When it comes to choosing a cell phone plan, there are plenty of things to consider. Nevertheless, many make the mistake of thinking that all unlimited plans are the same. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, despite offering unlimited plans, there is usually a moderate amount of variation between these plans. Nevertheless, if you’re trying to find the best plans from the top carriers, we’ve got tips and tricks to help you find the best ones for your unique needs. Read on as we explore our top picks from across the market.
What to Consider When Choosing a Phone Plan
When choosing the best phone plan, you may need to prioritize based on your needs. Here are the main categories to consider and why they are essential:
Excellent service is irrelevant if it's not affordable. Therefore, one of the top things you want to consider is the monthly cost. Also, since your price may increase depending on the services you choose, make sure you take the time to evaluate which services you need before signing the contract carefully.
Tip: Consider whether you want to purchase insurance coverage and read the fine print carefully. Some plans do not cover certain types of damage, and many only allow you to opt-in to the insurance for a limited time. Many people choose to forego the insurance coverage, but you will be on your own if your phone is ever lost or stolen in those cases!
How the Big Three Measure Up:
- T-Mobile: Unlimited plans range from $60 to $85 per line.
- AT&T: Unlimited plans range from $65 to $85 per month per line.
- Verizon: Unlimited plans range from $70 to $90 per line.
Another major thing to consider is how much data you need. Everyone's data use varies, and having too much is a waste of money while having too little can be a significant inconvenience. Either way, depending on the plan you choose, your data will be capped once it reaches a certain level, which may cause your phone to operate much more sluggishly.
Tip: Take the time to determine how much data you use currently to measure your ideal data cap. Also, find out if your place of employment, apartment building, etc., has free wi-fi, as this is a great way to cut down on data use.
To find out how much data you’re using on an Android, simply:
- Open up settings.
- Tap on connections.
- Tap data use.
- Check the top of the screen to determine how much data you have used this month.
To find out how much data you’re using on an iPhone, simply:
- Open your settings.
- Click on the cellular section.
- Scroll down to “current period” to see how much data you have used for the current billing cycle.
How the Big 3 Measure Up:
- T-Mobile: Magenta plan users must use <100GB/mo., Essentials customers must use <50GB/mo. the Magenta Max plan should not experience slower speeds when using a Smartphone.
- AT&T: The Unlimited Starter Plan slows down whenever the network is busy, the Unlimited Extra Plan
- Verizon: The Start Unlimited Plan slows when the network is congested; the rest of the plans slow down after 50GB when the network is congested.
No matter what type of plan you are choosing, you will want to find out about the coverage in your area. No matter how great a plan may be, it will be a total waste of money if your area does not have significant coverage.
Tip: Compare services with friends and family with different carriers, take the time to check out the big three’s local coverage maps, and check blogs and forums in your area to find out how others are rating these carriers.
Read the Fine Print
All contracts include the fine print. For example, virtually all unlimited plans have some form of a cap to be aware of. Once the threshold has been reached, cell phones operate at much slower speeds.
Tip: Make sure you understand what you’re paying for and research to make sure you won’t deal with unexpected caps.
How the Big 3 Measure Up
- Verizon is known for having the best coverage in the country.
- AT&T has the second-best coverage.
- T-Mobile has good coverage but still comes in last place.
MNO vs. MVNO
Last, you will want to know if the network is an MNO or an MVNO. An MNO is a Mobile Operator Network. Also known as an MSO or Mobile Service Operator, MNOs are communication providers that own their own radio network licenses and control access to the license. They also have access to physical requirements such as antennas and office services, such as customer service and billing.
On the other hand, an MVNO is similar to an MNO, but it does not own its own network. Therefore, these companies actually have to create partnerships with MNOs in order to provide service to their customers.
Lastly, many cable companies have started to offer cell phone services. Cable MVNOs are MVNOs that also include an internet component. Since the customers are usually already purchasing wi-fi service, they are encouraged to use it rather than their mobile data to limit the monthly data used.
Tip: Weigh cost, coverage, and features to fit your needs.
All of the Big 3 are MNOs, which means they have their own radio network licenses, customer service, and billing departments.
The Bottom Line
Finding the best cell phone service largely depends on your unique needs and expectations. For instance, although Verizon offers the best coverage in the country, its coverage is not so great in places such as Montana, West Virginia, and Nevada. Therefore, you should take some time to research before deciding which plan to choose.