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T-Mobile’s network isn’t quite as widespread as Verizon’s (or, in some studies, AT&T’s), but it easily beats those two in its pricing for unlimited data, while its coverage outpaces that of its cheaper rival Sprint.T-Mobile also bests Verizon in terms of international-roaming plans, and a slightly wider variety of phones work on T-Mobile’s GSM network (that’s the standard most of the rest of the world uses) than on Verizon’s CDMA network, though the best phones are available for both.And its pricing is competitive with that of AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile for the amount of data that most people actually use.
We increased the last two numbers from those in earlier versions of this guide after seeing sustained increases in data consumption.
The market-research firm NPD Group found that in the first quarter of 2019, US smartphone owners averaged 8 GB a month—but had a median use of only 3.9 GB.
If a plan offered a lower rate for automatic payments, we factored that discount in.
We did not, however, count deals that required trading in a phone or porting over a number.
I’ve covered the wireless industry since the late 1990s.
(My first guide to cell phone service, written in 1998, devoted much ink to comparing analog and digital cellular.) I’ve tested smartphones and cell phone plans from all four major carriers for Boing Boing, CNN Money, Discovery News, PCMag, Venture Beat, The Washington Post, and others, and I now cover tech issues for Yahoo Finance (a subsidiary of Verizon’s media division) and answer telecom questions in a USA Today Q&A column.(Sorry, Tracfone.)That left us with the following services to assess: For each, we computed the cost of a few typical bundles of smartphone service, setting minimal use at 1 GB of data, moderate use at 5 GB, and heavy use at 15 GB.One gigabyte a month is enough for simple emailing, Web browsing, and navigation with Google Maps or Apple Maps, while 5 GB is enough for frequent social media use and 15 GB is for folks who regularly play games and stream video.We limited this guide to the most widely used national options—starting with the big four nationwide carriers and their prepaid services and subsidiaries, and then adding services that have ranked high in surveys from sites and organizations such as PCMag, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and J. Power, or in reader-interest metrics from the comparison-shopping site Whistle Out. Cellular and the resold services of the cable firms Comcast and Spectrum, both of which require subscriptions to their residential broadband.We also chose to exclude contenders available only in parts of the US. We also cut prepaid services that required separate purchases of data, texts, or voice minutes to meet our monthly usage quotas.If you need four lines with 5 GB each, Consumer Cellular’s 5 rate beats everything but a Sprint discount that expires in June 2020—and the monthly difference in the meantime isn’t worth trading down to Sprint’s network.The only catch is that you have to call Consumer Cellular to get a four-line plan, since the site allows only up to two lines. We quizzed experts, crunched numbers, and pored over the fine print and pricing to help you figure out how much data you need, which network offers the best coverage where you need it, and whether a postpaid or prepaid plan is best for you. Verizon Wireless’s single-line 5 GB plan is the best cell phone plan for most people …but we also have a variety of picks for different needs.Some prepaid services offered service in only 30-day increments; to avoid a punitive level of math, we treated that as a month in our calculations.Finally, we didn’t factor in taxes and regulatory fees because they vary by jurisdiction (on my own T-Mobile plan, for example, these fees added up to just over 7 percent of my June 2019 bill).