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We increased the last two numbers from those in earlier versions of this guide after seeing sustained increases in data consumption.The market-research firm NPD Group found that in the first quarter of 2019, US smartphone owners averaged 8 GB a month—but had a median use of only 3.9 GB.I’ve covered the wireless industry since the late 1990s.
We quizzed experts, crunched numbers, and pored over the fine print and pricing to help you figure out how much data you need, which network offers the best coverage where you need it, and whether a postpaid or prepaid plan is best for you. Verizon Wireless’s single-line 5 GB plan is the best cell phone plan for most people …
but we also have a variety of picks for different needs.
Explained analyst Brad Akyuz: “The overall average figure has been skewed up by a relatively small group of heavy users.” Our cost estimates assumed that anybody using 5 GB or more a month would want to use their phone’s mobile-hotspot feature to share their LTE bandwidth at its full speed, not cut back to 3G or worse as some “unlimited” plans require.
We also assumed 1,000 voice minutes and 500 text or multimedia messages used per month, based on usage data from the wireless-industry group CTIA.
Mint Mobile is cheaper, but it has yet to show up on those surveys at all, and offers no physical-store support.
Cricket's 8 Mbps speed limit is annoying, and it doesn't allow mobile-hotspot use, but in this data-sipping context, those are acceptable trade-offs.If you need four lines with 5 GB each, Consumer Cellular’s 5 rate beats everything but a Sprint discount that expires in June 2020—and the monthly difference in the meantime isn’t worth trading down to Sprint’s network.The only catch is that you have to call Consumer Cellular to get a four-line plan, since the site allows only up to two lines.And its pricing is competitive with that of AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile for the amount of data that most people actually use.It isn’t the best choice for people who frequently travel outside of the US or who want unlimited data, but it is the first carrier everyone else should look at.Between traditional subscription plans on the big four carriers, prepaid services, and companies reselling those four networks, you have hundreds of options for family plans, but the two-line rates of Consumer Cellular come out on top at just for two lines with 5 GB each.This reseller of AT&T and T-Mobile (it assigns you the network it thinks suits your location better, but you can override that if you want) consistently earns some of the best customer-review scores in the business, but it also beats everybody else’s rates for two lines with 5 GB each.Some prepaid services offered service in only 30-day increments; to avoid a punitive level of math, we treated that as a month in our calculations.Finally, we didn’t factor in taxes and regulatory fees because they vary by jurisdiction (on my own T-Mobile plan, for example, these fees added up to just over 7 percent of my June 2019 bill).But wherever you live, taxes and fees should hit you equally across all of your options—except for T-Mobile’s Magenta offering, which sweeps them into the advertised cost.Verizon is the nation’s largest carrier by subscribers for good reason: It offers the best coverage in the most places in the US according to third-party tests and surveys (including those of Opensignal and Root Metrics), so you’re more likely to have a signal no matter where you are.