As cell phones continue to improve and progress so do the plans that make them useful in the first place. While “The Big Four” (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile) are still considered the best mobile phone plans, and sought after by most they are no longer your only viable choice.
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There was also a time where prepaid plans, or “pay as you go” were only reserved for your granddaddy (no offense, grandpa). Those days have changed as more people are flocking to budget plans to avoid the steep prices of “The Big Four”, and honestly some of them are providing as good of coverage (if not better) than the major carriers.
Lastly, new Wi-Fi based options are hitting the market by storm (Google Fi, Republic Wireless) and could represent the future of the top phone plans on the market.
Best Performance for Money Spent
It may surprise you to learn that while Verizon still kicks butt for its combination of speed, coverage and overall performance it is arguably not the best value in terms of price paid.
For example, you’ll spend $85 per line for Verizon’s Beyond Limited line, which don’t me wrong is a phenomenal package yet for cell phone users that do not need all the flashy extras it actually is not the best value.
Straight Talk ($45 p/ month) and Traphone (prepaid, starts at $9.99) cost a fraction of Verizon or AT&T yet still use their networks.
What is an MNO? Why are these plans so much cheaper than The Big Four?
An MNO stands for “mobile network operators”. Remember this term because you are going to hear it a lot.
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all own their own MNOs. They have multi-million dollar ad campaigns each year to fight over which carrier has the best network.
Prepaid wireless carries, meanwhile, do not own their own network. Instead, they “borrow” the MNO of a larger company, such as Sprint.
In the past, they were second rate carriers because the cellular signal was not as dependable on. It has changed, however, as surprisingly some prepaid carrier borrow not off one, two, but three different networks.
If the signal from one network is weak, it tries another tower to see if it’s any better. Sometimes this provides more reliable coverage (not to mention half the monthly cost) compared to the Big Four.
Major Carriers vs. Prepaid Phone Plans of 2019
Today, it’s no longer the case that you need to sign an annual contract to get a good mobile phone.
The catch with the prepaid guys you are going to have to buy the phone up-front. It’s not feasible for everyone if you want a $600 iPhone 6. However, if you are just looking for a basic cell phone — it is a fantastic option.
Quality of Coverage, Speed & Overall Performance
You will hear these three words strung together a lot in the best plans for smartphones conversation. According to Tom’s Guide, one of the most reliable third-party sources out there for speed, coverage and overall performance testing concluded that:
- Boost Mobile
- Straight Talk
Most of the top contenders offer coverage to most major regions of the United States, but many are still lagging when it comes to covering less populated, rural regions.
If you don’t live by a major city, this is an important aspect to investigate, especially since some service providers market themselves with truth-bending “coverage maps.”
Data Usage – How much will I actually use?
All the carriers promise a great data package but how much do you really need? How much will you actually use?
Figuring out data is kind of a science as each video, song you play, email you check or send, etc eats away at it differently. Here is a general rule of thumb.
1GB of data = lets you send or receive approximately 1,000 emails as well as browse the Web for about 20 hours every month.
There is no need to get hooked into a higher priced phone plan if you rarely use a smartphone for email or browsing the Internet.
Understanding Different Mobile Plans for 2019
If you’re going to buy any type of cell phone, you should also look into buying another one while you’re at it.
Most providers offer significant discounts on small business or family plans that will lower the initial cost of each device and your monthly bill.
Employees, family members, friends – if someone you know needs a new phone you can both save a ton of money by going in on a plan together.
Contract Term and Pricing
Prepaid vs. Contract is an important decision, but once you choose you’re going to have to grapple with the service provider’s terms and conditions.
Before you sign, make sure you know exactly how long you’re signing up for. Also, pay attention to the contract’s rates. Service providers will often lure new customer’s in with attractively low pricing, only to jack it up after the first few months.
When in doubt, check the fine print.
As with contractual terms and pricing, most mobile devices will also come with additional fees, some of which are hidden.
Roaming, or using another provider’s network for temporary service, has been a big offender for years. In the age of smartphones, there can also be huge fees on data usage that exceeds the amount stipulated in your plan.
While you can’t really remove these fees, knowing about them can help you stay within your budget, and at least prevent an unpleasant surprise when the bill comes at the end of the month.