Cell Phone Service Recommendations

This page is a work in progress. I anticipate making substantial updates in the near future.


Before you choose a carrier...
Before choosing a cell phone service, I strongly recommend investigating the service quality each of the “Big Four” networks (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint) offer in areas where you use your phone. I walk through this process in The Ultimate Guide to U.S. Wireless Service Quality.

Details about my evaluation approach and its limitations can be found at the end of this page.

Strongly recommended carriers

Mint Mobile (T-Mobile’s network)

Mint Mobile operates on T-Mobile’s network and offers some of the best prices in the industry.[1] While T-Mobile’s network is mediocre in terms of nationwide reliability, the network is great in many regions.[2] If you spend most of your time in areas where T-Mobile’s network offers good coverage, Mint Mobile is likely a great, cost-effective option.

Mint’s standard plans all include unlimited texts and minutes along with 3-12 gigabytes of high-speed data.[3] My own experience with Mint’s customer support has been quite good, but I have the impression that a meaningful portion of Mint subscribers have had less positive experiences.[4] (Mint’s website | Coverage map | Full review)

⬇ Plans and pricing
Last updated 4/21/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed. Primarily sourced from Mint’s Plans web page.


All of Mint’s standard plans come with unlimited talk time, unlimited texts, and unlimited access to data at 2G speeds if high-speed data allotments are surpassed. The three standard plans differ in the amount of data allotted: plans include either 3, 8, or 12 gigabytes of data at 4G LTE speeds.

The price of each plan varies depending on how long of a term subscribers pay for upfront.

3GB 4G LTE plan:

  • 3 months: $25
  • 6 months: $20
  • 12 months: $15

8GB 4G LTE plan:

  • 3 months: $35
  • 6 months: $25
  • 12 months: $20

12GB 4G LTE plan:

  • 3 months: $45
  • 6 months: $35
  • 12 months: $25

The rates above do not include taxes or fees. In my first order with Mint, I paid an additional 15-20% of the base price in taxes in fees.

At the time of writing, Mint has an intro offer allowing the purchase of 3 months of service at the typical rates for 12 months of service.

Mint also allows users to add data onto their plans in the middle of a billing cycle (details and pricing). As of 4/21/2019, a 1GB data add-on costs $10 and a 3GB data add-on costs $20.

⬇ Relationship disclosure
Last updated 4/18/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed.


Mint Mobile offers an affiliate program with commissions of $20 per order.[5] As of 4/18/19, I am not a member of this program. I’ll likely join in the future.

Verizon

In my view, Verizon has the best nationwide wireless network.[6] While Verizon’s service tends to be expensive, the cost may be acceptable for consumers that value reliability, travel regularly, and don’t have tight budgets. Purchasing service directly from Verizon rather than service from an MVNO that runs over Verizon’s network may provide better roaming abilities and superior prioritization when the network is congested. Verizon’s prepaid service offers decent prices and appears to offer domestic roaming capabilities similar to those received by postpaid subscribers. (Verizon’s prepaid plans | Verizon’s postpaid plans | Coverage map[7] | Partial review)

⬇ Plans and pricing
Last updated 5/3/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed.


Postpaid plans
For details on the pricing of postpaid plans, see Verizon’s website.


Prepaid phone plans (primarily sourced from verizonwireless.com/prepaid/)
All prepaid phone plans include unlimited talk and text.

  • $30/month – 500 MB data
  • $40/month – 3 GB data
  • $50/month – 8 GB + 7 GB bonus data[8]
  • $65/month – Unlimited data

Family plans are available that provide discounts to the prices listed above. When an initial line is purchased at full price, the following multiline discounts are available:[9]

  • 3 GB data – $10 off the regular price
  • 8 GB data – $15 off the regular price
  • Unlimited – $20 off the regular price

A $5/month/line discount is available if subscribers pay automatically each month. This discount is not available for the first month of service. The prices above do not include taxes or fees.

⬇ Relationship disclosure
Last updated 5/21/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed.


I’m a member of one of Verizon’s affiliate programs. As I understand it, the program has the following commission structure:[10]
  • $80.00 on new service contracts
  • $24.00 on pre-paid plans and additional phone lines
  • 12% on accessories

Sometimes recommended carriers

Ting (T-Mobile or Sprint’s network)

Ting’s offers subscribers their choice of service over either T-Mobile or Sprint’s network.[11] The service is incredibly user-friendly, and my limited experience with Ting’s customer support has been more positive than the experience I’ve had with any other carrier.

Ting is built around a pay-for-what-you-use model. Monthly bills are calculated at the end of each period with a price of $6 per line plus additional charges that depend on the quantity of texts, minutes, and data used across all devices.[12] Ting may be an excellent option for families that don’t use their phones intensely and live in areas where Sprint or T-Mobile’s networks perform well. However, heavy data users may find that charges add up quickly. In my opinion, Ting is rarely the best option for single-line access.[13] (Ting’s website | Coverage map | Partial review)

⬇ Plans and pricing
Last updated 4/21/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed. Sourced from Ting’s Rates page.


Ting charges a base price of $6 per line. Beyond the base price, Ting uses a pay-for-what-you-use model based on the total quantity of minutes, texts, and data used across all devices on a single account.

Minutes:

  • None: +$0
  • 1–100: +$3
  • 101–500: +$9
  • 501–1000: +$18
  • 1001–2100: +$35
  • 2100: +1.9¢/min

Texts:

  • None: +$0
  • 1–100: +$3
  • 101–1000: +$5
  • 1001–2000: +$8
  • 2001–4800: +$11
  • Over 4800: +0.25¢/text

Data:

  • None: +$0
  • 1-100MB: +$3
  • 101-500MB: +$10
  • 501MB-1GB: +$16
  • 1GB-2GB: +$20
  • Above 2GB: +$10/GB

The rates above do not include taxes and fees.

Ting allows users to set up alerts and strict usage caps.[14]

⬇ Relationship disclosure
Last updated 5/6/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed.


I am a member of Ting’s affiliate program which offers a $25 commission for every new line activated.[15]

Red Pocket (T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon’s network)

Red Pocket offers service over subscribers’ choice of any one of the four of the major wireless networks.[16] Red Pocket’s plans on AT&T and Verizon’s networks are particularly well-priced.[17] Customers who are willing to purchase 360 days of service upfront may be able to get especially good deals via Red Pocket’s eBay store. That said, I’m hesitant to recommend the service too strongly due to a negative experience I had with customer support and issues that came up during the activation process.[18] (Red Pocket’s website | Red Pocket’s eBay store | Review)

⬇ Plans and pricing
Accuracy not guaranteed.


Monthly plans (via the main Red Pocket website, last updated 5/1/2019)
Each plan is available on all four on the major networks. Plans on Verizon’s network may have a lower data allotment at a given price point.

  • $10 per 30 days, 500 minutes, 500 texts, 500MB LTE data
  • $15 per 30 days, 1000 minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB LTE data
  • $19 per 30 days, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB LTE data
  • $30 per 30 days, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 5GB LTE data (3GB LTE on Verizon’s network), additional data at significantly reduced speeds
  • $40 per 30 days, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 10GB LTE data (5GB LTE on Verizon’s network), additional data at significantly reduced speeds
  • $60 per 30 days, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 20GB LTE data (10GB LTE on Verizon’s network), additional data at significantly reduced speeds

When I purchased one of these plans in April 2019, I did not have to pay anything additional for shipping or my SIM card.

Red Pocket has an inflexible and confusing family plan option. A multi-line discount is available for those that have multiple lines of service with the plan that is normally $30 per month (plan details listed above). Customers can receive a $10 per month discount on additional lines after the first month of service. No discount is applied in the first month of service. For example, a family could have three lines of service with the plan that is normally $30 per month. In the first month, the family would pay $90 (before any taxes or fees). In the second month of service, the family would pay $70 before any taxes or fees (reflecting a $10 discount on the second line and another $10 discount on the third line—no discount is offered on the first line of service).


Data-only, monthly plans (via the main Red Pocket website, last updated 5/1/2019)
These data-only plans use AT&T’s network.

  • $10 per month, 1GB
  • $15 per month, 2GB
  • $25 per month, $5GB

Multiple-month plans (via Red Pocket’s eBay store, information from 4/30/2019)
Unless otherwise noted, all the options in the eBay store were available with free shipping and access to any of the Big Four networks as of 4/30/2019. The listed quantities of minutes, texts, and data are refreshed on a monthly basis.

90 days of service:

  • $29 – 500 minutes, 500 texts, 500MB of data
  • $69 – Unlimited talk, unlimited texts, 1GB of data

360 days of service:

  • $60 – 100 minutes, 100 texts, 500MB of data
  • $99 – 500 minutes, 500 texts, 500MB of data
  • $169 – 1000 minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB of data
  • $205 – unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB of data
  • $229 – unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 2GB of data
  • $240 – unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 5GB of LTE data, additional data at reduced speeds (no option for Verizon’s network)
  • $399 – unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 10GB of LTE data, additional data at reduced speeds (no option for Verizon’s network)
⬇ Relationship disclosure
Last updated 4/21/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed.

As of 4/21/2019, I don’t think Red Pocket has an affiliate program for orders that go through the main Red Pocket website. Red Pocket does have a store on eBay, and eBay has an affiliate program. As of 4/21/2019, I am not making use of eBay’s affiliate program on Confusopoly.com.

Tello (Sprint’s network)

Tello is a well-priced MVNO running on Sprint’s network.[19] I haven’t tried it myself yet, but the service looks like it might be a good option for those who live in areas where Sprint’s network performs well. (Tello’s website | Coverage check)

⬇ Plans and pricing
Last updated 4/22/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed. Primarily sourced from Tello’s Build Your Own Plan page.

Tello allows users to build their own plan or select a pre-made plan. The pre-made plans are described below. Options for custom plans can be explored on Tello’s website.

Economy plan — $10 per month

  • 500MB of data
  • 200 minutes
  • Unlimited texts

Value plan — $14 per month

  • 1 GB of data
  • Unlimited minutes
  • Unlimited texts

Smart plan — $24 per month

  • 3 GB of data
  • Unlimited minutes
  • Unlimited texts

Data plan — $39 per month

  • 10 GB of data
  • Unlimited minutes
  • Unlimited texts

I’m not confident, but I think the prices above include taxes and fees. A Sprint SIM card is necessary to use Tello’s service. If you don’t have a SIM card, one can be purchased from Tello for $9.99.

⬇ Relationship disclosure
Last updated 4/22/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed.

Tello offers an affiliate program. Based on information available to Commission Junction users, I believe Tello offers a commission equivalent to the cost of the first month of service for new subscribers. As of 4/22/2019, I am not currently a member of Tello’s affiliate program.

Google Fi (T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular’s networks)

If you have a Fi-enabled device, Google Fi’s service will run on T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular’s networks simultaneously.[20] For devices that are not Fi-enabled, the service will run over T-Mobile’s network.[21] The service starts with a base price of $20 per month for unlimited talk and text. Data cost $10 per gigabyte, but Fi only bills for data that actually gets used.[22] Google Fi may be a phenomenal option for international travelers thanks to roaming access at no extra charge in over 200 countries and territories.[23] (Fi’s website | Coverage map)

⬇ Plans and pricing
Last updated 4/22/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed. Primarily sourced from Google Fi’s Plan page.

Google Fi has an extremely simple pricing structure. The service has a base price of $20 for service with unlimited talk and texts. Additional lines with unlimited talk and text cost $15 per month. Data is then available for $10 per gigabyte. The data is charged based on use. For example, if I use 2GB of data in one billing cycle and 3.4GB in a subsequent cycle, the amount I pay for data will be $20 in the first and $34 in the second.

On a single line, data charges are capped after 6 gigabytes following what Google calls “Bill Protection.” A single line that uses 6GBs of data will incur a monthly cost of $80. A single line that uses 10GB of data will still only cost $80 thanks to Bill Protection. The point where Bill Protection kicks in changes based on the number of lines on an account:

  • 1 line – 6GB
  • 2 lines – 10GB
  • 3 lines – 12GB
  • 4 lines – 14GB
  • 5 lines – 16GB
  • 6 lines – 18GB

Data will be slowed for users that exceed 15GB in a single month.[24]

The prices mentioned above do not include any taxes or fees. As of 4/22/2019, an entry on Google Fi’s FAQ (archived here) states the following:
“Taxes and government surcharges vary per state, but are normally between 10-20%. For example, if your monthly bill is $40, the taxes on your statement could be between $4-8.”

Google Fi allows roaming in 200+ countries and territories at no additional charge (when abroad, normal data will continue to be used at normal rates).

⬇ Relationship disclosure
Last updated 4/22/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed.

Google Fi offers a referral program that provides $20 bill credits for new subscribers. Each referrer is capped at $200 of credit. As of 4/22/2019, I am not making use of Fi’s referral program. I am not aware of Fi running any program that offers cash commissions rather than bill credits.

Consumer Cellular (AT&T or T-Mobile’s network)

Consumer Cellular is an MVNO that offers service over either AT&T or T-Mobile’s networks. The company goes out of its way to make its service especially simple and appealing to senior citizens. Plans are decently priced for access to AT&T’s network, but other MVNOs offer significantly cheaper access to T-Mobile’s network.[25] (Consumer Cellular’s website, Full review)

⬇ Plans and pricing
Last updated 4/22/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed. Primarily sourced from Consumer Cellular’s Plans page.

Service starts at $15 per month for a single line with 250 minutes. For an additional $5, subscribers can have unlimited minutes.
Any of the following data allowances can be selected.

  • 250MB +$5 per month
  • 2GB +$10 per month
  • 5GB +$20 per month
  • 10GB +$30 per month
  • 20GB +$40 per month

A second line can be added for an additional $15 per month.[26] The second line will share the allotted minutes and data with the initial line.

AARP members can get a 5% discount on Consumer Cellular’s service. The prices mentioned above do not include taxes and fees.

⬇ Relationship disclosure
Last updated 4/22/2019. Accuracy not guaranteed.

As of 4/22/2019, I am not aware of a Consumer Cellular affiliate program.[27]


Methodology

I don’t make broad recommendations or rank carriers numerically. That approach rarely works well. Since cell phone users differ substantially in how they use their phones, where they use their phones, and what kind of budgets they have, I recommend carriers that I think are a good fit for several common scenarios people find themselves in.

Limitations

  • I am not impartial since I receive commissions from some cell phone carriers. For details about monetary relationships (or lack thereof) see the “Relationship disclosure” sections.
  • I’ve tried to prioritize investigating carriers that are likely to be good options for many consumers, but it’s possible there are good carriers I haven’t tried or listed.
  • When assessing network quality, I draw on information collected by other evaluation companies. I’ve written about the methodologies used by many of these companies: RootMetrics, Opensignal, Tutela, Consumer Reports, and Nielsen. I have non-trivial concerns about every one of these companies’ methodologies.
  • Consumers vary in what they’re looking for from a cell phone carrier. While I try to cover a number of common situations consumers find themselves in, there are consumers with use cases I don’t cover.

Footnotes

  1. Expand the “Plans and pricing” section below for more information.
  2. Here’s my rough, high-level assessment of the four nationwide networks in terms of network reliability:

    • Verizon (best)
    • AT&T (2nd place)
    • T-Mobile (3rd place, significantly behind AT&T)
    • Sprint (worst)

    I go into far more more detail about the reliability of nationwide networks here.

    If you tend to spend time in a limited number of areas, coverage quality in those areas will be more important than nationwide coverage quality. For an explanation of how you can assess coverage quality in small regions, see The Ultimate Guide to U.S. Wireless Service Quality.

  3. By high-speed data, I mean 4G LTE data. Once all of the 4G LTE data allotted in a plan is used, Mint subscribers have access to unlimited data at 2G speeds. Expand the “Plans and pricing” section for more information.
  4. I go into more detail in the “Support experience” section of my Mint Mobile review.
  5. See Mint Mobile’s affiliate program web page (archived copy from 4/18/2019).
  6. I discuss this in some depth in my article Reliability of Nationwide U.S. Wireless Networks.
  7. Scroll down on the linked page to get to the section with a coverage map.
  8. At the time of writing there is a promotion that bumps the data allotment on the 8 GB plan up to 15 GBs. My impression is that the bonus 7 GB of data will continue to be allotted to existing customers each month even after the promotion ends. It looks like the promotion is slotted to end on 5/20/2019.
  9. If purchasing lines with different data allotments, it looks like the total discount can be maximized by designating the line with the least data as the “initial line.”
  10. This is based on information found within my account on FlexOffers.com. I believe the commission structure Verizon offers via CJ (Commission Junction) is different.
  11. See Ting’s Coverage web page (archived copy as of 4/18/2019). As of 4/18/19, that web page mentions that subscribers have their choice of either Sprint’s network or an unnamed, nationwide GSM network. That is T-Mobile’s network. At the time of writing, users can have a single plan with some devices on Sprint’s network and other devices on T-Mobile’s network.
  12. For more information, either expand the “Plans and pricing” section below or take a look at Ting’s Rates webpage.
  13. Expand the “Plans and pricing” section below for more details on data pricing.
  14. “You can set alerts and hard usage caps in your Ting Dashboard. You can even set custom alerts and caps for different phones under your account. That means one phone can have access to data while another can be restricted to talk and text.”
    From Ting’s Rates page on 4/21/2019 (archived here).
  15. See Ting’s Partnerships web page (archived copy from 4/18/2019).
  16. “Red Pocket Mobile offers services on your choice of any major US networks!”
    From Red Pocket’s What networks does Red Pocket offer? page as of 4/21/2019 (archived here).
  17. As of 4/21/2019, Red Pocket charges essentially the same rates regardless of the network used for plans with relatively small data allowances. For plans with moderately large data allowances, plans on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint’s networks all appear to have the same prices. Plans with a moderately large amount of data on Verizon’s network offer less data than plans with the same price points on other networks.
  18. See my review of Red Pocket for more details. I experienced these issues when trying to activate service that used Verizon’s network. It’s possible the issues I experienced were network-specific.
  19. “Coast-to-coast wireless coverage is provided on Nationwide Sprint® Network.”
    From the Why Tello web page as of 4/21/2019.
  20. “Unlike other phone plans, Google Fi offers cellular coverage across three leading networks (T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular) and Wi-Fi hotspots, with a phone designed for Fi.”
    From the Google Fi FAQ page as of 4/21/2019.
  21. “Phones that are not designed for Fi but are still compatible with Fi have nationwide access to the T-Mobile network.”
    From the Google Fi FAQ page as of 4/21/2019.
  22. At the time of writing, the base price of service was $20 with a $10 per gigabyte fee and a cap that limited data charges to $60 per month. For the latest pricing information, see Google Fi’s Plan web page.
  23. While roaming, users pay the same rate for data that they would pay in the United States.
  24. “Data is slowed (but still free) for the rest of the month for anyone who uses over 15 GB on your plan.”
    From Google Fi’s Plan page as of 4/22/2019 (archived here).

    Users wanting large amounts of high-speed data can pay to avoid the slow speeds after 15GBs are used. As of 4/22/2019, a section on Google Fi’s FAQ (archived here) states the following:
    “If you need significant amounts of high speed data, you can opt to pay $10/GB for the data you use past 15 GB in a given cycle.”

  25. As of April 2019, Consumer Cellular’s prices don’t appear to vary based on the network used. Mint Mobile is an example of an MVNO that offers access to T-Mobile’s network at lower prices.
  26. I believe Consumer Cellular allows more than two lines on an account, but it looks like additional lines must be purchased over the phone rather than online.
  27. Consumer Cellular does have a sort of referral deal for existing customers that offers bill credits when subscribers are referred via email. As of 4/22/2019, I am not making use of that deal.