The Cell Phone Provider for your monthly cell phone service comes down to more than just picking the cheapest cell phone plan — though the cost is certainly a big factor. Beyond price, phone carriers distinguish themselves with everything from customer service, network performance, and other perks.
The landscape has shifted in other ways during the past year or so. For one thing, carriers are continuing to build up their 5G coverage, which can impact your phone service.
And there’s one less phone carrier than there used to be now that T-Mobile has absorbed Sprint.
So it pays to look at the big picture when trying to find the best phone carrier, especially with a lot of new phones now on the market.
Whether you’re picking up one of the latest Galaxy S21 models or you’re upgrading to an iPhone 12, a close look at the top phone carriers can help you find great service to go with your new handset.
Or maybe if you’re holding on to your current phone, it’s just time for a change.
Who is the Best Cell Phone Provider?
Based on our criteria for evaluating wireless providers, T-Mobile and Verizon remain neck-and-neck as the best phone carriers.
We give the edge to T-Mobile, thanks to Uncarrier’s attractively priced unlimited data plan and its strong network performance in major cities, and its coast-to-coast 5G coverage.
Verizon remains a compelling alternative to T-Mobile, even if its plans are more expensive.
The carrier offers great coverage, with expanding 5G service, and it’s fared well on our customer service survey in consecutive years.
AT&T is increasingly making its presence felt with deals on new phones that are even available to existing customers.
The arrival of low-cost mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, means that you’ve got choices beyond the major carriers.
In this group, we like Visible’s low-cost unlimited plan which is available over Verizon’s cellular network.
Metro by T-Mobile also stands out as a low-cost option, especially since customers can take advantage of T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G coverage with a compatible phone.
Google Fi is a compelling alternative, too, especially if you commit to one of Google’s Pixel phones.
1. Verizon Wireless
Verizon Wireless is our best Cell Phone Provider for 2021. Why? It’s one of the biggest, sure, but it gets superior scores for reliability, speed, and network coverage.
With solid coverage throughout the majority of the country (although there are few patchy zones in the north west and mid-west), and a large 5G network, Verizon will suit anyone looking for a strong signal and consistent data service.
It rates a little lower for customer service than others, but it does have a larger customer base too, so we’d expect a variance of opinions and satisfaction ratings.
Verizon isn’t a cheap carrier: in fact it has some of the most expensive plans on the market, but they do offer decent value if you are happy to invest in your cell phone.
Pricing starts at $30 (for multiple lines) and run up to $90 per month. You do get what you pay for, but not everyone can afford to commit to such expensive cell phone plans each month.
If you want to pay as little as possible and still enjoy the benefits of such a strong network, you can pay $30 per month and get about 500MB of data.
International calling can be bolted on for an extra $5 per month for unlimited calls to Mexico and Canada, or $10 for calls to 185 countries worldwide.
Given the reliability of Verizon’s 5G network, you can look to offset costs with your home internet Cell Phone Provider by getting an unlimited 5G plan from Verizon and using it for the majority of your home broadband needs.
If you find yourself out of the home more often than in it, this is a good way to get a fantastic cell service and save a little money elsewhere.
When it comes to the best mix of data plans, coverage and perks, T-Mobile is the phone carrier to beat.
The Uncarrier has spent years upending the wireless business, forcing its rivals to follow suit on generously priced unlimited data plans and aggressive promotions.
But T-Mobile always seems to be one step ahead of the competition.
T-Mobile offers the best-unlimited data plan in the business, with its $70 Magenta plan that bakes taxes and fees into the cost of the plan and also lets you use your data when you’re overseas (albeit at slower speeds).
Hearty discounts as you add lines also make Magenta the best family cell phone plan. And if you don’t need all that data, T-Mobile’s 2GB and 5GB prepaid plans are among the cheapest you’ll find.
In our network testing, we found T-Mobile’s LTE download speeds were fast, even if Verizon and AT&T both finished ahead of the Uncarrier.
Third-party testing firm OpenSignal says that T-Mobile has the fastest 5G speeds for both downloads and uploads as well as the most 5G availability. T-Mobile’s 5G service now reaches more than 270 million people.
What really sets T-Mobile apart is the perks it extends to customers.
Weekly T-Mobile Tuesday giveaways include prizes and benefits like free trial subscriptions to Tidal Premium and Google Stadia Pro.
T-Mobile’s Team of Experts program also provides excellent customer service to subscribers.
To deal with the scourge of robocalling, T-Mobile has added a free Scam Shield service that offers call blocking and enhanced caller ID that identifies verified numbers; you can also get a second proxy number to weed out robocalls and keep your real phone number private.
It’s also launched TVision, a streaming TV service, with T-Mobile customers getting first crack at a lower rate than others.
AT&T is one of the Big Four cell phone companies and that means it owns and operates its own network of cell towers.
That means its coverage is better than most, and so is its reliability. Depending on where you live, it might be the best cell network bar none.
However, this also makes it expensive, so be warned. AT&T bests Verizon when it comes to plans for veterans and those still in the military, which they can extend to their families, so this is where it truly excels.
Plans range from a selection of unlimited pay monthly options to data restricted as well as unlimited prepaid options.
Pricing starts at around the $30 per month mark and savings can be made for multiple lines on one contract.
There are currently over 160 million AT&T customers in the US, so it’s a popular choice. It has decent, but not the best customer reviews, and a good rating on the BBB.
It can’t best T-Mobile for customer satisfaction, and doesn’t out perform Verizon for coverage and speed, but it’s still a solid choice.
4. Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile has recently launched a staggeringly good plan that gets you unlimited 5G (or 4G LTE if you’re out of range), unlimited texts and calls, and free calls to Mexico and Canada for… $30 per month.
That’s a fantastic deal, and you may want to know what the catch is. Well, there kinda isn’t one, although this deal isn’t quite perfect.
Mint only offers the $30 rate for the first three months, and it rises to $40 per month after that.
Not quite as good, but still fantastic for what you actually get. Most other Cell Phone Provider charge $70+ for unlimited 5G.
The other drawback is that Mint sits on the T-Mobile network. Technically, it’s one of the best for 5G in the whole country, which is good – you’re more likely to get a 5G signal than most other networks.
The problem is that Mint users will suffer from deprioritization on this network, which means that in periods and areas of heavy usage, speeds will slow to allow regular T-Mobile customers priority access to data and cell signal.
Again, though, this really isn’t a massive deal because this only tends to happen at large-scale gatherings.
Overall, we think Mint is a serious value proposition. It has a large range of brand new handsets, it offers a free sim card for each plan, and you can go even cheaper (down to $15 per month) if you want to limit yourself to 3GB of data.
5. Google Fi
A lot of Cell Phone Provider tries to be all things to all people, but Google Fi takes a different approach. It sets out to be the absolute best network for some people.
This means it might be the absolute top choice for you, but many others will find it lacking.
Google Fi is an NVMO Cell Phone Provider, meaning it doesn’t have its own network and so it relies on others.
While many companies do this, Google Fi takes things a step further by using multiple other networks and switching you between them depending on which gives you the best coverage at any given time.
This sounds great in theory, and it is, providing you’re using one of the very limited number of smartphones that support this feature.
Obviously, that includes Google Pixel phones and a handful of other Android options, but there is no support for iPhones, so Apple fans should probably look elsewhere. Google Fi still works for other phones, you just lose out on the key features that make it worth considering in the first place.
If you can take full advantage of what Google is offering here though, you’ll get a lightning fast service with unlimited data and exceptional nationwide coverage at a very reasonable price.
These savings can go even further if you sign up for a family plan, but good luck convincing your entire family to ditch the iPhone life.
Frequently Asked Questions
QUES: What is the Best Cell Phone Plan for a Family?
ANS: T-Mobile has the best cell phone plan for a family. It offers a high data allotment, key perks, and solid coverage—all for a price that’s cheaper than what you’ll find from Verizon.
QUES: What’s the Best Cheap Cell Phone Plan?
ANS: If you’re on a budget, the best cheap cell phone plan is Tello’s Economy Plan. After all, there’s no need to pay Verizon prices if what you need is something far more modest.
QUES: What is the Best Value Cell Phone Plan?
ANS: The best value cell phone plan belongs to Mint Mobile with their 8GB 3-Month plan.