When it comes to figuring out which smartphone is right for you, there are many different options available. But when you’re looking to upgrade to the latest and greatest smartphone, one thing to keep in the back of your mind is whether or not you should consider changing your wireless plan as well.
From better savings to unique deals and promotions, oftentimes, switching phone plans help you save a ton on your phone and your phone bill. Carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T, and others offer a variety of incentives to get your business, so it can be worthwhile to switch plans when you’re looking for your next device.
But how do you know which one will work best for you and your unique needs? Below, we’ll explore all the ins and outs you should consider if you’re thinking about switching phone plans.
Picking the Right Phone Brand
First thing’s first: are you only going to consider the “Big Three” (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile), or are you willing to take your business elsewhere?
I’ll Stick to the Big Three
The Big Three dominate the U.S. wireless market with a cumulative market share of 86%. They have their own networks and solid coverage just about everywhere. If you need any bells and whistles like premium data plans, hotspots, or international plans, they’re usually the best bet.
Plans from these carriers are generally more expensive than plans at other carriers, so you will pay a premium to be with a bigger, arguably more trustworthy carrier. If you want to pay less for a basic by-the-gig plan but stick with a major brand, you might consider a prepaid plan.
Verizon is usually the most expensive of the major carriers but arguably the most reliable. Both Verizon and AT&T have been major players for decades and are seen as very reliable. T-Mobile is the anti-establishment, challenger brand that offers more competitive pricing on many plans.
I’m Open to Any Carrier
If you forgo the major brands, you’ll likely pay less, but the quality and reliability might diminish depending on which carrier and plan you choose. Most options outside the larger carriers are called MVNOs– mobile virtual network operators. The Big Three each have their own network, while MVNOs like Xfinity Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Mint Mobile, and dozens more resell the networks of the Big Three. MVNOs usually offer both prepaid and postpaid plans, as seen below.
Prepaid vs. Postpaid:
All the big carriers offer prepaid service that runs on the same network. Prepaid plans can be a great alternative for someone that’s not looking for the extra “bells and whistles” of postpaid plans like free hotspots, wearables, Netflix, Disney+, etc., and who prefers to save money.
Price is king, but features and quality matter. Obviously, you want the best plan for the lowest price. It all comes down to whether you’re willing to trade-off features, and quality, for savings. If you want the creme de la creme on the “best network,” you’re going to pay more. If you’re willing to skip premium features and/or forego the leading carriers, you can save big, and those savings can add up to thousands of dollars over the years. The real question is whether or not it’s worth it in your specific situation.
There are two options when it comes to data: unlimited or by-the-gig plans. Truly unlimited plans are a thing of the past, but that doesn’t make a difference for 98% of users. Unlimited plans always have a cap, and once you reach that cap, your data speed might be slower. This is just a way for carriers to protect themselves from a small number of users who might abuse their unlimited plans. By-the-gig plans (also known as data buckets or fixed data plans) have a data limit. If you go over your data limit, your speeds are slowed. If you’re a light or even a medium data user, by-the-gig plans could save you a lot of money.
Premium data is one of the many ways carriers get you to pay more when you don’t necessarily need it. If you don’t have premium data, your data is deprioritized. It’s tough to tell if your speeds are noticeably slower at any point on deprioritized plans, but essentially if you have a premium data plan, you’re at the front of the line all the time, and your speeds are always top-notch.
Just because you’re on a Big Three carrier doesn’t mean your data is premium. Yes, that means even if you’re on Verizon’s Start Unlimited Plan, you have deprioritized data, and in the elusive fine print, they note that your data may be slower when the network is congested. So sneaky! The only MVNOs that offer premium data plans are the big cable companies like Xfinity, Spectrum, and Altice, which offer the best-priced premium data plans on the market. The kicker is that you have to already have that company for home internet and/or cable, so you might not be eligible if you have RCN, Atlantic Broadband, or another service.
It comes down to whether you’re willing to pay more to guarantee that you have the fast pass at Disney World and you’re always at the front of the line. If it doesn’t matter that much to you, save some cash and go for a deprioritized plan.
There’s a lot of add-ons out there, so first, let’s cut through the noise. Do you need anything besides calls, texts, and data? For most people, that’s all you need from your plan, and that makes it simpler and cheaper.
If you need more, let’s talk about additional features. There are mobile hotspots, international plans, and cellular connectivity (aka calls, texts, and data) for tablets and wearables. If you need any of these features, you will have to choose your plan depending on your needs.
I need a…
- Mobile hotspot: all carriers offer mobile hotspots on some, but not all, plans.
- International plan: all carriers offer international roaming and international data for an additional fee, but these plans are not created equal. T-Mobile has the best and most affordable international plans out of the Big Three. Verizon and AT&T have solid ones too, but they’re noticeably more expensive. Out of the MVNOs, GoogleFi has the best international plans. Most MVNOs have subpar international plans, and it’s likely your best bet to switch out your SIM card (or eSIM) when traveling abroad.
- Wearable or tablet: only offered by the Big Three, Xfinity Mobile, and Consumer Cellular. Wearables are at a flat rate of $10/month across the board. Tablets are $15/month across the board, except at Xfinity Mobile, where they’re only $10/month.