Finding the best phone carrier for your wireless service can play an important part in keeping your monthly expenses manageable. With prices rising all around us, coming up with ways to save money on your cell phone bill becomes critical, and turning to a top phone carrier can help.
Part of that comes down to locating the best cell phone plans offering the greatest value for your monthly fee, but it takes more than just a low bill to rise up the ranks of the best phone carriers. Wireless providers also stand out with their network coverage, particularly as wireless providers are expanding their 5G networks.
Other aspects to consider when searching for the right phone carrier include customer service — the best phone carriers can handle questions about billing as easily as helping you troubleshoot your device — and perks that come with plans. After all, plans that come with complementary subscriptions to streaming services might reduce what you're spending in other parts of your budget.
Sounds like a lot to keep track of, doesn't it? Don't worry — we've done the research for you, monitoring all the changes happening at carriers big and small. Whether you're want your wireless service to come from a recognizable name or if you're willing to try out one of the top MVNOs offering cell phone service, we can help you find the best phone carrier to fit both your budget and your needs.
Today's top three best value phone carriers
1. Mint Mobile - Best carrier on a budget (opens in new tab)
Mint Mobile is a great carrier to choose if you're after an affordable phone plan. While Mint plans include only four options, these span from 4GB through to unlimited data, all offering some of the cheapest prices in the US right now; the carrier also now offers family plans. However, with prices this low, Mint is light on added features, and to get the price, you need to commit to a year of service.
2. Visible - Best value carrier for unlimited data (opens in new tab)
Visible now offers a choice of plans, but neither one will put a dent in your budget. And that's good news considering both the $30 Visible and $45 Visible Plus plans offer unlimited data. While we wish Visible still offered its Party Pay program for discounts on multiple lines, you can save money by referring friends and family to the service, with uses Verizon's top-ranked network.
3. Verizon - Best value carrier if you can spend a bit more (opens in new tab)
On the opposite end of the spectrum to the above deals, Verizon is one of the priciest networks around. But its plans are feature packed, and its coverage is extensive and fast. A lower-cost unlimited plan is one of the best cheap unlimited data plans (opens in new tab) and Verizon is making great strides improving the reach and speeds of its 5G coverage.
The best phone carriers overall
When it comes to the best mix of data plans, coverage and perks, T-Mobile is a tough phone carrier to beat, especially after fully integrating Sprint into its company. Turn to T-Mobile and you'll find great data plans, excellent perks and a 5G network that currently sets the bar for other carriers.
T-Mobile offers the best unlimited data plan in the business, with its $70 Magenta plan that bakes taxes and fees into the cost of the plan and also lets you use your data when you're overseas (albeit at slower speeds). Healthy discounts as you add lines also make Magenta the best family cell phone plan, particularly when T-Mobile waives the cost of a third line as it does under a frequent promotion. Plus, for small business owners, T-Mobile now offers an iPhone 13 and an Apple service plan — for just $50 a line.
If you don't need unlimited data, T-Mobile's 3GB and 6GB prepaid plans are among the cheapest you'll find, and the company has added a $10/month 1GB plan as well. Those plans also include 5G coverage, which is something other carriers often restrict to their most expensive plans. For that reason, we think T-Mobile offers better value than other big-name carriers.
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. In 2023, T-Mobile plans to work with SpaceX to use satellites to extend coverage to areas where cellular networks can't reach.
As for 5G, T-Mobile's 5G service now reaches more than 320 million people across the country. Of that total, 235 million can access its faster Ultra Capacity 5G service. And T-Mobile now offers voice over 5G as well as data, as it continues to amp up its 5G network.
What really sets T-Mobile apart is the perks it extends to customers. 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 Apple TV Plus is now included with Magenta Max plans. (Regular Magenta plans get six months of Apple TV Plus and a year of Paramount Plus.)
Verizon's plans may be pricier than the competition. But there's plenty to like about the nation's biggest wireless carrier, starting with the reach and performance of its network. When we've tested LTE speeds, Verizon has come out on top, though for the second half of 2021, testing firm Rootmetrics (opens in new tab) placed AT&T ahead of Verizon in more categories for the first time. Verizon boasts the most reliable 5G coverage, Rootmetrics says, but it trails T-Mobile for availability and speed.
That could change as Verizon is upgrading its Ultra Wideband 5G network with C-Band spectrum. More than 100 million people now enjoy faster speeds, and Verizon expects 175 million people to enjoy super-fast Ultra Wideband speeds by the end of 2022. 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 is moving 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.
As for the cost of service, you will find cheaper and easier-to-decipher unlimited data plans at T-Mobile, but Verizon's current plans do include interesting perks. Verizon's 5G Do More plan, which costs $80 a month for one line (and $180 for four) includes 600GB of cloud storage and a 50GB ceiling before Verizon will throttle your speeds. Play More, which costs the same, includes access to a bundle of Disney streaming services (Disney Plus, ad-supported Hulu and ESPN Plus) as well as a subscription to a streaming gaming service — either Apple Arcade or Google Play Pass.
If that's too expensive, a new Welcome Unlimited plan offers a low price in exchange for dropping most perks — families will appreciate the $30 per line monthly cost of Verizon's Welcome Unlimited if they need four lines of data. Meanwhile, iPhone users may want to turn to One Unlimited for iPhone, a new Verizon offering that bundles an unlimited data plan with a subscription to assorted Apple services.
Verizon has scrapped its tiered data plans, but at least the carrier's prepaid plans are especially attractive, thanks to a series of escalating discounts. You'll pay $45 a month for Verizon's 15GB prepaid plan after a $5 autopay discount, but if you stick with Verizon for three months of service, that rate falls to $40. After nine months, another $5 discount cuts your rate to $35. All Prepaid plans get 5G service, too, though Ultra Wideband coverage is reserved for prepaid customers with the Unlimited Plus plan. Verizon's prepaid plans with unlimited data now include six months of Disney Plus, a rare streaming service perk among prepaid options.
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 that justifies the extra cost.
You're not spoiled for choice at Visible, as the discount carrier and Verizon MVNO offers just two plans, both of which offer unlimited data. The good news is that even the more expensive Visible Plus option is pretty affordable at $45 a month, and the base Visible plan lets you enjoy unlimited data for just $30. Taxes and fees are included in that rate.
Visible used to place a cap on data speeds when the carrier debuted, but that restriction has since been lifted. That means you can enjoy the full power of Verizon's network, with your speeds slowing only should the network get too congested. 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.)
Visible used to offer a great value for families with its Party Pay option that added discounts as you added lines. That's gone away with the new unlimited plans, though 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 Galaxy S22 and Pixel 6 to budget offerings like the Samsung Galaxy A53. 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. And iPhone owners can try out Visible for free for 15 days using their own device.
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 4GB of LTE data — that's better than even T-Mobile's Simple Connect plan. But that price is only available through the first three months of your service. To maintain that low rate, 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 10GB and 15GB 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 uses T-Mobile's network to provide coverage, so you should expect fast performance, particularly if you live in an urban 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.
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.
AT&T has lost some of its shine when compared to its fellow major phone carriers. Its monthly rates can't match what T-Mobile offers, and Verizon still has the larger overall network (though AT&T bests Verizon on reliability and speed according to testing firm Rootmetrics). One of the best perks AT&T used to offer subscribers — you got a free HBO Max subscription if you signed up for the carrier's most expensive unlimited data plan — is no longer available to new customers.
The plans that are in place now are pretty pricey, highlighted by the $85-a-month Unlimited Premium plan. That offer 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.
We'd actually recommend the $50/month Value Plus plan for most users. It's free of perks beyond 5G access and the ability to use your plan in Mexico and Canada, but you get unlimited data for much less than AT&T's other offerings. The one caveat is that Value Plus is limited to single users; families will have to choose from the other unlimited data options.
AT&T 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. AT&T's cheapest unlimited data plan is now available through Walmart when you activate a phone in one of the retailer's stores.
It should be said that AT&T typically fares well in performance testing, as noted by its strong showing in Rootmetrics testing for the second half of 2021.Like Verizon, AT&T is launching C-Band 5G, which brings faster speeds, though AT&T has only added this coverage to a handful of cities at present. The carrier says that 70 to 75 million people will be covered by C-Band 5G by year's end.
Metro By T-Mobile — formerly MetroPCS — seems to have switched its focus to unlimited data plans with three different offerings at escalating price ranges. The difference appears to be in the perks that come with each option: you won't get other than unlimited talk, text and data with Metro's $40 plan, but the $60 plan includes quite a tasty bundle of bonuses.
Specifically, Metro's most expensive unlimited data plan includes 15GB of hotspot data, 100GB of Google One storage and an Amazon Prime membership. It's that last perk that's a particularly good value. For $50 a month, you'll get unlimited data plus the 100GB of cloud storage, but only 5GB of hotspot data. All unlimited plans at Metro get a year of the ViX Plus streaming service.
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.
With the Pixel 6a now set to hit stores on July 28, Google Fi deserves some attention among the best phone carriers. 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 S22, Galaxy Z Flip 3 and several Motorola handsets reap the same benefits.
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 now more compelling after Google dropped prices on its two unlimited offerings. The best plan, Unlimited Plus, costs $65 a month and features the ability to use your data overseas in more than 200 countries at no extra cost. If you don't need that feature, the Simply Unlimited plan now costs $50 a month for one line of data. Discounts on additional lines are available.
Consumer Cellular is a good option for your cell phone service if you don't need a lot of data each month or you don't need unlimited talk minutes. (Or both!) The carrier has small data tiers available at reasonable prices, and you can switch around your data allotment on a monthly basis if you anticipate needing more data.
The 3GB plan probably offers enough data for many users who don't stream music and movies and at $25, it's a pretty affordable option.
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.
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.
Xfinity's best plan for individuals is its $45 unlimited 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.
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 14 and Galaxy S22. 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.
Once owned and operated by Sprint, Boost Mobile is now the property of Dish in a $1.4 billion purchase spurred by the Sprint-T-Mobile merger. Boost is keeping its name, and it's in the process of switching over to AT&T's network as Dish looks to build out its own network.
Boost continues to offer the same plans as before, with your best option being one of the company's two unlimited plans. The $50 plan features 12GB of hotspot data. For $60 a month, you get HD video streaming and 30GB of hotspot data. Both unlimited data plans slow your speeds after you use 35GB of data in a month.
Boost's unlimited prices compare favorably to what you get from Metro by T-Mobile, though T-Mobile's prepaid service doesn't put caps on music and game streaming like Boost does. The best tiered plan at Boost gives you 5GB of data for $25 a month, with 2GB ($15) and 10GB ($35) options as well.
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 subscription. You'll find more of these with larger carriers, while discount carriers and prepaid cellular service tends to skimp on the extras. Popular perks include streaming service subscriptions, high-speed hotspot data and the ability to use your plan while traveling overseas. (Speaking of overseas travel, we've also got a look at the best international phone plans from the major carriers.)
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.)
|AT&T||56.1 Mpbs||35.3 Mbps||38.1 Mbps|
|T-Mobile||117.8 Mbps||54.1 Mbps||79.8 Mbps|
|Verizon||62.6 Mpbs||30.2 Mbps||40.8 Mbps|
|Period tested||1Q, 2022||January 2022||2H, 2021|
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.