Smart Home & AI

Best Cell Phone Carriers: T-Mobile vs Verizon vs AT&T vs Sprint, US Cellular, Google Fi & More

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A giant red cell phone radio tower with blue sky background
Looking to save money on your cell phone plan? It’s not fair that cell phone providers take advantage of us and sell us overpriced phones and plans. The good news is the market is changing, and good deals are available once again.

We want to mention that just because one carrier is good in one area of the United States does not mean they will perform well in your area. We strongly suggest you ask around about the carrier you are considering to see how good they are in your neck of the woods. We’ve based the information in this article on overall performance in the U.S.

Please note that these are reviews of cell phone carriers. There are dozens of cell phone providers (resellers of cell phone carrier services) that may potentially offer more competitive plans, using the same networks. It all depends on your location, voice, text and data needs. Check out our article comparing the best cell phone plans for the scoop.

5 Factors To Consider

Before we get into the winners for best cell data plans and our full wireless phone plan comparison, we wanted to point out that there are five main things you’ll want to know before choosing your cell phone carrier:

  1. Coverage
  2. Data speeds
  3. Plans
  4. Phone models available
  5. Customer service

What you find out about the carriers involving these five items could make it or break it for you so be sure to keep them in mind while you compare cell phone plans.

1. Coverage Is Of Paramount Importance

This is the most important consideration when it comes to choosing a carrier. Purchasing a phone and plan from a carrier that doesn’t have service in your area is worthless. Cell phone companies typically have those little coverage maps of the United States to show you the areas they cover. These are good places to start, but you should also do your own research.

Just because they say they cover your area doesn’t mean the service is great. Places you travel to often is another thing to keep in mind. If you spend a lot of your time traveling, you’ll want to have good coverage in those locations as well. One tip is to ask your neighbor and coworkers who their phone providers are and if they are pleased with the service.

2. Data Speeds Need To Be Lightning Fast

Do you plan on using your smartphone to access the internet, stream music and video, download apps and send emails? (Of course, you are.) Then data speed will be important to you.

Currently, the fastest data speed currently available nationally is 5G (and no, the technology is not a government conspiracy as some had suggested). In fact, it’s a game changer when it comes to streaming video and has become a real broadband competitor. 5G is expanding across the country by carrier, starting in bigger cities. Ask the carrier you are considering about availability or the timeline for your area. Additionally, your mobile phone must be 5G-compatible for this new service to work.

No one wants their phone to load at the pace of dial-up internet. Yikes, that dial-up sound still irritates me.

3. How To Choose A Plan?

Obviously you’re looking for the cheapest cell phone plans in your area with the best features. It’s important to find a plan that includes the functionality you want but doesn’t force you to eat Ramen Noodles for the rest of your life.

Most carriers offer a plan with unlimited talk and text but how much extra do they charge for media usage? Make sure you know how much your plan will cost you a month and how long you’re tied into your contract.

4. What Phone Do You Want?

If you’ve had your heart set on a specific phone make sure the carrier has it. U.S. Cellular didn’t get the iPhone until five years after it was released. This bummed out quite a few customers and some switched carriers because of it. So, if a new phone is coming out, be sure to ask if the carrier will be offering this hardware.

5. Why Customer Service Matters

This is a huge determining factor when you’re choosing any company over another. In case there is a problem, you want to make sure your issue is solved in a friendly, timely manner. No one wants to deal with long wait times or a jerk on the phone who won’t listen to you. Ask around your neighborhood to see what others’ experiences have been.

A smartphone taking picture of sunglasses, a photo, and two ice cream cups on grass
If you take the time selecting the right carrier, you’ll end up with a smartphone that can last you for years, without breaking the bank.

Best Cell Phone Carriers

Below are the top three cell phone carriers our pros picked for this year based on the five factors we laid out above.

Winner: Verizon Review

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Verizon is the largest cell phone carrier in the U.S., but does that make them the best? Verizon pros: they have a great reputation and has coverage even in many remote areas where “No Service” is the prominent message from most carriers. Their performance is outstanding and they have tons of phones to choose from. Their customer support team is also impressive.

Verizon cons? They tend to be on the more expensive side. What you’re truly paying for is Verizon’s reliability. They know they’re the best so they charge an arm and a leg and do not offer to pay your early termination fees.

  • Reliable
  • Coverage in more remote areas where other services do not perform
  • Unlimited data plan
  • Diverse phone selection
  • Great customer support team
  • Offers 4G LTE and 5G in most areas
  • No annual cell phone contracts
  • Expensive
  • Does not pay early termination fees if switching from another carrier

What Is Verizon’s Device Payment Program?

Verizon Device Payment, formerly called Verizon Edge, is a device payment program that spreads the cost of your device over a 24-month period. So if your device costs $599.99 it will cost you about $24.99/month for 24 months.

This doesn’t mean you’re locked into a two-year contract with Verizon though, so there are no early termination fees. Other perks of Verizon Device Payment are no activation fees and no finance charges.

Runner-Up: T-Mobile Review

t mobile logo pink 250

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It’s tough to beat T-Mobile’s price and performance. The trouble is they might not cover your area. T-Mobile pros? They got rid of their annual contracts so you can end your service whenever you want. They offer unlimited talk, text, and data at a reasonable price. T-Mobile recently acquired Sprint so they now service those customers as well.

Before going with T-Mobile, we suggest asking around to see how they perform in your local area.

  • Low prices
  • High speeds
  • Unlimited data plan
  • No contracts or termination fees
  • Offers 4G LTE and 5G in most areas
  • Poor coverage in rural areas and sometimes in urban areas too (be sure to check their reputation in your area)

3rd Place: AT&T Review

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AT&T is the second-largest cell phone provider in the United States and you may remember them as Cingular Wireless (the two companies merged a decade or so back). They have great coverage, but not quite as good as Verizon.

From our research, it looks like they could also improve customer service. So if you have a problem with AT&T billing or coverage, you may be frustrated with the resolution of it.

  • Fast download speeds
  • Good coverage in the U.S.
  • Offers 4G LTE and 5G in most areas
  • AT&T Next Up lets you upgrade devices when you’ve paid off 50% of current phone
  • Contract is not required
  • Not as strong of a network as Verizon
  • More expensive than competitors, extra fees
  • From what we’ve heard from customers and read online, poor customer service

Cell Phone Plan Comparison Table

 1st Verizon2nd T-Mobile3rd AT&TU.S. CellularGoogle Fi
PlanVerizon UnlimitedT-Mobile One (Unlimited)AT&T Unlimited StarterU.S. Cellular Unlimited BasicSimply Unlimited
1 Line$70/mo$70/mo$65/mo$55/mo$50/mo
2 Lines$60/mo$60/mo$60/mo$53/mo$40/mo
3 Lines$45/mo$40/mo$45/mo$39/mo$25/mo
4 Lines$35/mo$35/mo$35/mo$40/mo$20/mo
IncludesApple Music free for 6 monthsMobile hotspot (up to 3G)Unlimited calling and texting in Mexico and Canada, spam blocking. Unlimited calling and texting
Discount For Auto Bill?n/a$5 discount for AutoPay$10 Off Per Bill (included in pricing above)$5 Off Per Bill (included in pricing above)n/a
All monthly costs have taxes and fees added to amount listed. 5G speeds if available in your area, otherwise 4G LTE or slower.

Honorable Mention: U.S. Cellular Review

U.S. Cellular logo

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U.S. Cellular is continuing to expands its national coverage and availability of 5G, making it a national player in the industry. Their coverage is sometimes better than the big three (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile), depending on your location. US Cellular’s rewards system allows customers to redeem new devices at a lower price.

  • Great rewards system
  • Good variety of smartphone choices
  • Offers 4G LTE in most locations and 5G in many
  • Multiple reports of billing problems from customers
  • Not the most affordable plans
  • No unlimited data plans
  • 5G is still not available in all areas

Google Fi Review

Google Fi logo

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You knew it only had to be a matter of time before Google entered the lucrative cell phone carrier space. Well, here they are, and their entry is no slouch. With rapidly expanding nationwide 5G coverage and competitive pricing, they are quickly becoming the cell phone carrier to beat.

The phones they offer are designed for Fi, and they intelligently switch between networks and secure Wi-Fi connections. All plans include nationwide 5G for supported phones. The key difference between Google Fi and other phone carriers is that it changes between cellular networks, so depending on where you are you may be using a different network so you have the fastest connection.

Increasing selection of smartphones5G not available in all areas
Expanding nationwide 5G coverage (see map below)Potential customers cite privacy concerns given Google’s track record
Intelligent network switching for optimal coverageLimited selection of phones compared to others
Unlimited plans and unlimited tethering option

Google Fi Coverage Map

Map of the United States showing Google Fi cell phone coverage for 4G LTE (light green) and 5G (dark green)
Google Fi’s 5G coverage is expanding rapidly. 4G LTE is light green, 5G dark green, and white is no coverage. Data as of 10/1/2022.

Who Is The Best Phone Carrier?

Finding the best phone carrier in your area doesn’t have to make you want to pull your hair out. Start your search by asking friends, family, and neighbors how they like their service. Ask them how much they pay (if they don’t mind sharing) and what their plan includes as well as the performance.

If you’re close to them, ask if you can take a couple of minutes to surf the web on their phone or download an app. Firsthand experience with the service will always beat out hearsay. Then, when you’ve narrowed down your search, come back here and check out the pros and cons for each company to see which is the best fit for you and your needs.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Hopefully, you found a good fit and are ready to make the switch. When shopping around for plans, make sure you are considering your cell phone insurance options. Good service and coverage can have an impact on your phone life as well.

Kimberly Alt

Kimberly is our home security expert and has been writing about security and safety since 2013, covering everything from security systems and home automation to identity theft protection, home warranties, medical alert systems, and more. She has personally tested hundreds of system components and interfaced with dozens of home security companies to find out what’s happening behind the scenes. Her work has appeared in many notable brands, including The New York Times' Wirecutter, Reader's Digest, Forbes, People, Woman's World, and Huffington Post. In 2018, she had her first child, which opened up a whole new avenue of security experience with baby gear. She wanted to purchase the safest items for her family. Kimberly received her Bachelor of Arts in multimedia journalism from Simpson College. Her natural curiosity helps her research as she seeks the truth when learning about, comparing, and personally testing products and services.
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