Finding the right cellular plan to fit your needs is tricky. Beyond just dollars and cents, you need to consider which phones are supported by which wireless carriers and what coverage and data speeds are like in the areas where you'll be using your phone the most. Throw in carriers' continual changes in their plans, and it's a recipe for confusion.
To help make your decision easier, we looked at the plans from the four major carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — as well as offerings from five prepaid carriers — Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, MetroPCS, Straight Talk and Virgin Mobile. We broke things down into six different kinds of plans, for individuals, families and prepaid customers. To arrive at our choices, we considered pricing, value, network coverage and performance.
For performance, we looked at our own test results in six cities, along with reports from firms that specialize in network testing. In some cases, total savings on one carrier's plan outweighed the performance edge that another carrier might enjoy; in other cases, network performance was a crucial factor in our choice.
These are the best cellular plans available right now.
Best Cellphone Plans: Our Top Picks
Should You Switch?
If these are the best plans, does that mean you should drop your current carrier for one of the above plans that best covers your needs? (That assumes, of course, that the carrier we recommend provides ample coverage for your area.) Yes, but only if you can switch without consequences.
If you can't wait until your deal is up with your current carrier, the major carriers are all willing to pick up some of the cost to get you to switch. Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile all offer up to $650 for each phone you switch over to pay off your phone purchases and early termination fees; AT&T offers a $100 bill credit for switching over plus $200 for trading in an eligible smartphone. Note that this money will come in the form of prepaid gift cards and that every carrier requires you to trade in your existing phone.
Some carriers offer other incentives to switch over. As of this writing, Sprint is continuing a “Cut Your Bill in Half” promotion for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon customers. In the case of T-Mobile, the offer only applies to tiered-data Simple Choice plans and not the Uncarrier’s unlimited data offering. There’s also a $36 per phone activation fee, and T-Mobile switchers who go over their data limit will be throttled to 2G speeds. (AT&T and Verizon switchers are charged 1.5 cents per MB if they use more data than Sprint’s giving them.) You do have that $650 per line credit when you switch, though.
Before you decide whether to switch your cellphone plan, make sure to check carriers’ websites for any special offers. In recent years, carriers have gotten aggressive in trying to lure new customers, and that figures to continue in 2016, with switching deals popping up from time to time.