Best phone carriers of 2024

best phone carrier
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It takes more than low-cost cell phone plans to be the best phone carrier to U.S. wireless customers. While paying less each month will certainly appeal to lots of wireless customers, everything from network reach to customer service helps determine the company that should provide your phone service. 

Take network coverage, as a low-price plan is of no use if you can't stay connected. And these days, you can't talk coverage without looking at carriers' 5G networks as most phones released now offer 5G connectivity. As for customer service, your wireless provider should be able to answer everything from billing questions to device troubleshooting.

Even the price of monthly plans deserves closer inspection. In addition to a low cost, the best cell phone plans often include perks like complementary streaming services and hotspot data. If a monthly plan happens to include a subscription to your favorite streaming service, for example, that can eliminate the extra cost of a subscription fee from your monthly budget. 

That may seem like a lot to keep tabs on, but don't worry — we're always checking up on carriers big and small to see which ones deliver the most value for their customers. By widening our search to include the top MVNOs — those are smaller carriers who rely on the networks of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon to provide coverage of their own, usually at a lower rate — we can provide you with more choices for your wireless needs. 

Here's who we've identified as the best phone carriers, whether you're thinking of switching to a new provider or you just want to see where your current carrier ranks.

Best phone carriers: The quick list

Best phone carrier overall

best phone carrier: Verizon

(Image credit: Verizon)

1. Verizon

The best phone carrier overall

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $80/month Unlimited Plus plan
Best Tiered Data Plan: N/A
Best Prepaid Plan: $35/month 15GB plan
5G Coverage: 230 million people (nationwide); 200 million (Ultra Wideband)
Parent Network: Verizon

Reasons to buy

+
Network has extensive reach
+
Fast mmWave 5G available to more customers
+
Excellent prepaid plans

Reasons to avoid

-
$10 add-ons to wireless plans can add up quickly
-
Fastest 5G speeds limited to select areas

Verizon leads our best phone carrier rankings thanks to some flexible unlimited plans and an upgraded 5G network. Focusing on the latter, Verizon now offers faster Ultra Wideband 5G coverage to more than 200 million people. When we've tested LTE speeds, Verizon has come out on top, though the most recent Rootmetrics report covering the first half of this year puts AT&T ahead of Verizon for speed. (Verizon and AT&T split overall honors in the testing firm's report.)

Verizon's plans have been pricey in the past, but shoppers should find the carrier's simplified unlimited data plans more appealing. A $65/month Unlimited Welcome plan offers nationwide 5G coverage and little else. For $80/month, you get faster Ultra Wideband 5G coverage plus 30GB of hotspot data with the Unlimited Plus plan. There's also the Unlimited Ultimate plan ($90/month) which doubles hotspot data to 60GB and adds high-speed data when you travel to other countries.

Once you have a plan in place, you can pick add-ons — get Disney's streaming bundle or three days of TravelPass benefits for overseas trips, all for $10/month per bundle. Those extras can add up quickly, but you can also drop them on a monthly basis.

Verizon's prepaid offerings are a little less convoluted, and also pretty affordable. An autopay discount drops the cost of the carrier's 15GB prepaid plan to $35 a month. Prepaid plans with unlimited data start at $50. You can now add multiple prepaid lines and even get discounts on unlimited data plans.

Verizon also makes it easier to experience 5G by accepting any phone — even broken ones — to reduce the cost of upgrading to a 5G phone. The carrier has moved to 36-month agreements, increasing how long you need to tie yourself to Verizon if you buy your phone in installments or get some of the best Verizon phone deals.

Verizon has fared well when we've tested customer service for phone carriers, and it continues to offer an extensive selection of phones, including Ultra Wideband versions of some phones designed specifically for Verizon's network. If you don't mind paying a little more on your monthly bill, Verizon provides the performance and service to rank as the best phone carrier overall.

Best alternative choice

best phone carrier: T-Mobile

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

2. T-Mobile

A good alternative to Verizon

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $75/month Go5G plan
Best Tiered Data Plan: N/A
Best Prepaid Plan: $15/month 3.5GB plan
5G Coverage: 330 million people (nationwide)
Parent Network: T-Mobile

Reasons to buy

+
Attractive unlimited plans
+
Low-cost tiered data plans
+
Excellent perks for subscribers

Reasons to avoid

-
T-Mobile Connect prepaid plans have a hard cap on data

Verizon may be our top-ranked wireless provider, but T-Mobile is close behind, thanks to some terrific plans and extensive 5G coverage. With plans that cost a little bit less than Verizon's, you may find the Uncarrier to be a compelling alternative for your wireless service.

Let's talk about those plans for a moment. T-Mobile has the best unlimited data plan in the business, in the form of the $75/month Go5G offering. (At $70, the Magenta plan is also good, though it offers less hotspot data and you don't get as much data to use when travling in Mexico and Canada.) A frequent promotion aimed at new customers waives the cost of a third Go5G line, giving T-Mobile the best family cell phone plan, too.

If you need more data and perks, consider either Magenta Max or Go5G Plus plans offer better travel and streaming service benefits — you get an Apple TV Plus subscription, for example. T-Mobile's Go5G Next Plan is the most expensive at $100/month for one line, but you're able to upgrade to a new phone every year. Go5G Next also includes free subscriptions to multiple streaming services, including Apple TV Plus, Netflix, MLB.TV and Hulu.

If you don't need unlimited data, T-Mobile's 3.5GB and 6.5GB Connect plans are among the cheapest you'll find from a major carrier; there's also a $10/month 1GB plan for folks who need just the basics. Those plans include 5G coverage, too.

In our LTE network testing, we found T-Mobile's LTE download speeds were fast, even if Verizon and AT&T both finished ahead of the Uncarrier the last time we tested. More recent testing by Ookla gives T-Mobile a clean sweep of top speeds for both 5G and overall. Rootmetrics says that T-Mobile had the fastest 5G speeds for the fifth consecutive testing period. 

That 5G service now reaches more than 330 million people across the country. Of that total, 300 million can access its faster Ultra Capacity 5G service. An Opensignal report on global 5G performance says that T-Mobile has the best 5G availability of any carrier in the world. T-Mobile teamed up with SpaceX to launch a satellite as the start of an initiative to extends cellular coverage to remote areas where it's harder to get a signal.

The perks T-Mobile customers receive continue to set this service apart from rivals. Weekly T-Mobile Tuesday giveaways include prizes and benefits, and a new Magenta Status program for subscribers delivers other perks. Several yeras ago, T-Mobile launched a Team of Experts program to improve customer service to subscribers. 

Best phone carrier for low-cost unlimited data

best phone carrier: Visible

(Image credit: Visible)

3. Visible

A cheaper way to get unlimited data

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $45/month
Best Tiered Data Plan: N/A
Best Prepaid Plan: N/A
5G Coverage: 230 million people (nationwide); 200 million (Ultra Wideband)
Parent Network: Verizon

Reasons to buy

+
Unlimited data starting at $25
+
Visible Plus plan includes international calling, faster 5G service
+
Services uses Verizon's network

Reasons to avoid

-
Speeds can be slowed if network's congested
-
No more discounts on multiple lines

Unlimited data is cheaper than ever at Visible, a Verizon-owned discount carrier. The entry-level Visible plan now starts at $25 per month, with taxes and fees included. It's a bare-bones offering, but the $45/month Visible Plus plan isn't that much more expensive, and it offers more perks. 

For instance, subscribers who pay up for Visible Plus get 50GB of premium data before they see any slowdowns. Visible Plus adds other perks like international calling to more than 30 countries, data roaming when traveling in Mexico and Canada and access to Verizon's Ultra Wideband 5G network. (The $30 plan uses Verizon's slower nationwide 5G for coverage.) 

You can currently enjoy discounts on either Visible plan for up to 24 months by signing up with code 'VISIBLE24' before February 14. That will lower the cost of the Visible Plan to $20 per month, while Visible Plus customers pay just $35. That's a savings of up to $240 over the next two years.

Visible got its start as an iPhone-only carrier, though it subsequently added Android phones to the mix, from flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S24 to budget offerings like the Google Pixel 7a. An early upgrade program lets you switch to a new device after you've paid off 50% of your phone. You can also bring your own device to Visible. If you've got a Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel phone that supports eSIM, you can try out Visible for free for 15 days — a perk that iPhone users have long enjoyed with the carrier.

Best way to save

best phone carrier: Mint Mobile

(Image credit: Mint Mobile)

4. Mint Mobile

Low rates if you pay upfront

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $30/month unlimited data plan
Best Tiered Data Plan: N/A
Best Prepaid Plan: $20/month 15GB plan
5G Coverage: 330 million people (nationwide)
Parent Network: T-Mobile

Reasons to buy

+
Low monthly rates, especially for unlimited data
+
Uses T-Mobile's network
+
Data amounts increase in April

Reasons to avoid

-
Low rates require a year's commitment
-
Minimal perks

Mint Mobile offers some of the lowest rates around, provided you're willing to pay for coverage up front. Pricing starts at $15 a month for 5GB of data. To keep that rate beyond your first three months of service, you've got to sign up for a year of coverage, limiting your flexibility to change carriers if you're not satisfied. That approach also holds true for Mint's 15GB and 20GB plans as well as the carrier's $30-a-month unlimited data plan. 

Mint has a family plan option, though you won't see escalating discounts as you add more lines. Instead, every plan on the plan is subject to Mint's discounted rate for prepaying for service in advance. You're able to mix and match different plans for each line of data you have.

Mint's betting that you'll want to pay up front for its service, not just because of the lower rate but also because Mint wireless coverage is available via T-Mobile's network. So you should expect fast performance if T-Mobile's coverage is strong in your area. Mint says you'll get 5G or 4G coverage depending on which signal is stronger — assuming you've got a 5G-compatible phone, of course. (T-Mobile agreed to buy Mint Mobile in 2023, a deal that's still waiting for an OK from regulators.)

Speaking of devices, Mint sells both iPhones and Android handsets, at a wide range of prices. You can also bring your current phone to Mint if you prefer. Our Mint Mobile vs. AT&T and Verizon vs. Mint Mobile comparisons offer a closer look at how this discount service compares to bigger phone carriers.

Best range of plans

best phone carrier: AT&T

(Image credit: AT&T)

5. AT&T

Some good plans if you know where to look

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $51/month Value Plus
Best Tiered Data Plan: $51/month 4GB
Best Prepaid Plan: $25/month Unlimited plan (12 months in advance)
5G Coverage: 290 million people (nationwide), 175 million people (high-speed)
Parent Network: AT&T

Reasons to buy

+
Extensive network
+
Growing 5G coverage
+
Cheap unlimited plan for individual users

Reasons to avoid

-
No more free HBO Max included with plans
-
Main plans are pretty pricey

Though it's one of the Big Three carriers, it's somewhat easy to overlook AT&T, given the size of Verizon's network and the headline-grabbing announcements that come out of T-Mobile. But dig beneath the surface, and there's a lot more to this phone carrier.

Take AT&T's plans, which seem somewhat pricey if you focus on the $86/month Unlimited Premium option. That particular plan has no cap on data consumption, and you can use talk, text and data for free when traveling in 20 Latin American countries. The $76/month Unlimited Extra and $66/month Unlimited Starter plan round out the main offerings, with fewer perks than what Premium users enjoy.

But if you just need one line of data, it's hard to beat the $51/month Value Plus plan. It's free of perks beyond 5G access and the ability to use your plan in Mexico and Canada, but you get unlimited data and 5G coverage for much less than AT&T's other offerings. (You can't add extra lines of Value Plus, though, so families need to look elsewhere.)

AT&T also has some pretty attractive prepaid options, including a deal that gives you unlimited data, with a sizable 16GB cap until your speeds are slowed. To get this play, you have to pay $300 upfront, but that works out to a rate of $25/month — not bad for that much data. 

It should be said that AT&T typically fares well in performance testing. Rootmetrics' rankings for the second half of 2023 give AT&T joint possession of the best overall network title. That same report also says AT&T offers the fastest coverage overall. In addition to low-band 5G spectrum covering 290 million people, 200 million people now have access to AT&T's faster mid-band 5G coverage.

Best carrier for travelers

best phone carrier: Google Fi

(Image credit: Google Fi)

6. Google Fi Wireless

The best phone carrier if you go with Pixel

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $65/month unlimited
Best Tiered Data Plan: $20/month for talk and text plus $10/GB
Best Prepaid Plan: N/A
5G Coverage: 330 million people (nationwide)
Parent Network: T-Mobile, US Cellular

Reasons to buy

+
Only pay for the data you use
+
Use data and text overseas
+
Optimized for Google Pixels, select Samsung and Moto phones

Reasons to avoid

-
Cheaper unlimited data is available elsewhere

The name has changed to Google Fi Wireless, but the service is essentially the same. And whatever you call it, Google Fi remains the carrier to go to if you buy one of Google's phones, whether that's the Pixel 8, Pixel 7a or Pixel Fold.

Pixel devices are optimized for Google's wireless network, allowing them to seamlessly switch between the carriers that provide Google Fi's coverage — T-Mobile and US Cellular at this point — so you'll always have the best connection available. Compatible third-party devices including the Galaxy S24, Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 5 foldables and several Motorola handsets reap the same benefits. You're not necessarily limited to those phones — iPhones work on Google Fi, too — though those devices won't enjoy optimized coverage.

Google Fi's pricing is pretty compelling if you don't use a lot of data. Google charges you $20 for unlimited talk and text and then just $10 for each gigabyte of data you use. But that's adjusted to the precise amount of data you consume — if you use 2.5GB, say, you'll pay $25 instead of Google rounding up to $30.

Unlimited data plans are more compelling, with Unlimited Plus costing $65 a month and featuring the ability to use your data overseas in more than 200 countries at no extra cost; we think it's one of the best international phone plans. Unlimited Plus also gives you a year's subscription to YouTube Premium. If you don't do that kind of traveling, the Simply Unlimited plan costs $50 a month for one line of data. 

You can add a Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 or Pixel Watch to any Google Fi plan with no extra connection fee — a rarity among wireless carriers.

Good Discount Option

best phone carrier: Metro by T-Mobile

(Image credit: Metro by T-Mobile)

7. Metro by T-Mobile

A good discount phone carrier

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $60/month Unlimited plan
Best Tiered Data Plan: N/A
Best Prepaid Plan: $30 5GB plan
5G Coverage: 330 million people (nationwide)
Parent Network: T-Mobile

Reasons to buy

+
Many unlimited data options
+
Uses T-Mobile's network
+
5G coverage with compatible phones

Reasons to avoid

-
Few perks outside of most expensive plan
-
Data speeds can be slowed if network is busy

Metro By T-Mobile — you may remember them as MetroPCS — currently pushes unlimited data plans with three different offerings at escalating price ranges. They're separated the perks that come with each option: the $40 unlimited offering is pretty limited, but Metro's $60 plan includes more bonuses than you typically see in a prepaid plan.

Specifically, Metro's most expensive unlimited data plan includes 25GB of hotspot data and 100GB of Google One storage. (Sadly, the best perk — Amazon Prime membership — has long since been dropped for new customers.) For $50 a month, you'll get unlimited data plus the 100GB of cloud storage, but only 8GB of hotspot data. All unlimited plans at Metro get a year of the ViX Plus streaming service.

You can add additional lines to your unlimited plan for discounted rates, making Metro an appealing prepaid option for families.

If unlimited data is too much for your budget, Metro still offers a 5GB plan for $30 a month. Taxes and fees are included in Metro plans, so you always know what you're going to pay.

Even better, Metro benefits from using T-Mobile's cellular network for its coverage. While Metro traffic can slow down when T-Mobile's towers get congested, in our testing, that's been a rare occurrence. Metro customers with 5G-capable phones can enjoy T-Mobile's 5G coverage, which now stretches coast to coast.

Metro has a good selection of phones, with around a third of the handsets on sale costing less than $200. You can find additional savings if you port over a phone number when signing up for service with Metro.

Best cable service carrier

best phone carrier: Xfinity Mobile

(Image credit: Xfinity Mobile)

8. Xfinity Mobile

A good option if you believe in bundles

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $45/month Unlimited Intro plan
Best Tiered Data Plan: $30/month 3GB plan
Best Prepaid Plan: N/A
5G Coverage: 230 million people (nationwide); 200 million (Ultra Wideband)
Parent Network: Verizon

Reasons to buy

+
Low unlimited rate
+
5G coverage on Verizon's network
+
Discounts on multiple lines of unlimited data

Reasons to avoid

-
Requires Xfinity internet subscription

If you already get your internet service from Comcast — and since it's the nation's biggest internet service provider, there's a good chance you do — Xfinity Mobile offers you the opportunity to save money on your monthly phone bill. The Comcast-backed phone carrier uses a combination of Verizon's cellular towers and Xfinity hotspots to offer nationwide phone coverage.

Xfinity's best plan for individuals is its $45 Unlimited Intro plan. Not only is that cheaper than what you'll pay for unlimited coverage at the major phone carriers, it also includes access to Verizon's 5G network if you have a 5G-capable phone. That means you can get 5G for $20 less than what you'd pay for Verizon's cheapest unlimited data plan. Because you're also taking advantage of Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots for coverage, Xfinity argues that its data speeds top those of other carriers.

Xfinity Mobile has some generous discounts when you add extra lines to your unlimited plan. While a single line of data will cost you $45 a month, the per-line costs drops to $30 for multi-line accounts. Two lines of unlimited data would cost $60 per month, while a four line plan will run you $120. That's ideal for families. Additional Plus and Premium unlimited tiers add hotspot data, higher resolution video streaming and bigger data caps before your speeds are slowed for $55 and $65 each month, respectively.

If unlimited data is too much for your needs, Xfinity also offers by-the-gig pricing, starting at $15 for 1GB of data. (The 3GB plan for $30/month is the more generous option.) You can switch between unlimited and by-the-gig plans for months were you don't need a lot of data.

You'll find a good selection of phones at Xfinity, including the latest iPhone and Android flagships, such as the iPhone 15 and Galaxy S24. These days, Xfinity offers better support for bringing your own device beyond just the iPhone; recent Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel devices are supported, too, if you already own those phones.

Best carrier for seniors

Best phone carrier: Consumer Cellular

(Image credit: Consumer Cellular)

9. Consumer Cellular

The best phone carrier for seniors

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $50/month Unlimited Data
Best Tiered Data Plan: $35/month 10GB plan
Best Prepaid Plan: N/A
5G Coverage: Yes
Parent Network: AT&T, T-Mobile

Reasons to buy

+
Discounts for AARP members
+
Generous amounts of data

Reasons to avoid

-
Cheaper plans elsewhere if you use lots of data
-
Some criticism of customer service

Consumer Cellular is a good option for your cell phone service if you don't want to pay a lot for a big pool of data, now that the discount carrier has streamlined its plans. Four options remain, and the best one is the 10GB plan — a lot of data for just $35/month.

We wish Consumer Cellular still offered attractively priced plans for people who don't need a lot of data. But the 1GB plan now costs $20/month — a price that T-Mobile, Mint and others easily beat. The $50 unlimited plan is more than what Visible and Mint charge for their coverage.

Because Consumer Cellular offers an additional 5% discount on monthly rates to AARP members, it's become a hit with seniors. The carrier uses both AT&T and T-Mobile for its coverage, so it's likely you'll get good network performance no matter where you are. (And if you buy a recent iPhone or 5G-ready Android phone through the carrier, you can enjoy 5G coverage.) Consumer Cellular does take some criticism for customer service, but it's generally regarded as any easy service for managing your plan and keeping your cell phone costs low.

What to look for when choosing a phone carrier

The first thing to consider when determining the best phone carrier for your needs is to figure out who has the best coverage in your area. Concentrate on the places where you spend a lot of time and need cell phone service, such as your home, office and frequent hangouts. Our network performance testing looks at download speeds in select cities, and third-party testing can give you an idea of how networks perform on average. But to truly get a picture of local network coverage, you'll need to ask friends and family about their experience.

If you're comfortable looking beyond one of the major cell phone providers, you can always try a discount carrier. These MVNOs turn to the larger networks to provide cellular service, so be sure to find out which network a discount carrier uses to make sure it's one that provides good service to where you live and work.

Once you've figured out which phone carriers offer the best coverage in your areas, look at plans and pricing. You'll need to figure out how much data you need — whether an unlimited plan is required or if you can opt for a cheaper plan with tiered data. We've analyzed the best cell phone plans overall to help you find one that fits your needs.

phone carriers

(Image credit: 10'000 Hours)

One other thing to consider when picking carriers is perks that come included with a monthly streaming service subscription. You'll find more of these with larger carriers, while discount carriers and prepaid cellular service tends to skimp on the extras. Besides streaming services, Popular perks include high-speed hotspot data and the ability to use your plan while traveling overseas. 

How we test phone carriers

We've previously tested network performance by heading out to eight US cities and running Ookla's Speedtest app to measure download speeds. For real-world testing, we download a sizable app off of Google Play and time how fast it takes to get the app on a smartphone. The coronavirus pandemic impacted our ability to travel in recent years, so we've placed a great weight on network performance reports from third-party firms including RootMetrics, Opensignal and Ookla.

Below, you'll see a round-up of the most recent data from each third-party testing firm, with the median download speed recorded for each of the three major carriers. (MVNO customers can expect speeds similar to that of their parent network, with the caveat that an MVNO's speeds might be slowed down if a network is congested.)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 OoklaOpensignalRootMetrics
AT&T90.8 Mbps40.1 Mbps108.9 Mbps
T-Mobile189 Mbps97.1 Mbps250 Mbps
Verizon91.6 Mpbs34.3 Mbps111.9 Mbps
Period tested4Q, 2023July 20232H, 2023

We continuously review cell phone plans to compare how much data each carrier offers and how unlimited plans vary at each provider. We also look at the best prepaid phone plans, including extras you have to give up for the lower price to evaluate whether those are good deals or not.

We've done customer support testing in the past where we contact carriers incognito to ask them questions both about their service as well as phones they offer. We conduct this undercover testing both over the phone and through social media support accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

Finally, we make a note of the different perks that are available through each carrier, whether it's plan add-ons like streaming services and hotspot data, regular giveaways or the ability to use data when traveling in other countries.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.