Consumer Cellular’s prices aren’t quite as low as those of other resellers, but the company offers major savings in lower data-usage situations—the service is $15 to $30 cheaper if you expect to use 3 GB or less a month. Infrequent callers can get further savings by choosing one of Consumer Cellular’s lower voice allotments. And as the website reminds visitors, the company offers a 5 percent AARP discount. It blocks tethering by default but will enable that feature if you ask. And Consumer Cellular offers installment-plan purchase options with roughly the same terms as the majors do.
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.
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Several prepaid carriers offer monthly plans with unlimited 4G LTE data, but Metro by T-Mobile remains the best, thanks to its superior network performance and perks. Metro gives you unlimited data for $50 a month, with 5GB of LTE hotspot data and access to Google One cloud storage. Upgrade to the $60 plan, and you get 15GB of hotspot data plus an Amazon Prime membership on top of Google One. That tops Boost's similarly priced unlimited plans, though Boost does offer more hotspot data, and you can get HD video streaming with its $60 plan.
Some carriers throttle prepaid service to a lower speed by default, as AT&T does with Cricket. Others prioritize their own customers over third-party prepaid traffic, as happens with the Metro by T-Mobile subsidiary. A T-Mobile spokesperson confirmed that policy, saying that although postpaid and prepaid T-Mobile service have the same priority, Metro by T-Mobile and other resellers “may notice slower speeds in times of network congestion.” However, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon told us that they didn’t impose any such prioritization, and one reseller of Sprint and T-Mobile told us that even T-Mobile’s policy had yet to show any effects. “We have done our own testing,” Ting marketing vice president Michael Goldstein wrote in an email. “We have never detected any difference.”
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Finding the right phone plan to fit your needs is tricky. Beyond just dollars and cents, you need to consider which phones are supported by which wireless carriers and what coverage and data speeds are like in the area where you’ll use your phone the most. Throw in carriers’ near-continual plan changes — including multiple tiers of unlimited plans — and it’s a recipe for confusion.
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.
Metro and Boost charge the same $30 to add extra lines to one of their data plans. That means a family of four would pay the same $140 a month for unlimited data on every line. We give the nod to Metro, because the network of its parent company T-Mobile performs better on our test than that of Boost parent Sprint. We also like its included Google One storage, though Boost offers more hotspot data with its plan.
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5G wireless—which should offer much faster and more responsive connections—is coming, but not soon. For example, Verizon and AT&T began pre-commercial 5G trials last year, but those were limited to “fixed wireless” systems that provide whole-home bandwidth. Don’t expect widespread commercial deployment of mobile 5G during the real-world lifespan of any phone you buy today. We will, however, continue watching for early signs of each carrier’s 5G rollout.
Sprint Unlimited Plus Plan: $70/mo. for line 1, $50/mo. for line 2 & $30/mo. for lines 3-5 with autopay. Non-Financed Promo: Up to 5 new lines on Unlimited Plus. Pay additional $10/mo/line after Financed device upgrade. Credits applied within 2 bills. Includes unlimited domestic calling, texting, 15GB LTE MHS, VPN & P2P & data. MHS reduced to 3G speeds after 15GB/mo. Third-party content/downloads are add’l charge. Plan not avail. for tablets or MBB devices. Select Int’l svcs are included for phone lines. See sprint.com/globalroaming. Subsidized devices incur an add'l. $25/mo. charge.