You don’t need to pay an arm and a leg for cell phone service. A handful of wireless carriers offer excellent, budget-friendly options.
The MMM cell phone service recommendations are maintained by Christian Smith, creator of Coverage Critic.
Affiliate Note: Some of these companies offer commissions for online referrals. Other ones don’t. For those curious, details about financial arrangements can be found here.
“I’m an Xfinity Internet customer, and I want an awesome deal.”
Xfinity Mobile offers exceptionally good deals and outstanding coverage over Verizon’s network. Unfortunately, the service is only available to Xfinity Internet customers. If you already happen to use Xfinity Internet, I strongly recommend the carrier’s plans.
All of Xfinity Mobile’s plans include unlimited minutes and texts at no charge. Customers pay only for data, and they can choose either (a) an unlimited data option for $30-$45 per month per line or (b) a pay-by-the-gig option. Within a single family plan, subscribers are free to mix-and-match with some unlimited lines and some by-the-gig lines.
Xfinity Mobile subscribers who don’t continue to pay for at least one other Xfinity service will be charged an extra $20 per line each month. Additionally, only a limited set of devices are eligible for Xfinity Mobile’s bring-your-own-device program (some iPhone, Galaxy, and Pixel devices).
Example plan: 5 lines with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of shared data for only $12 per line each month.
“I’d like a good amount of data, but I don’t need top-notch coverage.”
Mint Mobile runs over T-Mobile’s network and offers outrageously good prices. Subscribers can choose plans with either 4GB, 10GB, 15GB, or 35GB of full-speed data each month.
Mint prices plans based whether a subscriber pays for 3, 6, or 12 months of service upfront. Normally, subscribers who pay for 12 months of service get the best rates. However, new customers can purchase 3 months of service at the rate usually reserved for a year of service.
Example plan: One line with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of data for as low as $20 per month.
“I’d like a good amount of data and top-notch coverage.”
US Mobile’s Super LTE serivce runs over Verizon’s network and offers great prices. Unlimited data plans cost $25-$50 per month. The carrier’s limited-data plans with 5GB to 30GB of data each month have surprisingly low price tags.
Note that US Mobile’s non-unlimited plans involve a few bucks per month of added fees above and beyond those typically charged by competitors.
Example plan: One line with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 5GB of full-speed data for $15 per month.
“I want unlimited data, solid coverage, and possibly, several lines for my family.”
Visible is owned by Verizon and offers just one plan that comes with unlimited minutes, texts, and data. The plan starts at $40 per month but easily drops to $25 with Visible’s Party Pay program. You can join a large party and get that $25 per month rate here (Visible bills everyone in a party separately).
Not all phones are compatible with Visible. If you don’t have a compatible phone, consider using Visible’s swap program to trade in almost any old phone for a new, free phone that works with Visible.
Example plan: Four lines with unlimited calls, texts, and data for $25 per line each month.
“I want a great deal, and I don’t need tons of data or extensive coverage.”
T-Mobile’s Connect plans are an awfully good deal for people who don’t use lots of data. While T-Mobile doesn’t have the best coverage among wireless networks, the company still offers solid service in most places.
The Connect plans include unlimited minutes and texts. A version of the plan with a 2.5 GB per month data allotment is $15 per month. A 5.5 GB plan is $25 per month. T-Mobile has committed to offering these plans for several years and increasing data allotments by 500MB per year (without raising prices).
Example plan: One line with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2.5 GB of data for $15 per month.
T-Mobile’s Connect plans require a one-time purchase of a SIM card for $10 per line.
Tello operates over T-Mobile’s network and offers extremely budget-friendly options for people who don’t use data heavily.
Example plan: 100 minutes, unlimited texts, and 1GB of data for $7 per month.
“I want solid service with great international coverage.”
Google Fi offers solid service with extremely simple international roaming options. Phones designed specifically for Google Fi can seamlessly switch between access to T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular’s networks. Fi’s generous international roaming policies allow subscribers to receive service at no extra charge in roughly 200 countries.
While Fi is well-priced for those who don’t use much data, Fi’s pricing is not as competitive for heavy data users.
Example plan: 4 lines with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of shared data for $22 per line each month.
“I’m an Xfinity Internet customer, and I want an awesome deal.”
Canada: Recommendations for readers in Canada can be found on another page.
Recommended phones: If you’re looking for a low-cost phone, I recommend checking out Motorola’s moto g family. Phones in that line tend to offer solid performance and have prices starting around $150.
If you’re looking for an iPhone, consider the second generation iPhone SE. It’s an excellent phone and comes in at about half the price of the iPhone 13.
Coverage quality: Verizon leads the nation in coverage quality. If you spend a lot of time in cornfields or climbing mountains, you’ll probably want to choose a carrier that uses Verizon’s network. AT&T’s network takes has the second best coverage in the nation, while coverage from T-Mobile’s network lags a bit behind.
When a small carrier piggybacks on a major network, subscribers with the small carrier will usually get coverage in almost all the places the network is available. However, subscribers with small carriers may not get coverage from some of a host network’s roaming partners.
Phone models: Phone manufacturers often make multiple models of their devices with slightly different network hardware. Purchasing devices directly from manufacturers can be helpful for finding models with extensive compatibility across networks. Note that a few small carriers are more restrictive about permitted devices than the host networks they operate over (e.g., Xfinity Mobile).
Smartwatches: About a dozen carriers in the U.S. offer cellular service for Apple watches. I often recommend sticking to Bluetooth-only smartwatches to keep your options open and avoid huge bills.
eSIMs: Many recent phones, including the last several iPhone models, support eSIMs. With an eSIM, a person can switch between carriers or add a second carrier without moving a physical SIM card. eSIMs have the potential to make people’s lives a lot easier. For example, Visible lets potential customers try it’s network for two weeks with no limitations in its eSIM free trial, and Airalo helps travelers find data-only eSIMs (often way cheaper than international roaming!).
5G Rollouts: 5G will bring big improvements in performance, but consumers don’t need to hurry to purchase 5G-compatible phones yet. 5G rollouts in the U.S. are still in early stages. T-Mobile’s 5G coverage is the most extensive, and the network also leads in 5G performance. Verizon’s 5G coverage takes second place, but the coverage gap with T-Mobile is closing. At the moment, AT&T’s 5G rollout lags behind both of the other major networks.
Example prices and plans: Settling on an example price and plan for each carrier can be tricky. Prices listed above don’t necessarily account for all discounts, short-term promotions, taxes, or fees. Notably, Mint Mobile prices plans based on how many months subscribers pay for upfront.
About Chris: The cell phone service recommendations are maintained by Christian Smith. Christian runs Coverage Critic, where he helps consumers cut through bullshit and make sense of the wireless industry. He’s a Mustachian, bike addict, and nature lover.
You can find Christian on Twitter here. If you have any questions for him, leave a comment below.