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The best cheap cell phone plans in 2020 (under $40 per month)

best cheap cell phone plans
(Image credit: Mego Studio/Shutterstock)

The best cheap cell phone plans can save you from spending your money on cellular data you don't need. These days, the major carriers are pushing unlimited data plans. While that's a good fit for some people — and we can help you find the best unlimited data plan if that's what you prefer — many people don't need all that data. So why not get a plan where you're just paying for the data you're using?

Fortunately, there's life beyond unlimited data for your monthly smartphone service. A number of carriers — some you've heard of, some you haven't — offer smaller pools of data for less money. And while you may have to make some trade-offs on service, in many cases, the best cheap cell phone plans can deliver just what you need for your monthly coverage for a much lower price than what you're probably paying now.

We've looked at carriers big and small as part of our search for the best cell phone plans overall. Along the way, we've spotted a number of deals that can deliver just enough data while keeping your monthly bill under $40. Some are even happy to give you unlimited data for that low rate.

Here's a closer look at the best cheap cell phone plans that are out there right now.

What are the best cheap cell phone plans?

For a long time, we've thought that Metro by T-Mobile — the renamed MetroPCS service — is the best of the bunch when it comes to offering the best cheap cell phone plans. Metro uses a far-reaching network with fast LTE speeds, while also offering attractively priced data plans that start at $30 for 2GB.

But Metro has been pipped by its own parent company. To mark its successful merger with Sprint earlier this year, T-Mobile added T-Mobile Connect. That's a $15-a-month prepaid plan that also gives you 2GB of data. It's the cheapest data plan out there, especially after similarly priced offers from rival carriers have expired. Boost, which has been spun off from Sprint as part of the Sprint-T-Mobile merger, now has a 10GB plan that undercuts the price of Metro's similarly sized option by $5 a month.

If you still want unlimited data, you can find it without blowing your $40 monthly budget for wireless service. Visible charges $40 a month for its unlimited data service, and it's lifted caps on data speeds, making this an attractive option for iPhone and Android users alike. Mint's new unlimited plan is even cheaper at $30 a month, though you have to commit to a year of service to keep that rate.

For bargain hunters who don't need that much data, Republic Wireless offers the most flexibility, charging just $5 per month for each gigabyte on top of a $15 base rate for unlimited talk and text. TextNow doesn't charge you anything for talk and text, though you will need a data plan if you plan on connecting with anything other than Wi-Fi. Google Fi, formerly known as Project Fi, provides great coverage, particularly for overseas travelers, and it’s more accessible as Google has extended support to devices beyond its own Pixel phones.

The best cheap cell phone plans under $40

best cheap cell phone plan: T-Mobile

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

1. T-Mobile

The best cheap cell phone plan you can get right now

Best Plan: 2GB | Monthly Rate: $15 | Parent Network: T-Mobile | Phones Available: 32

Dependable network
Low monthly rate
Plan grows by 500MB every year
Strict limit on data usage
Speeds can be slowed if network's congested

T-Mobile's prepaid plans used to be nothing to write home about — and largely out of the reach of anyone who wanted to only spend $40 a month on their smartphone service. Then the T-Mobile-Sprint merger went through, and the combined company put its expanded cellular network to use with a new T-Mobile Connect offering.

For $15 a month, you get 2GB of data along with unlimited talk and text. If that's too constricting, you can upgrade to 5GB for $25 a month. Because T-Mobile's 5G network has nationwide reach, that data allotment covers 5G coverage as well as LTE, though you'll need a 5G-capable phone to take advantage of that. (Be aware that those phones are still pretty pricey.)

There's a big caveat to T-Mobile Connect: Once you hit your data cap, you're out of data until the next billing cycle begins. Other discount carriers with slightly more expensive plans will merely slow your data for the rest of your monthly billing cycle.

To prove that it's serious about that last point, T-Mobile says it's going to boost the data of T-Mobile Connect customers for each year they use the service. Every year, your plan will grow by another 500MB until you've been with the carrier for five years. That's a way to expand your data allotment by 2.5GB without a corresponding raise in monthly rates.

best cheap cell phone plans: Metro by T-Mobile

(Image credit: Metro by T-Mobile)

2. Metro by T-Mobile

The best discount carrier overall

Best Plan: 10GB | Monthly Rate: $40 | Parent Network: T-Mobile | Phones Available: 26

Lots of data for $40
Uses T-Mobile's network
Taxes and fees included in plan
Traffic is slowed if T-Mobile's network is congested
No mobile hotspot data

If you find the amount of data in T-Mobile's Connect plan too restrictive, you can always turn to another T-Mobile-owned outfit to find the best cheap cell phone plans. Metro by T-Mobile is owned and operated by the Uncarrier, and it reaps the benefits of its parent company’s network. 

In our latest wireless network testing, T-Mobile was neck-and-neck with AT&T for LTE speed. And that benefits Metro subscribers, as there’s no noticeable performance gap between T-Mobile and Metro. (T-Mobile does reserve the right to prioritize its own traffic ahead of other carriers on its network, but in only a few testing instances, did we notice any difference between T-Mobile and Metro speeds.)

In some of the locations where we tested, Metro turned in faster times than its parent company. Subscribe to Metro and you can be confident that anywhere T-Mobile’s network reaches, you’ll enjoy solid service. You can also get 5G coverage if you live in an area where T-Mobile offers 5G service, assuming you have a compatible phone like the Galaxy A51 5G, Galaxy S20 or Revvl 5G— all of which Metro has.

Metro has cut the cost of its 2GB plan to $15 to match T-Mobile, though we'd suggest the best cheap cell phone plan Metro has to offer is its $40 package which gives you 10GB of data each month. That's a generous amount of data, even if you are restricted to 480p resolution on video streaming. Taxes and fees are included in the cost, so your monthly bill will never be a surprise. 

Metro also offers a decent selection of phones, including recent flagships such as the iPhone 11 . But Metro's focus is really on low-cost handsets like the Moto G Stylus or iPhone SE. Of the 26 phones currently on offer at Metro, 10 will cost you less than $200. (You can find additional savings if you bring over a number to Metro, though you'll be on the hook for taxes and an activation fee.)

best cheap cell phone plans: republic wireless

(Image credit: Republic Wireless)

3. Republic Wireless

Most flexible cheap cell phone plans

Best Plan: 2GB | Monthly Rate: $25 | Parent Network: Sprint, T-Mobile | Phones Available: 14

Uses Sprint and T-Mobile networks
Rates correspond to data usage
No iPhone support

Republic Wireless takes an attractive approach to the best cheap cell phone plan, charging you a flat rate for talk text — $15 — and then making you only pay $5 for each gigabyte of data you use. If you truly don't use a lot of data, you can really shrink your cell phone bill. Under Republic's way of doing things, 2GB of data would cost a total of $25 per month, with talk and text included.

The savings increase if you sign up for an annual payment on your cell phone plan. Say you use 2GB of LTE data per month. That would cost you $25 per month normally, but paying annually reduces that monthly payment to $20.83 — essentially giving you two months of service for free.

You can bring your own device to Republic, so long as it's an Android phone. (There's no support for the iPhone in other words.) Republic sells phones, too, including the long-lasting Moto G Power. You also find Samsung flagships, including the Galaxy S20, as well as more budget-focused Samsung phones like the Galaxy A51.

Republic keeps costs low by using Wi-Fi to handle calls, texts and data when available; otherwise, you’re using the cellular network of either Sprint or T-Mobile. Adaptive coverage blends Wi-Fi and cellular to deliver improved call quality.

Read our full Republic Wireless carrier report.

best cheap cell phone plans: visible

(Image credit: Visible)

4. Visible

The most data for $40 a month

Best Plan: Unlimited | Monthly Rate: $40 | Parent Network: Verizon | Phones Available: 19

Uses Verizon’s network
No caps on speed
Discounts for multiple lines
Speeds can be throttled if network's congested
Just one data plan

If you want lots of data but don't want the higher monthly bill that comes with one of the major carriers' unlimited data plans, consider turning to Visible. This Verizon-owned low-cost carrier gives you unlimited talk, text and data for $40 a month, with taxes and fees folded into that rate.

There are trade-offs. Verizon prioritizes its own traffic over Visible, so your speeds can be slowed if the network's congested. Visible seems to have permanently dropped a 5 Mbps cap on download speeds, which is good news for the carrier's overall performance. Other caps remain: you still can only stream video at 480p resolution — not HD — and music is restricted to 500 Kbps. And hotspot speeds are capped at 5 Mbps.

Visible customers will also appreciate that you can now get family plans through the wireless carrier, with Visible discounting the rate as you add more lines. Two lines of data cost $35 each, for example, or $70 a month total, while four lines reduces the per line cost to $25 a month, or $100 total.

After debuting as an iPhone-only carrier — and it still offers lots of Apple phones — Visible added support for Android devices in 2019. It now features handsets like the Galaxy S20 lineup, along with lower cost Android devices. (We'd advise against the very cheap Hot Pepper Ghost, though.) Visible also is one of the places you can still get a Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL now that Google has discontinued the phone.

Read our full Visible carrier report.

best cheap cell phone plans: Mint Mobile

(Image credit: Mint Mobile)

5. Mint Mobile

The best rates if you buy in bulk

Best Plan: Unlimited data | Monthly Rate: $30 | Parent Network: T-Mobile | Phones Available: 79

Lots of data for a low monthly rate — including a new unlimited plan
Uses T-Mobile's network
Annual plans required for the best discounts

Mint Mobile offers customers low rates on a large amount of data, but it comes with a catch. When you sign up for Mint, you pay for the first three months in advance, getting a reduced rate in return. If you want to maintain that lower rate, though, you have to commit to a full-year of service. While some people will willing make that trade-off, it does get rid of the flexibility that comes from using a prepaid service.

Here's how it works. Say you opt for Mint's 8GB plan. That will cost you $20 a month for the first three months — a very attractive rate. To keep that rate, you'll sign up for another year of service; otherwise, you'd pay $35 a month. As you can see, the savings for committing to Mint are very substantial.

Mint's newest plan packs in even more data. For $30 a month, you can get an unlimited talk, text and data. That's less than Visible's $40 plan, though Visible lets you go month-to-month without a year-long commitment. 

Mint says it now offers 5G coverage via T-Mobile's network where available for subscribers with a compatible phone.

Read our full Mint Mobile carrier report.

best cheap cell phone plans: Google Fi

(Image credit: Google)

6. Google Fi

Best cheap cell phone plans for globetrotters

Best Plan: 2GB | Monthly Rate: $40 | Parent Network: Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular | Phones Available: 3

Use your data and texting when traveling abroad
Expanded support for non-Pixel phones
Carries the Pixel 4a
Only select phones are optimized for the network
Unlimited data is expensive

There are cheaper plans than what Google offers through its own cellular service, Google Fi. But if you do a lot of traveling — and don't use a lot of data — then Google Fi offers one of the best cheap phone plans.

You get unlimited talk and text for $20 a month and each gigabyte of data adds another $10 to your monthly bill. That's double what Republic charges per gigabyte, but Google Fi credits you for the data that goes unused on your plan, so judicious web surfing rewards you with a lower monthly bill.

In those months where you need to use a lot of data, Google Fi's Bill Protection feature caps your monthly cost at $80 even if you use more than the 6GB of data that would buy. Subscribers with an eye on monthly costs likely won't want to take advantage of this feature regularly, but it's nice to know that it's there when you need it.

Google Fi also helps keep your data usage down by employing Wi-Fi when available. Otherwise, you switch seamlessly between the networks of Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular, at least if you use a Fi-certified phone like Google's own Pixel phones or optimized versions of the Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power. Google Fi has stopped selling the Pixel 4, but you can buy the Pixel 4a through the carrier. Look for the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G to join the mix at the end of this month.

That said, you can use almost an Android phone and even iPhones with Google Fi, though you'll have to stick with either T-Mobile or Sprint's network with no seamless switching between the two. 

Google Fi is particularly appealing when you travel. In more than 200-plus countries, you continue to draw from the same pool of data you would in the U.S. at no addition cost.

Read our full Google Fi carrier report.

best cheap cell phone plan: Boost Mobile

(Image credit: Boost)

7. Boost Mobile

A compelling alternative to Metro by T-Mobile

Best plan: 10GB | Monthly Rate: $35 | Parent Network: T-Mobile | Phones Available: 27

Lots of data
Uses T-Mobile's network
New owner and operator

The Sprint-T-Mobile merger may have given a jolt to Boost Mobile, the discount carrier formerly owned by Sprint but sold off to Dish. Now that Dish is taking over, it's shaking up Boost's plans, with one data plan in particularly undercutting Metro By T-Mobile on price.

A new $35-a-month-plan at Boost gives you 10GB of LTE data. That's the same amount in Metro's plan, only it's $5 cheaper. As with Metro's plans, taxes and fees are included in Boost's pricing. There are less expensive plans, too, offering 5gb ($25/month), 2GB ($15/month) and 1GB ($10/month), and families are able to mix and match plans.

Boost now uses T-Mobile's network and will do so for the next seven year, while Dish builds out its own network. So you should be getting the same performance that Metro customers enjoy, though Boost's traffic can be slowed if the network gets congested.

If you can swing a little bit more than $40 a month and plan to stick with your carrier for a while, consider Boost's new Shrink-It plan, which costs $45 a month for 15GB of data. After three months of sticking with that plan, Boost cuts the cost by $5, and you'll get an additional $5 discount at the six-month mark. That lowers your monthly cost to $35, which is a bargain considering all the data included in your plan.

Best cheap cell phone plan: Consumer Cellular

(Image credit: Consumer Cellular)

8. Consumer Cellular

Best cheap cell phone plans for seniors

Best Plan: 3GB | Monthly Rate: $30 | Parent Network: AT&T, T-Mobile | Phones Available: 18

Flexible options for data and talk
Unlimited text with every plan
Discounts for seniors
Other carriers offer more data for less than $40

Consumer Cellular has proven to be a hit for older cell phone users who don't need a lot of data each month. (The 5% discount on monthly service offered to AARP members likely boosts that appeal.)

You'll pay $20 for unlimited talk, though you can save $5 on that, if you only need 250 minutes of talk time each month. Data is billed separately, in chunks as small as 500MB a month ($5) all the way up to 25GB ($40). The best option for people who want to keep their monthly cell phone bill low is a plan that bundles unlimited talk with 3GB of data, which costs a total of $30. Unlimited testing is included with every Consumer Cellular plan, and customers who sign up by the end of September will get one month of service for free.

Consumer Cellular gives you the option of changing your plan during a billing cycle if you find you're not going to use as much talk or data as you had planned. If you're going over your limit, you'll be automatically upgraded to the next tier of service.

Read our full Consumer Cellular carrier report.

best cheap cell phone plan: textnow

(Image credit: TextNow)

9. TextNow

Best free cell phone plan

Best plan: 0GB | Monthly Rate: Free | Parent Network: Sprint | Phones Available: 4

Free calls and text over cellular and Wi-Fi
Uses Sprint's network
Cellular data costs extra
Includes ads

You don't necessarily need to pay a dime for your cell phone service, so long as you don't plan on using a lot of data. TextNow offers a free tier of its wireless service that includes the ability to make calls and send texts over both cellular and Wi-Fi. Cellular coverage is provided via Sprint's network.

There are some caveats to the free tier of service at TextNow, as you'd probably expect. Ads are a fact of life if you opt for free calling and texting in the form of a banner ad at the bottom of the TextNow app as well as full screen ads at the end of phone calls. And if you ever need to use data to surf the web, browse social media or handle any of the other functions that put the "smart" in "smartphone," you'll need to pay for a data plan. For $20 a month, you can add 2GB of LTE data, plus the ability to use your phone as a hotspot; $40 a month gets you unlimited data. If you don't need data, but would like to ditch the ads, that costs $10 a month.

That pricing likely won't cut it for people who still require more than 2GB of cellular data, especially with more attractively priced plans still available. But if you find yourself spending more time at home and around Wi-Fi, TextNow's free plan could be a way to cut the cost of your monthly cell phone bill.

Read our full TextNow carrier report.

What to look for when shopping for the best cheap cell phone plans

Obviously, price is going to be paramount when considering a cheap cell phone plan. After all, if money is no object, there are plenty of pricey plans that will deliver maximum perks and data.

But price isn’t the only criteria to look at. You'll want to consider who wants to provide the best cell phone coverage in your area and whether the discount carrier you're considering uses that carrier's network. With the exception of T-Mobile, none of the discount carriers we've mentioned here operate their own network. Rather, as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, they piggyback on the cellular networks built by one or more of the major carriers. Some carriers, such as Republic Wireless and Google Fi, also offload calls and texts to Wi-Fi when available, as part of their efforts to keep monthly costs low.

You'll also want to look at the variety of plans each carrier offered and whether you could move to a different plan if your talk, text and data needs change. We've focused on plans for individuals, but if you're searching for the best family cell phone plan, look into whether a carrier offers discounts on multiple lines. While perks generally aren't included with cheap cell phone plans, look to see if there are some added benefits such as hotspot data.

  • PhilipMichaels
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-3463496/cheap-cell-phone-plans-month.html
    Reply
  • equsnarnd
    One wonders how you do your testing. It seems little more than an expansion of a sales brochure with no real knowledge of the carriers that you rate.

    For example, Straight Talk gives you 10GB of data, unlimited text and calls, all for $45 a month. Yet after being with Straight Talk for a few years I couldn't leave the plan fast enough. They lie, deceive, do things that are borderline corrupt and otherwise are an entirely rotten experience not worth any price. However, on paper they look great.

    If all you're doing is regurgitating their sales info or citing customer stats then you are offering no service at all and it would be better to stop doing these comparisons.

    What do I mean? Let me illustrate.

    1. Straight Talk doesn't tell you when you sign with them that whether you're choosing Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile as your network that you will be a 2nd class citizen, that you will have not only slower service but the quality of the signal is poorer. In areas where a plan has coverage it may not have high capacity so you won't have any coverage at all. When ST shows, eg, a coverage map from Verizon, that doesn't mean you have that coverage. Verizon customers do but you don't! That's lying.
    2. Buy a phone from ST and you will NEVER get updated to the next version of the OS like Verizon or AT&T and T-Mobile customers do. This is never mentioned anywhere. That's deception.
    3. If ST sends you the wrong phone because they screwed up, they will expect you to mail the phone back to them at your cost. That's corrupt.
    4. If 8 months into your plan, you want to upgrade your phone they are more than happy to oblige. But when you ask them to unlock your old phone so you can sell it they will tell you "NO." Why? They have a RULE. Their rule is they won't unlock any phone that has not had a year of service on it. Pretty unreasonable. And they'll do this with a phone they've sent you by mistake that you paid for. Ask them to unlock it so you can sell it rather than pay to return it and the answer is NO. See the rule.
    5. If you terminate service on your auto pay date so that you don't lose service time you've paid for, watch out. I told them three weeks ahead of time that I wanted to terminate service on my next auto pay date. They said fine and in the last week they sent me a text a day reminding me that my service would terminate and did I want to buy more minutes. What they never bothered to tell me is that if I didn't request to have my phone # ported to my new carrier before the termination took effect that they would not port it. RULE No phone number will be ported that is not an active #. The service ended at noon and I was asking to have it ported by 4 the same afternoon.

    These are the sorts of things that Straight Talk does that can turn a business relationship into pure hell. Now, how many of these companies that you have reported on have you queried about these things, queried their customers about? How much do you actually know about what it is like to deal with MetroPCS? My guess is, not much at all.

    And just so you don't think I'm biased against Straight Talk, let me tell you something Verizon does that, as corporate policy, is idiotic, anti-customer, anti-marketing, violates any business or common sense: I have an LG V10 with an FM radio chip in it that can pick up FM broadcasts. Verizon turns off that function so that if you want to use the FM radio you are forced to stream it as part of your paid for data stream. They charge $50 a month for 7GB of data and $10 for each 1GB over that. How petty of them and what a great way to create enmity among their customers. One wonders where their upper management went to business school. Seems more like the Mafia than Whartons.

    A review of carriers as businesses, their ethics, their practices as regards their customers would be welcomed and valuable.
    Reply
  • rernst75
    MERGED QUESTIONQuestion from rernst75 : "One word: Consumer Cellular- Fantastic!"
    What about Consumer Cellular for low-cost excellent wireless phone carriers? I have used their service for 3 years and never once, did i have a problem! I pay only $28.50 per month for unlimited data, talk,and text. I love their service which is in the United States!!
    Reply
  • mddbkzr
    My "Best pricing options" suggestions:

    Mint Mobile: $15/mo for unlimited talk and text, and 2GB data. Uses T-mobile towers. Great for GSM phones. They have some you can buy or they allow BYOP. Also allows you to use the phone as a hotspot.

    Secondary option for people with CDMA phones: PagePlus $26/mo (with autopay) for unlimited talk/text, and 2GB data (beyond 2GB it is throttled down to "2G" speed but still chugs along), AND it uses Verizon towers for the best US coverage.

    I suggest removing any NVMO that uses Sprint, they have the worst coverage, and even their own coverage maps lie. Can be in an area 5 miles from city limits along a major interstate that shows full 4G on their map and you're sitting there with no service, not even analog 1X. I ran into this way too often a few years ago during my travels through the southeastern US. 98% of the time on the road even in remote rural areas, my wife had Verizon 3G/4G signal, versus 65% of the traveling I had ZERO signal with Sprint (well a compatible company, FreedomPop, but I had same problem with Sprint directly previous to FP). Oh and while we're talking about FreedomPop, with their scam extra fees (their free plan actually charges you $2.95-$4.95 per month), and their HORRIBLE customer service, the only positive with that company is they do not charge you to leave them (but I'm sure they will find a way to charge a "deactivation fee" soon enough).
    Reply
  • mcgregorsteve78
    good article, yet interested why you would choose a company that makes you use wifi as best deal for $25 with 2GB. I fired Repbblic because I was sick of the wifi goofiness. I found twigby and it is the same price AND I get to use Verizon and Sprint combined. I don't think any of these carriers let you do that. I dont know about your scoring, but Coverage is a big deal to me. Just thought I would point this out. Do with what you want with it
    Reply
  • thatpcdudellc
    I have been approached about a plan being sold via MLM called MCS Telecom AKA MCS USA. They are claiming to sell a plan that costs you $300 up front (plus $48 if you wish to port your existing number) and you will get service for 9 YEARS at no additional charge. They use the GSM networks and provide service to 93 countries. They give you SIM card that you put in your unlocked phone and PRESTO you have service for 9 years. Unlimited voice, text and Internet (although the fine print says they may throttle after 2 GB).

    mcstelecom . com

    When asked on how they will generate revenue to carry the company for 9 years, they CLAIM that they (and ALL the major carriers) make money just by having the phone on. He went on to claim that the major carriers could give us all our plan for free and still make money, LOTS of money. Somehow I doubt these claims and feel this is all too good to be true. Any comments on how this kind of business plan could work?
    Reply
  • rgd1101
    21254464 said:
    I have been approached about a plan being sold via MLM called MCS Telecom AKA MCS USA. They are claiming to sell a plan that costs you $300 up front (plus $48 if you wish to port your existing number) and you will get service for 9 YEARS at no additional charge. They use the GSM networks and provide service to 93 countries. They give you SIM card that you put in your unlocked phone and PRESTO you have service for 9 years. Unlimited voice, text and Internet (although the fine print says they may throttle after 2 GB).

    mcstelecom . com

    When asked on how they will generate revenue to carry the company for 9 years, they CLAIM that they (and ALL the major carriers) make money just by having the phone on. He went on to claim that the major carriers could give us all our plan for free and still make money, LOTS of money. Somehow I doubt these claims and feel this is all too good to be true. Any comments on how this kind of business plan could work?

    Look a lot like scam
    Reply
  • Dark Lord of Tech
    TOTAL Wireless is on the Verizon Network and is the best in my opinion.
    35.00 a month for unlimited talk and text and 5GB of Data. If you purchase a refill at Walmart you get 6GB of Data instead of the standard 5GB.
    Reply
  • kjwfromnh
    You’ve obviously not used MetroPCS. They were horrible. I traveled for work during the time I used Metro and in half of my locations I had no service. They sold knock-off phones that quit in months (I went thru 3 phones in about 14 months). Their customer service wasn’t just bad, they were dishonest. Stay. away.
    Reply
  • hrsweet3
    My carrier is RedPocket through whom I get Verizon service. I pay $10 + tax per month for 500 minutes, 500 text messages, and 500 MB of data. This is fine for a low usage user. RedPocket also has plans offering higher service levels.
    Reply