Knowing who the best phone carrier is can come in handy around the holiday shopping season. That's when Black Friday phone deals promise big savings on the latest devices in exchange for signing up with a new wireless provider or opening up another line of data with your current carrier. Knowing which carriers deliver the best service can help you decide whether that phone deal is really worth it.
And it takes more than just the best cell phone plans to be the best phone carrier — though affordable monthly plans are certainly a major part of what we look for. But we also go beyond those plans, as we consider network coverage and the types of 5G networks that are now available to wireless customers.
Other aspects to consider when searching for the best phone carrier include customer service — your wireless provider should be able to answer everything from billing questions to device troubleshooting — and extra bonuses like complementary streaming services and hotspot data that come with your monthly plan. If a 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, 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
Verizon hits the top of our best phone carrier rankings for its flexible plans that feature add-on perks you can include and drop at will depending on your needs. The carrier's coverage is extensive, with its 5G network growing in size and speed.
Best alternative to Verizon
T-Mobile currently boasts the fastest network and best 5G coverage. It's got a number of unlimited data plans — perhaps too many — and prices and perks are both attractive. A series of data breaches have hurt T-Mobile's reputation.
Cheap unlimited data
Visible offers just two data plans, but they're both attractively priced, leaving you to decide whether you want a low monthly bill or one with more perks. Whichever plan you opt for, taxes and fees are included in the rate, as you enjoy the benefits and reach of Verizon's network via Visible.
Prepay pays off
Best for bargain hunters
Mint rewards you if you're willing to pay for its service well in advance, offering its lowest rates to people who commit to a full year of coverage after a three-month trial period. If you can swing the upfront cost, Mint's rates are among the lowest we've seen, and you get to use T-Mobile's stellar network.
Good prepaid, unlimited options
AT&T can be an appealing carrier if your data needs match its range of plans. For instance, if you just need one line of unlimited data, a $50 monthly plan is one of the cheapest you'll find from a major carrier. There's also a prepaid plan that delivers a generous data pool when you pay for a year of service as the best plans of the bunch. The carrier is expanding its 5G coverage to a network that already delivers pretty fast speeds.
Best for globe trotters
Best phone carrier for travelers
Google Fi is a no-brainer if you buy one of Google's Pixel phones, but it's open to devices from all phone makers — even the iPhone. Travelers in particular will like the two plans that allow you to use your Google Fi coverage overseas at no additional cost. The unlimited plan is the best option, but Google's lone tiered data plan only charges you for the data you use.
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T-Mobile service for less
Best T-Mobile discount carrier
Metro by T-Mobile uses the network of its parent company for excellent coverage, including 5G service where available. Three different unlimited data plans offer different sets of perks, and those plans offer discounts as you add more lines — an ideal option for families looking to save.
Best cable add-on
Best phone carrier for Comcast customers
If you get your internet from Comcast, maybe bundle in your wireless service, too. Xfinity Mobile features a great rate for unlimited data, and a good discount as you add more lines. Verizon's network provides the service, so you can expect dependable coverage and improving 5G.
Best for seniors
Best carrier for seniors
Consumer Cellular is popular among seniors, and it's easy to see why, with low rates further reduced by an AARP monthly discount. Customer service can be spotty based on online reviews. but the carrier wins high marks for helping keep the cost of wireless service down.
Best phone carrier overall
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'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
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, whether you grab the $70 Magenta plan or the $75 Go5G offering. Both plans included taxes and fees while letting you use your data when you're overseas (albeit at slower speeds). We give the nod to Go5G now because it adds extra hotspot data, increases the data you can use traveling in Mexico and Canada and makes it easier to upgrade your phone more frequently. A current promotion aimed at new customers waives the cost of a third Go5G line, making it the best family cell phone plan.
If you need more, 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.
If you don't need unlimited data, T-Mobile's 3.5GB and 6.5GB Connect plans are among the cheapest you'll find; there's also a $10/month 1GB plan for folks who need just the basics. Those plans also include 5G coverage, a nice benefit for such a budget offering.
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 continues to give T-Mobile the nod as the carrier with the fastest and most available 5G coverage.
As for 5G, T-Mobile's 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.
The perks T-Mobile customers receive continue to set this service apart from rivals. Weekly T-Mobile Tuesday giveaways include prizes and benefits while T-Mobile's Team of Experts program also provides excellent customer service to subscribers. Family plan subscribers can get the cost of a Netflix account covered as part of their plan, and even Magenta and Go5G customers get a six-month trial to Apple TV Plus.
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.)
We wish Visible still offered discounts for adding multiple lines. But at least you can save $20 on one month of service if you refer new customers to Visible. You can bank up to 12 discounts per year.
Visible got its start as an iPhone-only carrier, though it subsequently added Android phones to the mix, from flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S23 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
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's family plans promise the same discounted rate for each line of data, and you can mix and match different data allotments.
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. (As of this writing, T-Mobile is in the process of closing an acquisition of Mint Mobile announced earlier in 2023.)
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
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 $85/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 19 Latin American countries. The $75/month Unlimited Extra and $65/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 $50/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 a hefty 16GB of data each month when you prepay for a year of service in advance. That's $300 upfront, and if you can't swing that, there are month-to-month options with generous data allotments.
It should be said that AT&T typically fares well in performance testing. Rootmetrics' rankings for the first half of 2023 give AT&T sole possession of the best overall network title for the second consecutive testing period. That same report also says AT&T offers the fastest coverage overall. In addition to low-band 5G spectrum covering 290 million people, 175 million people now have higher-speed 5G from AT&T; the plan is to hit 200 million by 2024.
Best carrier for travelers
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, which include the Samsung Galaxy S23, Galaxy Z Flip 5 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.
Good Discount Option
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 — is no longer available to new Metro 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
If you already get your internet service from Comcast — and since it's the nation's biggest internet service provider, you probably 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, growing to 5 million subscribers after five years in operation.
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 nearly half the cost of what you'd pay for a Verizon 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. So, 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 S23. 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
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, Boost and Tello 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.
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.)
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Ookla||Opensignal||RootMetrics|
|AT&T||72.6 Mbps||40.1 Mbps||77.3 Mbps|
|T-Mobile||163.6 Mbps||97.1 Mbps||213.2 Mbps|
|Verizon||75.9 Mpbs||34.3 Mbps||77.9 Mbps|
|Period tested||3Q, 2023||July 2023||1H, 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.