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.)
If you use more than 5 GB of mobile data most months, if you travel outside the country regularly, or if you want the greatest variety of phone choices, you should consider T-Mobile One Plus. This plan combines T-Mobile One, the carrier’s standard $70 subscription plan with the $15 T-Mobile One Plus add-on (which adds HD streaming video and LTE mobile hotspot speeds and ups T-Mobile’s included Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi from one hour per flight to unlimited.) At $85 per month, T-Mobile One Plus beats Verizon’s $85 Beyond Unlimited plan once you account for the taxes and fees that Verizon doesn’t list but T-Mobile folds into that total—and T-Mobile offers a wider choice of phones and delivers much better international-roaming options. Like its competitors, T-Mobile does reserve the right to “deprioritize” your data above a certain threshold, but it now sets this “soft cap” at 50 GB a month—more than twice that of AT&T and Verizon.
If you’ve got a GSM phone already, call your wireless company and ask to have it unlocked. Once your phone is unlocked you’ll be able to access other mobile carrier networks around the world. Not all phone companies will unlock all types of phones and often your account needs to be in good standing and open for more than 90 days, or your phone must be completely paid for and off-contract.
Perhaps most impressive are Verizon’s data speeds. Verizon is on the forefront of new technology; it’s one of the first providers to adopt new 5G technology, which promises speeds in the 200 Mbps to 300 Mbps range. While this figure has yet to be corroborated by long-term experience in the real world, it’s safe to say it will mark a considerable step up from the 4G LTE network’s peak download speeds of 50 Mbps. Verizon claims that this technology works by combining multiple wireless connections together to create what amounts to a bigger, stronger channel piping data straight to your phone.
Hulu: Req. registration from Sprint phone at hulu.com/sprint. Incl. access to one Hulu Limited Commercials plan per each eligible Sprint acct. (excl. other Hulu plans & add-ons) while eligible Sprint plan is active in good standing. Valid for new or returning Hulu subscribers or certain existing Limited Commercials subscribers. Select Hulu content streams in HD on supported devices subj. to connectivity. Tablets may stream Hulu content via incl. Sprint Hot Spot or may subscribe to separate unlimited data plan for tablets. Not redeemable or refundable for cash or gift subscriptions. Hulu may place acct. on inactivity hold based on Hulu usage. Cancel Hulu anytime. See full offer terms at sprint.com/hulu.
I didn't like the deals Verizon offered for service while visiting Europe, so I put this Mobal sim in a cheap unlocked phone and got exactly what I needed - something to use to call ahead to hotels, send quick texts home, simple stuff. Most calls are a dollar a minute, which might be a problem for a heavy user, but for a tourist like me it doesn't add up to much. And it's so easy. They just bill your credit card for a call. Good sound quality, too. All for the price of a movie ticket. I recommend highly.
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We have reviewed a selection of carriers including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk, U.S. Cellular, TracFone, Tello, and more. Some phones are only available with certain carriers because the carriers produce some phone models themselves. But most carriers will serve a variety of manufacturers so in most cases you’ll have a wealth of choices with any given model.
If you can't wait until your deal is up with your current carrier, the major carriers are all willing to pick up some of the cost to get you to switch. Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile all offer up to $650 for each phone you switch over to pay off your phone purchases and early termination fees; AT&T offers a $100 bill credit for switching over plus $200 for trading in an eligible smartphone. Note that this money will come in the form of prepaid gift cards and that every carrier requires you to trade in your existing phone.
Why we love it: T-Mobile's ONE plan has proven popular, so much so that it compelled the entire wireless industry in the direction of unlimited. ONE is still arguably the best of the bunch, though, packing in more features than the competition. If you're over 55-years-old and use your phone's data heavily, getting this plan at $50 is a steal and a half.