“The first point to consider is which carrier has the best service where you live and work or spend much of your time,” say Jamie Huff and Tammy Parker, wireless analysts at Current Analysis. The quality of a provider’s network can vary drastically within the same city or metro area. To illustrate this difference, here’s what Verizon looks like next to T-Mobile in terms of nationwide speeds (the blue means faster data speeds detected; the orange indicates slower):
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Even as carriers offer multiple tiers of unlimited data plans, the T-Mobile One plan remains the best choice for families. It gives a family of four unlimited data for $160 a month. We wish T-Mobile still let you stream HD video as part of its T-Mobile One plan, but for most users, 480p video on a smartphone-sized screen will be good enough. (Families can pay an extra $10 per month per line if they really want HD streaming.) T-Mobile's network delivers comparable performance to Verizon, which charges more for its best unlimited family plan, though Verizon also lets you mix and match different unlimited options for each line of your family plan.
I shopped on line for a phone for my daughter to use while she was in Europe. After reading several endorsements from different sources, I decided to give the 'too good to be true' Mobal phone a try. I am a cynical shopper, especially with phones, but must report that the connection quality was the best I have ever experienced - not a single dropped call, no cutting in and out, I spoke to my daughter in Italy like it was around the corner! I was very pleased.
Ashley Turner is director of Gadget Valuer – one of America’s biggest gadget trade-in comparison sites. Launching in 2009, the founding team wanted to create a completely independent recycling comparison website after running an actual phone recycling site. Such experience in the recycling market means Turner is constantly in touch with the latest trade-in trends and consumer habits.
Inessa Kraft is an international traveler, iPhone SE advanced user, actress, who starred in various inspirational and travel films, videos, advertisement and TV series, including an award winning travel film Snowing Summer, besides traveling often for the shootings, she lives location independently and makes short educational films with her homeschooling kid.
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We focus on the Big Four because they dominate the market. But consumers looking for a good deal or great customer service should also check out smaller companies. Our ratings of 20 providers are based on the experiences of about 100,000 Consumer Reports members. The Big Four are all near the bottom of the chart, though T-Mobile rates somewhat higher than its competitors. (Ratings are available to members.)
It’s also worth noting that although you’ll get unlimited data when traveling with T-Mobile One, you’re capped at an exceedingly slow 128 kbps. Most 4G connections can deliver average speeds of 3Mbps to 6Mbps. If you need to boost your speeds, you can choose T-Mobile’s 256-kbps option for an extra $25 a month as part of its T-Mobile One Plus International plan. (That plan includes other perks, such as unlimited calling to landlines and mobile numbers in select countries, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi if you’re on a plane that uses Gogo, and HD video streaming.) In Mexico and Canada, T-Mobile used to allow unlimited 4G LTE coverage with its One plan, but you're now capped at 5GB with speeds slowed to 2G after that.

TracFone, Net10, and Straight Talk, all properties of the Mexican carrier América Móvil, consistently rank among the most widely used prepaid services. They offer the advantage of reselling service from all four carriers, at the cost of having to trust the company’s judgment about which network works bests for you, as Prepaid Phone News editor Dennis Bournique explains in a helpful post.

You’ll want to start your shopping by checking for the strongest networks in your area. RootMetrics lets you check network coverage in your neighborhood and you can search the site’s map by area code, city, or neighborhood, and zoom in as much as you want — the site analyzes coverage almost to the backyard level. You can apply filters from the drop-down menu to look at specific providers or at specific types of coverage, like voice versus data. We’d recommend comparing two providers with the strongest coverage in areas you frequent, like home, work, or school.
AT&T also comes with varied international pricing depending on where you want to go. If you’re heading to Mexico or Canada, for instance, AT&T already covers all of your voice, data and text with its Unlimited & More and Unlimited & More Premium plans; you won’t incur additional charges. If you’re still on a tiered data plan with AT&T, you’ll pay $10 per day for unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada. Data will be governed by your plan’s monthly allowance.
OpenSignal’s network tests rely on crowdsourcing: Anyone can download the OpenSignal app and run tests. But that also means anyone can opt not to do so—and the majority of people don’t. As such, OpenSignal’s data skews heavily toward densely populated, urban areas. The upside is that in those regions, it has block-by-block information. If you live in a city, you can use OpenSignal’s data to check all the spots you frequent.
We quizzed experts, crunched numbers, and pored over fine print and pricing to help you figure out how much data you need, which network offers the best coverage where you need it, and whether a postpaid or prepaid plan is the best for you. We think that Verizon Wireless’s single-line 5 GB plan is the best cell phone plan for most people, but we have a variety of picks for different needs.
We've some of our favorite cell phone plans in these categories already. Ready to start comparing yourself? Head over to WhistleOut's comparison engine, choose your text/talk/data preferences, type in your home address, and press "Search." For a more detailed breakdown, check out this step-by-step guide to using WhistleOut to find your next cell phone plan. 
Verizon has shuffled up its unlimited plans, and that has an impact on people who like to use their data plan while traveling. Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited subscribers both enjoy unlimited talk, text and data for no additional charge in Mexico and Canada. However, while calls and messages are truly unlimited, data will be throttled from LTE to 2G speeds after 512MB.

If you need better connectivity to, say, hail a Lyft from the Acropolis, simply add a global package to your current service. It's shockingly easy. For example, AT&T offers a service called Passport, which gets you 200 MB of data and unlimited texting in more than 200 countries for just $40 tacked onto your current monthly plan. (Calls abroad still cost a buck a minute, so talk quickly.) Verizon offers a similar service, Travel Pass, that costs $5 a day to extend your plan to Mexico and Canada and $10 per day for service in more than 100 other countries. How much data you need depends upon how active you plan to be online. Posting 30 photos to social media costs about 10 MB; each web page you visit costs about one. Downloading apps like Whatsapp lets you send texts and make calls without racking up minutes, and disabling "automatic refresh" on email and other apps helps avoid blowing through your data allowance.


Sign up for Google's Project Fi, and you need never worry about running out of data when you're overseas. The service costs $20 a month for talk and text, plus $10 for each gigabyte of data you use, with Google now capping monthly bills at $80 even if you need to use more data. Project Fi lets you draw from your regular high-speed data in more than 135 countries with no roaming charges. You just pay the same $10-per-gigabyte rate as before. (You're also credited on your next bill for any data you didn't use.) Unlimited international texting comes with every plan and calls cost just 20 cents a minute. The number of Project Fi-compatible phones is expanding: in addition to Google's Pixel devices, you can now use the Moto X4 and G6 in addition to LG's G7 ThinQ and V35 ThinQ.


Verizon’s $85 Beyond Unlimited plan allows higher-definition video—720p resolution on phones, 1080p on tablets—and 15 GB of LTE tethering. But it imposes the same auto-pay requirements to avoid sending your pre-tax-and-fees bill to $100. The company’s $95 Above Unlimited plan caters to frequent travelers with a 20 GB LTE tethering allotment and five free one-day international roaming Travel Passes each month. It also raises the deprioritization threshold to 75 GB and throws in 500 GB of Verizon cloud storage, but still limits video streaming to 720p.
Buying a cheap prepaid phone when you get off the plane can often be much more cost-effective than using your usual plan abroad. Or, you can call your carrier and ask whether your phone is compatible with international SIM cards. If so, you can buy a prepaid SIM in your destination country and simply pop it into your phone for access to the local network.
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Why we love it: Sprint's new Unlimited Plus plan improves upon the carrier's now-scrapped Unlimited Freedom plan with a 15GB hotspot, texting to 185 countries, 10GB of data in Mexico and Canada, and a Tidal subscription. This in addition to the perks of the previous plan, which include a Hulu subscription and unlimited HD streaming. When you bring your existing phone or buy one at full retail price from Sprint, you can all of this for an incredible $60—which is pretty great. 
Some devices may automatically transmit and receive data without any user action or knowledge. This may result in significant unexpected cellular data charges. Applications such as push email, news and weather updates, location services and many downloadable apps (even free ones) may do this. This list is not at all exhaustive; therefore, to avoid unexpected bills, we recommend that you take great care to disable automatic applications on your device.
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Some devices may automatically transmit and receive data without any user action or knowledge. This may result in significant unexpected cellular data charges. Applications such as push email, news and weather updates, location services and many downloadable apps (even free ones) may do this. This list is not at all exhaustive; therefore, to avoid unexpected bills, we recommend that you take great care to disable automatic applications on your device.
Because if you don’t pick the phone wisely and you keep on using unlimited data, you’ll have to pay lots of extra charges for that.The first thing you need to consider when buying a mobile phone is whether it features GSM Band, and if it does, you need to consider at what frequencies does it work. Then with the help of these frequencies, you can check in which countries your phone’ll work.
T-Mobile has changed the name of its MetroPCS to Metro by T-Mobile, to eliminate the idea that you're making a trade-off when you opt for a prepaid cellphone plan. One of the ways it's fighting that preconception is by doubling the amount of data you get with its $40 a month plan to 10GB. That edges out AT&T's 8GB plan, which costs the same amount after you deduct $10 by enrolling in autopay. Metro's plan also includes taxes and fees in that $40 rate.
In evaluating plans, we looked at the four major U.S. carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — and what they offer. We also evaluated five discount carriers: Boost Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS, Straight Talk and Virgin, and to help you stretch your dollar even further, we looked at plans from several smaller discount carriers. In addition to price, we considered network coverage and performance, including results from our own 4G network testing in half-a-dozen cities. In some cases, total savings on one carrier’s plan outweighed the performance edge another carrier might enjoy; other times, network performance was a deciding factor in our choice.
Verizon is the nation’s largest carrier for good reason: It offers the best coverage in the most places in the US according to third-party tests and surveys (including those of PCMag and RootMetrics), so you’re more likely to have a signal no matter where you are, and its pricing is competitive with that of AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile for the amount of data that most people actually use. It isn’t the best choice for people who frequently travel outside of the US or who want unlimited data, but it is the first carrier everyone else should look at.
First things first: The only phones you’ll be able to use when you travel internationally are those considered “world phones,” meaning those that can be used as easily abroad as they are domestically. That means the phone must be capable of running on a GSM network, as that’s the predominant networking standard around the world. But if you’re on a CDMA network (Sprint or Verizon) here in the states, don’t despair: Many top smartphones these days can support both bands, thus simplifying travel.

Among services that let you bring your own phone, Verizon Prepaid provides the best deals for four lines, thanks to generous multiple-line discounts on its 3 and 7 GB (per line) plans that drop those four-line costs to $100 and $125, respectively. The only exception is the least appealing data amount: four lines with 1 GB each, where AT&T Prepaid is cheapest at $90 a month. Cricket offers more data in our medium-usage scenario—$110 buys you 5 GB per line—but that comes with an 8 Mbps speed limit and no hotspot support.
If you travel farther from home, things get pricier. Monthly travel plans to 140 other countries, like Germany and France, cost $25 per month. On top of that, you’ll pay $1.79 per minute for talk time and 50 cents for every text message you send. (Verizon also charges 5 cents for every text message you receive.) You’ll get 100MB of data during the month, and all data overages will cost you $25 per 100MB of additional usage.
Vienne Brown, Founder of VienneMilano, is an entrepreneur and independent professional. Throughout her career, her passion has been to see products come to life, from concept to market. She’s served a variety of clients, from international corporations, to startups, to nonprofit organizations, focusing on marketing and product management. Her personal interests include fashion and automobiles. Originally from Hong Kong, she lives in Boston.
Verizon’s plans are consistently more expensive than those of its competitors. For example, the T-Mobile One unlimited plan starts at $70 for one line, with data speed throttled at 50 GB. Verizon’s basic unlimited plan, by comparison, starts at $75, with data speed slowed at unpredictable times based on congestion. The next tier guarantees fast speeds until you hit 22 GB, with a price hike up to $85; the most advanced plan, with throttling at 75 GB, costs $95 for a single line.
I thought this would be a relatively simple matter until I started analyzing the technical issues involved. The solution was further complicated because most of the customer agents I spoke with for the different carriers really did not understand their own service offerings and many said that prepay phones could not be used for roaming in foreign countries.
The biggest benefit to simply signing up for your carrier’s international data plan is the fact that it is the easiest option available and keeps you the most connected to loved ones back home. Because your phone isn’t turned off and you are able to use your existing phone number, friends and family can still reach you the same way they would if you were down the street in the US. It is less expensive than not having an international plan at all if you plan to use it for phone calls or Internet access while away.
Among the basic-economy, entry-level versions of unlimited data, Sprint deserves some credit for requiring the fewest compromises beyond the streaming-video 480p resolution enforced by all four: Sprint’s Unlimited Basic, $60 for one line, still includes 500 MB of LTE hotspot use (more than I use in most months) and overseas roaming (though at slower speeds). T-Mobile Essentials, at $60, offers only free texting overseas—international voice and data are extra—and limits hotspot use to 3G speeds (although OpenSignal rated its 3G downloads highest among all four). Verizon’s $75 Go Unlimited caps hotspot use at a punitive 600 Kbps, while AT&T’s $75 Unlimited & More bans hotspot use outright.
If you’re in search of a budget option but don’t want to give up the reliability of Big Four service, Sprint has a range of plans that hit their target. It has the cheapest unlimited data plan, starting at $60 per month. Sprint also tends to run numerous half-off promotions that can provide an extra nudge. Its current promotion offers the fourth and fifth line free if you switch from another provider.
But speeds in other countries may range from 2G all the way to 4G—that could be the difference between downloading a web page in a few seconds (4G) to downloading a web page in three minutes (2G). depending on how much data you use or how much congestion there is. You can find out what data speeds to expect in AT&T’s comprehensive international coverage chart.
The phone can also be charged using a special ‘Dash’ charger. This promises a 63% charge in just 30 minutes, and unlike many other quick chargers, it doesn’t cause the phone to heat up to an alarming level. It does this by moving the majority of the heat management into the charger itself, as opposed to it being within the phone’s hardware. This makes it ideal to use in countries with high temperatures.
Verizon is the nation's largest carrier, boasting a staggering 149 million subscribers as of 2017. Pretty impressive for a company that's technically only been around since 2000 (after a merger between GTE Wireless and Bell Atlantic). Verizon was the first to launch a wireless high-speed broadband network, and the first to build a large-scale 4G LTE network. 
Verizon offers the best coverage in the most places in the US, so you’re more likely than with other carriers to have a signal wherever you are—the most important thing for a smartphone to do. And though Verizon isn’t the least expensive carrier for unlimited-data plans, the company’s under-promoted single-line 5 GB plan (just $55 after an auto-pay discount) includes more data than most people need while saving you money compared with an unlimited plan. But if you truly need unlimited data, or frequently travel internationally, you should consider T-Mobile’s One Plus.
A mobile phone manufacturer is the company that designs and produces the physical phone. Some manufacturers have contracts with certain carriers, so in many cases you can only get certain phones with certain carriers. Read through some cell phone reviews on these different manufacturers to get a better idea of the type of phone that each manufacturer produces. Browse Wirefly for exclusive cell phone deals from all manufacturers and carriers.
Phone category refers to whether the phone is a smartphone or a basic phone. Smartphones are usually much more expensive than basic phones, but they will have a lot more features, many of which are extremely useful. Free cell phones can be attained usually by signing up for a 2-year plan. There are so many apps and functions for smartphones that it sometimes seems like it’s taken for granted that everyone has a smartphone these days. But basic phones are a lot less expensive and if you really don’t want some of those features than a basic phone might be the right choice. Wirefly has built a comprehensive smartphone comparison engine to help you find the smartphone that fits your needs.
More good news, at least for heavy data users, is the rise of unlimited data plans. These plans, which carriers started to pull a few years ago when smartphones such as the iPhone started using substantial amounts of data, can be a respite for a new wave of consumers hooked on streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. All the major carriers now offer unlimited plans, but they come with catches. More on that below.
If your usage only slightly exceeds the cap on a service’s limited-data plans—say, you use 3.25 GB in a month and your carrier offers a 3 GB plan—you should see if that plan lets you roll over unused data from months when you don’t hit your maximum. Also, see if that service offers unmetered slow 2G service once you exhaust your high-speed data, so your phone will still always get basic (read: slower) Internet access. These features may let you choose a less expensive plan.
The carrier's new Above Unlimited offers that Canada/Mexico benefit, too, and augments it with another goodie aimed at travelers: you get five daily TravelPasses each month to use in more than 130 countries. That lets you use up to 512MB of LTE data per day. Just be aware that you'll have to do a lot of traveling to justify the higher rate for Above Unlimited, as it costs $95 a month for a single line versus $75 and $85 for Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited, respectively.
Why we love it: T-Mobile's ONE family plan gives you 4 lines of unlimited data, Netflix subscriptions and unlimited hotspot usage (at 3G speeds)—all for $140 a month. Plus, it comes backed by T-Mobile's solid network. If you have a family full of data streamers and browsers, this plan is the way to go. Did I mention that all taxes and fees are included in this price? 

Excluding plans that don’t let you bring your own device, Metro by T-Mobile, formerly MetroPCS, has the best rates for two-line scenarios—$70 for 5 GB each on two phones. That pricing easily beats T-Mobile’s own prepaid plans, and Metro by T-Mobile’s data caps exempt streaming video (at the cost of limiting its resolution to DVD-quality 480p resolution, although you can opt out of this Data Maximizer feature if you want).
If you don't want to drop money on a new release, shop for a prior model. Do some research into when your preferred model line is due for a new release, and then a month before the new phone drops, be on the lookout for sales on previous generations. It's during this time that manufacturers mark down previous models to make room for the newest ones, allowing you to score a great cell phone deal. Save even more by opting for an even older model; just make sure the phone's specs meet your needs. Alternately, you can try out a used or refurbished device. You can find both older and preowned devices at eBay and Amazon.
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