Choosing the best cell phone provider is an important decision that can impact your daily communication, productivity, and entertainment. When looking to choose the best cell phone provider in 2023, the options have never been more diverse, but the other side of this coin means that finding the best fit can seem like a daunting task.
When choosing the best cell phone carrier for your needs, key criteria to consider include the strength and breadth of network coverage, cost and structure of plans, customer service quality, and (if you haven't got a handset already) the range of available devices. Additionally, consider the plan's data allowance, the provider's approach to data speed caps, and any associated perks or reward systems that can significantly sway your decision.
You might prefer a provider that offers excellent nationwide coverage, or you might prioritize value for money and opt for cost-effective plans. For some, robust customer service is a must, while others may prioritize high-speed data or perks like international roaming.
We've analyzed a range of cell phone providers in the market, from industry giants to emerging players, across these crucial aspects. Whether you're looking for an individual plan or a family plan, a basic package or one with all the bells and whistles, this guide will help you make an informed decision to find the provider that best suits your needs in 2023.
Best overall cell network
Best cellphone network overall
Our favorite US network, offering great all-round value. You need to commit to 12 months for the best prices, but at the moment $15/month for the first three months on any plan, even with unlimited data.
Best prepaid carrier
Best prepaid cell phone network
Verizon-owned Visible keeps things simple by offering just two plans - but both offer Unlimited Talk, Text, & Data, with the cheapest costing just $25 a month.
Best budget carrier
Best budget cellphone network
What we love about US Mobile is that they just charge you for what you need – so if you just want to make a few minutes of calls a month, and don't need data, then you just pay for that.
Best cellphone providers in 2023
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In the realm of US cell phone service providers, Mint Mobile has been carving a distinct place for itself. Operating as a prepaid cell phone network since 2015, its profile has been notably raised since actor Ryan Reynolds became a part-owner in 2019. Mint is Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) like many of its prepaid competitors - so Mint doesn’t actually own its own network infrastructure, and instead uses the networks of the larger providers.
Unlike the providers who charge a traditional monthly fee, Mint Mobile encourages users to pay for their entire contract upfront, ranging from three to 12 months. In essence, the more months you commit to in advance, the bigger your savings.
Mint Mobile's prime plan stands at $30, providing unlimited 5G access (or 4G LTE when out of 5G coverage), limitless texts and calls, plus complimentary calls to Mexico and Canada. While attractive, it's worth noting this rate only applies for the initial three months before escalating to $40 per month.
As an MVNO, which cell network infrastructure does Mint Mobile rely on? It utilizes the T-Mobile network, known for its extensive 5G coverage across the US. A key caveat here is that Mint Mobile users can experience deprioritization, so, during high-traffic periods, speed may be reduced to give T-Mobile customers priority.
Despite this, Mint Mobile emerges as the best value-for-money choice, especially if you're open to longer commitments to snag the best deals. With some of the most competitive data packages available in three, six, or twelve-month plans, and though it only offers fundamental features like complimentary mobile hotspots, visual voicemail, and Wi-Fi calls, it gives the freedom to use any compatible device. It's a smart move for those who want their cell phone service to be both affordable and flexible.
Visible Wireless is a cell phone service backed by Verizon's network, known for its superior coverage in the US. As such, Visible offers arguably the best coverage among all MVNO carriers. Although full Verizon customers are given priority, most users won't experience noticeable drops in data speed or network accessibility. Visible's appeal extends beyond its coverage, with features like the efficient Visible app allowing you to control all aspects of your account and add extra members to your 'Party' for monthly savings.
If a prepaid plan is what you're after, Visible offers an easy-to-use, flexible package. At $30 per month (inclusive of taxes and fees), it provides unlimited data, talk, and text, and an Apple Watch can be added for an extra $5 per month.
Plans with Visible include a mobile hotspot with unlimited data. However, it should be noted that speeds are capped at 5Mbps and are limited to a single device. Unlike some providers, Visible doesn't operate physical stores for customer service assistance. Still, they maintain a round-the-clock chat service that connects customers with their support team.
The selection of phones offered by Visible is impressive, with options ranging from the latest iPhone 14 lineup to the Google Pixel 7 Pro and Samsung's top-tier models like the S23 Ultra. A good variety of mid-range options and budget devices are also available. If opting for prepaid, consider the added monthly expense of phone financing or outright purchase. However, if you already have a compatible phone, you can bring it over to Visible to further economize.
US Mobile, a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), offers a highly customizable plan structure, enabling you to tweak everything from the network to your talk, text, and data allocations. All their mobile plans come equipped with "Warp Speed 5G," and the Unlimited Premium plans include complimentary international data.
US Mobile taps into the Verizon and T-Mobile networks, both known for being among the most reliable and quickest networks in the US. This bodes well for those looking to bring their own device to the service, considering these networks span both types of cellular technologies prevalent in the US. However, it's worth noting that while US Mobile does offer unlimited plans, these tend to be pricier compared to other carriers.
The real appeal of this provider lies in its customizable nature: you pay strictly for what you consume. For consumers mindful of their usage, this can result in substantial savings compared to an all-encompassing unlimited plan from a major cell phone company. For instance, an unlimited talk and text plan is a mere $8 a month. Additionally, you have the flexibility to augment your account with more minutes, texts, or data as your needs evolve.
US Mobile presents an excellent option for students, providing a 20% discount on any plan following a 10-day trial period. If your college or university is partnered with US Mobile, you can obtain a free USM SIM card from your student services office and request your school's promotional code.
One potential drawback of US Mobile is its limited phone selection. Therefore, if you're keen on a specific handset, it's important to verify whether US Mobile carries it.
As one of the major triad of cell phone carriers in the US, AT&T owns and manages its own network of cell towers. This guarantees superior coverage and reliability, potentially making it the top choice of cell network depending on your geographic location.
Nevertheless, quality comes at a price, and AT&T is comparatively expensive. It outshines Verizon with its plans catered towards veterans, active military personnel, and their families. There's also a cost-saving benefit for students, who can deduct $10 per month for a year on the Unlimited plan.
The pricing structure on AT&T's website is not as straightforward as some others. It offers an array of plans, from unlimited pay monthly options to data-limited and unlimited prepaid alternatives. The plans begin around $30 per month for 5GB data, a rate that's noticeably higher than providers like Mint Mobile. For $50, you receive unlimited data along with a complimentary 5GB hotspot. Additional savings are available for multi-line contracts, and they frequently offer budget-conscious phones at substantial discounts of up to 75%.
AT&T boasts over 230 million customers in the US, underscoring its popularity. It garners respectable, though not top-tier, customer reviews, and a commendable rating on the BBB. While it doesn't surpass T-Mobile in customer satisfaction nor outdo Verizon in terms of coverage, it remains a sturdy option.
Since its merger with Sprint in 2020, T-Mobile has provided some of the fastest 4G LTE services in the US and also boasts nationwide 5G coverage. As the owner of America's largest 5G network, which offers more 5G coverage in more locations, T-Mobile theoretically should deliver one of the best coverage experiences.
When compared with comparable packages from Verizon Wireless and AT&T, T-Mobile's unlimited plans present exceptional value. If you're contemplating replacing your home fiber and transitioning entirely to 5G with unlimited data, T-Mobile emerges as an excellent candidate.
T-Mobile's plan offerings may not be as straightforward as they once were, but navigating to the unlimited cell phone plans section simplifies the process. From there, you can select the number of lines you wish to add and understand precisely what each price tier includes. For a monthly rate of $60, you can access an unlimited 5G plan, compatible with either a new device (purchased separately) or your existing phone.
The company also provides unique plans catering to those over 55, veterans, and first responders, each boasting compelling deals. Additionally, T-Mobile extends banking services, offering cost-saving benefits for wireless customers who avail both services from the provider.
A noteworthy aspect of T-Mobile is its superior customer satisfaction score compared to other major carriers. Smaller cell companies typically secure better satisfaction ratings, but with T-Mobile, you experience the advantages of a larger provider, complete with a robust network, paired with the personalized customer service typical of a smaller company. If you're seeking a blend of reliability, speed, and a carrier that genuinely cares, T-Mobile is a solid choice. With high ratings for video streaming, it's particularly ideal for users who frequently leverage their data network for this purpose.
While being one of the largest providers out there, what really sets Verizon Wireless apart is its reliability, speed, and expansive network coverage. With substantial coverage in most parts of the country (though there are some less serviced zones in the northwest and mid-west), and a broad 5G network, Verizon is ideal for those requiring a robust signal and steady data service.
While its customer service rating is slightly lower compared to some competitors, it also serves a larger customer base, leading to a greater range of opinions and satisfaction scores.
Verizon may not be the most affordable carrier, but it currently offers an exceptional Unlimited 5G deal for new customers, which starts at $25, provided you bring your own phone and opt for paper-free billing. While you typically get value commensurate with the cost, these higher-end cell phone plans may not be within everyone's budget.
Considering the reliability of Verizon's 5G network, you could potentially offset home internet costs by opting for Verizon's unlimited 5G plan, utilizing it primarily for your home broadband needs. If you're more often out and about than home, this could be an effective strategy to acquire outstanding cell service and save some money on your overall internet costs.
What to look for from the best cell phone providers
The best cell phone provider for you will depend on your personal usage and priorities. Whether you value in-store assistance and customer service or require consistent and robust coverage, it's crucial to choose a provider that aligns with your needs. Here are key factors to consider:
1: How do you choose the best cell phone plan?
Your budget will define the types of providers and plans you consider. Basic figures range from around $30-$60 per month for a limited data plan or $60-$90 for an unlimited plan with mobile hotspot tethering. Family plans can range from $115-$150 for limited data to $150-$220 for unlimited data. Family plans often provide better overall value, so explore them if relevant.
2: Should I go for one of the big three, or use an MVNO?
Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile are the primary network providers in the US. All other cell phone providers use these networks, which is why you may find cheaper deals with smaller companies, also known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO). These companies can set their own prices but may experience slower download speeds as the big three tend to prioritize their own customers.
3: How do I check a network's coverage?
Before choosing a network, do check your area's cell phone network coverage and service. Ensure your area has coverage from your chosen cell phone provider, even if you're choosing a highly-rated network like Verizon. Doug King from RootMetrics emphasizes that consumers need to understand both the speed and reliability of a network. You can check coverage using the provider's website or other resources like RootMetrics and OpenSignal.
4: How do I get the best cell phone deal?
Shop cell phone companies, deals and the features they offer… Competition between cell phone providers is fierce, so it's essential to shop around before making a decision. Providers often compete on features like unlimited data, so price comparison is crucial. Remember that the definition of 'unlimited data' can vary among companies, and there might be an upper limit you should be aware of.
5: Do I need unlimited data?
With every passing year, smartphones become smarter and more prevalent, leading to increased data usage. While many cell phone companies promote expensive unlimited data plans, most individuals don't consume enough data to justify the extra cost.
A few years back, the average American consumed 5.1GB of mobile data monthly, a figure that has risen due to the surge in streaming and video content. However, the majority of people typically require only about 10 to 20GB cellular data per month – as other downloads are done over wi-fi.
To determine your data needs, monitor your usage over several months via your carrier's online account. If you have a family plan, do this for all users, as some plans aggregate data usage, while others track it per phone line. If your usage is less than 10GB per line on average, you might be able to find a more suitable deal.
If you frequently stream content at high resolutions using your data plan, you may need an unlimited plan, as streaming applications are heavy data consumers. But if your data usage only slightly exceeds the limit of your carrier's next best plan, you can potentially reduce this by turning off background app refresh, setting lesser-used apps to wi-fi only, and using default viewing and listening quality to save data.