and international coverage. T-Mobile plans are affordable and come with extra perks the competitors may not offer yet. Like the other major carriers they also offer:
T-mobile plans offer a cool feature called Kickback. If you sign up for it and end up using less than 2GB of data that month, you will get a bill credit. If you're looking to switch to T-mobile but are still in a contract, they will pay every penny of your remaining plan balance and early termination fees to help you switch. Bear in mind that if you want to bring your own device, it will need to be a GSM phone (the kind that uses a SIM card). You will be issued a T-Mobile SIM card to replace your current one.
The only problem with T-Mobile, similar to AT&T, is that the T-Mobile network doesn't offer quite as much LTE coverage as Verizon Wireless. They are usually more affordable, however. Our T-Mobile vs. Verizon comparison will help you differentiate between the two. To see how AT&T vs T-Mobile stacks up, head over here.
Prepaid Cell Phone Companies
Every wireless provider mentioned in this article has prepaid plan options, but they are not your only options. You may be able to find something cheaper. Here is a list of prepaid cell phone providers you should consider.
If you prefer prepay cell phone service so that you can take advantage of a no-contract plan and avoid things like overage fees, you've got plenty of options. Providers like those listed above are known as MVNOs - Mobile Virtual Network Operators. They rent tower usage from the major carriers in order to provide cellular service with similar LTE coverage, but at a lower premium.
For example, MetroPCS is a T-Mobile MVNO. This means that if you're on MetroPCS, your phone runs on the T-Mobile network. Consumer Cellular is another T-Mobile MVNO, however, Consumer Cellular utilizes a combination approach, using the AT&T network as well to enhance carrier coverage. Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile are both solely on the Sprint network.
One of the main advantages of this type of provider is that they tend to rate highly in terms of customer service - something that big four customers often complain about. Just make sure to check out the provider's coverage map for your area.
Cheap Cell Phone Services
If you're on a tight budget or only plan on using your device for calling, texting, and light data usage, these plans are perfect for you. Here is a list of cheap cell phone plans we recommend.
These budget MVNOs offer cellular service on the big four's LTE networks, although your coverage may not be as extensive as with larger providers. This is because smaller carriers don't necessarily lease space on every single tower nationwide.
Republic Wireless and Ting use the T-Mobile and Sprint networks, while Straight Talk runs on all four of the major carriers' towers. Tracfone features GSM phones which operate on LTE network towers owned by AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular.
Free Cell Phone Service
If you can't afford a cell phone, the government actually gives out free cell phones to help those in need get jobs and stay in touch with friends and family. There are dozens of national and state-wide free cell phone carriers, so you'll have to look up the providers in your particular area. Here are some of the more common programs across the U.S.
- Safelink Wireless
- Assurance Wireless
- Budget Mobile
- Life Wireless
Chances are, if you qualify for an existing free governmental service like Medicaid or Food stamps, you can qualify for a free phone. Read through how to get a free cell phone service to see if you are eligible. For non-government free cell phone service, check out FreedomPop plans.
Best Cell Phone Carriers Recap
So, who is the best cell phone carrier in your opinion? Leave me a reply in the comments regarding your experiences with any service mentioned in this article. I hope you feel you have enough information to go out and make a purchase. If not, feel free to ask additional questions.
Regardless of whether your priority is top-notch customer service, unlimited talk and text, or a cheap no-contract plan, you can look at every cell phone carrier and plan we've researched using our cell phone comparison tool. Take a look at the cell phone coverage maps first to make sure you have service where you live.
Unhappy with your current provider? This guide shows how to switch cell phone carriers.