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How to choose a cell phone plan in 2021 – Guide
You’ll want to make sure you know the answers to these questions before you change your wireless service.
It’s not easy to change your cell phone provider. Despite the fact that the United States has three main networks, the number of wireless providers and plans is substantially higher. Sifting through it all is a bewildering tangle that can easily overwhelm even the most seasoned of us. We want to make things a little easier for you. This is a guide choose a cell phone plan in 2021.
Which network works best for you?
In the US, there are three main networks: AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. All three offer services directly and have nationwide routing networks that offer 4G LTE and 5G.
As we’ve already written, the most important aspect of choosing a network is finding one that works in your area. This makes it very difficult for us to give a general recommendation from any of the operators. T-Mobile Service in New York can be excellent, but if you’re in rural Iowa, Verizon is more reliable.
While your mileage may vary, the good news is that these networks are growing and improving all the time, mostly as the top three players race to cover the US with 5G. It’s quite possible that a decade ago you left a network complaining about your sparse service, but now it has strengthened up because of that arms race to acquire customers.
If you know of friends or family in your area who already use the operator you are considering, ask about their experience. You can also go to a carrier’s store and see if they offer any free ways to try the service before switching, such as T-MobileTest Drive’s.
Meet the smaller and prepaid players
While these three carriers operate the major networks, there are a number of smaller wireless providers that offer service over their airwaves. First, there are the prepaid brands that each operator has. Verizon has Visible, AT&T has Cricket and T-Mobile has Metro. All use their parents’ respective networks for the service.
As for the smaller participants, they also depend on the larger networks for the service. Mint Mobile and Google Fi, for example, use T-Mobile, while cable companies Comcast and Spectrum rely on Verizon for their respective Xfinity Mobile and spectrum Mobile brands.
boost Mobile, which is now owned by Dish, uses a combination of T-Mobile and AT&T, while Dish builds its own 5G network.
The benefit of these smaller operators – many of which are known as something called MVNOs (or mobile virtual network operators) – is that you can get access to the service of the biggest provider at a more affordable price. If you’ve found that Verizon works best where you live, but its service is too expensive, switch to Visible, Spectrum Mobile or Xfinity Mobile it may allow you to maintain similar coverage but pay a little less (although you may miss out on some other perks, such as free streaming services).
We’ve detailed some of these providers, including who uses which network and some of the tradeoffs you want to keep in mind.
Know how much you owe in your installment plan
Fortunately, two-year contracts have largely disappeared from the US wireless market. Unfortunately, they now seem set to be replaced by longer and longer installment plans.
With the iPhone 13 deals, AT&T demanded to agree to a 36-month installment as part of its terms to get a free device. T-Mobile has been asking for 30 months to get its business, while Verizon has been experimenting with moving from 24 to 30 months.
The advantage of these longer terms is the ability to get a new expensive phone for much less. The downside is that you need to stay on that carrier (and potentially a more expensive unlimited plan) for two or three years. Leave before that time has elapsed and you run the risk of having to pay the balance due on phone.
The good news is that major carriers often offer several hundred dollars for the switch in order to subsidize it. But you’ll want to log into your account online or go to your carrier’s store to check how much you owe on your phone before you leave.
One good thing that has changed: the modernization of phones and networks mean your current phone will probably work just fine on a new carrier and all major players offer a similar range of the latest devices, especially when it comes to the iPhone and Galaxy phone line.
To make the most of any changes, you’ll probably want to take this time to update your device, but if not, you can rest easy knowing that your existing device will probably work fine.
Know your discounts
As we’ve already written, another thing you’ll want to keep in mind is discounts. All carriers offer additional savings you may qualify for depending on your employer, military status, student status or even age. If you have a family plan, a family member may qualify, even if you don’t.
First responders, military personnel, veterans, nurses and teachers, in particular, can get discounts on all major carriers. Verizon offers student discounts, while T-Mobile The company’s work privilege could take $10 a month off a Magenta Max plan, with AT&T offering a similar program for its Unlimited Elite plan, which it calls Signature.
If you are 55 or older, you may also be eligible for a discounted plan: T-Mobile offers nationwide discount plans for up to $55 a month for two lines, while Verizon and AT&T offer similar options, but only for Florida residents.
This can work to save you money if you switch, or potentially lowering your current rate a bit more and avoiding the hassle of switching providers.
Understand the advantages
Many of the major carriers offer advantages for using their high-end unlimited plans, especially streaming services. Verizon offers the Disney package (Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus) for those with its Play More and Get More unlimited plans, AT&T offers HBO Max with its Unlimited Elite and T- plansMobile offers Netflix and Apple TV Plus with its Magenta and Magenta Max offerings.
Even prepaid and smaller carriers like Cricket (HBO Max with Ads), Metro by T-Mobile (Amazon Prime Video) and USA Mobile (a variety of options) offer advantages with their unlimited plans.
In addition to streaming, some Verizon plans (such as its flagship Get More option) include Apple Music while GoGo’s T-MobileMagenta and Magenta Max also offer Wi-Fi onboard the GoGo. T-MobileO Metro offers 100GB of Google One storage as well as an Amazon Prime subscription. AT&T offers six months of free games with Google’s Stadia Pro.
If you’re already paying for one or more of these subscriptions, switching to the right provider can be a way to help you save even more.
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