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Best phone carriers of 2022

Picking the best phone carrier is always a challenge, but never more so when new devices like the Galaxy S22 become available. New phones give you the chance to consider a new provider for your cell phone service — especially if you can get a better deal on that phone by switching over to a new carrier and committing to one of that provider’s best cell phone plans.

Regardless of whether you’re planning to switch because of a new phone purchase or if you’re just interested in finding out whether you’re getting the best value for your monthly bill, it’s helpful to compare the best phone carriers. You may discover that the grass actually is greener and the service better with a different provider.

That said, finding the best phone carrier requires more than just picking the carrier who charges you the least for data each month. Phone carriers also stand out with their network coverage, particularly as wireless providers are expanding their 5G networks. You should consider customer service — the best phone carriers can handle questions about billing as easily as helping you troubleshoot your device. And some carriers make a mark by showering subscribers with plenty of perks.

Sounds like a lot to keep track of, doesn’t it? That’s why we’re here, since we’ve done all the research for you. Right now, T-Mobile and Verizon are battling each other for the title of best phone carrier. If you’re willing to look beyond the major wireless providers at some of the top MVNOs offering cell phone service, you can find good value from smaller operators like Mint Mobile and Visible.

Today’s top three best value phone carriers

The best phone carriers overall

best phone carrier: T-Mobile

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

1. T-Mobile

The best phone carrier overall

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $70/month Magenta plan

Best Tiered Data Plan: N/A

Best Prepaid Plan: $15/month 2.5GB plan

5G Coverage: 310 million people (nationwide)

Parent Network: T-Mobile

Reasons to buy
+

Attractive unlimited plans

+

Low-cost tiered data plans

+

Excellent perks for subscribers

Reasons to avoid

2.5GB, 5.5GB prepaid plans have a hard cap on data

When it comes to the best mix of data plans, coverage and perks, T-Mobile is a tough phone carrier to beat. While its merger with Sprint has introduced a few customer service struggles, T-Mobile still emerges as the best phone carrier, thanks to some great data plans, excellent perks and a growing 5G network.

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). Healthy discounts as you add lines also make Magenta the best family cell phone plan, particularly with T-Mobile waving the cost of a third line under a current promotion. 

If you don’t need all that data, T-Mobile’s 2.5GB and 5.5GB prepaid plans are among the cheapest you’ll find. T-Mobile is upgrading all of its monthly plans to include 5G coverage.

In our LTE network testing, we found T-Mobile’s LTE download speeds were fast, even if Verizon and AT&T both finished ahead of the Uncarrier the last time we tested. But more recent testing by Ookla gives T-Mobile a clean sweep of top speeds for both 5G and overall. Rootmetrics also gives T-Mobile the nod as the carrier with the fastest and most available 5G coverage.

Speaking of 5G, T-Mobile’s 5G service now reaches more than 310 million people across the country. Of that total, 210 million can access its faster Ultra Capacity 5G service.

What really sets T-Mobile apart is the perks it extends to customers. Weekly T-Mobile Tuesday giveaways include prizes and benefits while T-Mobile’s Team of Experts program also provides excellent customer service to subscribers. Family plan subscribers can get the cost of a Netflix account covered as part of their plan, and T-Mobile now provides one free year of both Apple TV Plus and Paramount Plus to Magenta and Magenta Max subscribers.

best phone carrier: Verizon

(Image credit: Verizon)

2. Verizon

A good alternative to T-Mobile

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $80/month Play More plan

Best Tiered Data Plan: $55/month 5GB plan

Best Prepaid Plan: $45/month 15GB plan

5G Coverage: 230 million people (nationwide); 100 million (Ultra Wideband)

Parent Network: Verizon

Reasons to buy
+

Network has extensive reach

+

Fast mmWave 5G available to more customers

+

Excellent prepaid plans

Reasons to avoid

Best unlimited plans are pricey

Fastest 5G speeds limited to select areas

Verizon’s plans may be pricier than the competition. But there’s plenty to like about the nation’s biggest wireless carrier, starting with the reach and performance of its network. When we’ve tested LTE speeds, Verizon has come out on top, though for the second half of 2021, testing firm Rootmetrics placed AT&T ahead of Verizon in more categories for the first time.

At the start of this year, Verizon gave its 5G service a big boost by enhancing its existing Ultra Wideband 5G network with C-Band spectrum. More than 90 million people now enjoy faster speeds, while Big Red’s nationwide network delivers lower-spectrum 5G coverage to 230 million people. (That network’s not nearly as fast as Ultra Wideband.) Verizon also makes it easier to experience 5G by accepting any phone — even broken ones — to reduce the cost of upgrading to a 5G phone. The carrier is moving to 36-month agreements, increasing how long you need to tie yourself to Verizon if you buy your phone in installments or get some of the best Verizon phone deals.

As for the cost of service, you will find cheaper and easier-to-decipher unlimited data plans at T-Mobile, but Verizon’s current plans do include interesting perks. Verizon’s 5G Do More plan, which costs $80 a month for one line (and $180 for four) includes 600GB of cloud storage and a 50GB ceiling before Verizon will throttle your speeds. Play More, which costs the same, includes access to a bundle of Disney streaming services (Disney Plus, ad-supported Hulu and ESPN Plus) as well as a subscription to a streaming gaming service — either Apple Arcade or Google Play Pass.

Verizon’s prepaid plans are especially attractive, now that the carrier has increased the amount of data you get. There’s a 15GB plan that costs $45 a month after a $5 autopay discount, and loyalty rewards lower the price even further. After three months of service, the rate falls to $40, and nine more months takes the cost down to $35. All Prepaid plans get 5G service, too, though Ultra Wideband coverage is reserved for prepaid customers with unlimited plans.

Verizon has fared well when we’ve tested customer service for phone carriers, and it continues to offer an extensive selection of phones, including exclusives. (Verizon offers Ultra Wideband versions of both the Samsung Galaxy A42 5G and the Motorola One 5G Ace as less expensive 5G options.) If you don’t mind paying a little more on your monthly bill, Verizon provides the performance and service that justifies the extra cost.

best phone carrier: AT&T

(Image credit: AT&T)

3. AT&T

Third place among the major carriers

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $85/month Unlimited Elite

Best Tiered Data Plan: $50/month 4GB

Best Prepaid Plan: $25/month 8GB plan (12 months in advance)

5G Coverage: 255 million people (nationwide)

Parent Network: AT&T

Reasons to buy
+

Extensive network

+

Growing 5G coverage

+

HBO Max tie-in for Unlimited Elite plan

Reasons to avoid

Best unlimited plan is expensive

AT&T finds itself in an awkward position among the remaining major carriers. AT&T’s monthly rates and promotions can’t match what T-Mobile offers, and Verizon still has the larger overall network (though AT&T bests Verizon on reliability and speed according to testing firm Rootmetrics). That leaves AT&T in third place in our best phone carrier rankings, but there are some notable bright spots for the carrier.

For one, AT&T typically fares well in performance testing, as noted by its strong showing in Rootmetrics testing for the second half of 2021.Like Verizon, AT&T is launching C-Band 5G, which brings faster speeds, though AT&T has only added this coverage to a handful of cities at present.

When it comes to plans, AT&T’s most appealing unlimited data option is its most expensive offering — an $85-a-month Unlimited Elite plan that includes the HBO Max streaming service. AT&T has removed any cap on data consumption so Unlimited Elite customers won’t have their speeds slowed, and you get more hotspot data, too. The cheaper unlimited tiers at AT&T don’t compare as favorably to T-Mobile and Verizon plans, though all AT&T unlimited plans now include 5G coverage at no extra cost. AT&T also allows families to mix and match unlimited plans, so that each line can feature a different tier of unlimited data. Unlimited plans also include six months of Stadia Pro streaming gaming.

AT&T’s prepaid options provide a lot of data, too. A particularly strong option gives you 15GB of data for $40 a month. However, if you can swing the upfront costs, paying for a full year of service, gets you 8GB of data at $25/month. AT&T’s cheapest unlimited data plan is now available through Walmart when you activate a phone in one of the retailer’s stores.

best phone carrier: Visible

(Image credit: Visible)

4. Visible

A cheaper way to get unlimited data

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $40/month **Best Tiered Data Plan:** N/A

Best Prepaid Plan: N/A

5G Coverage: 230 million people (nationwide); 100 million (Ultra Wideband)

Parent Network: Verizon

Reasons to buy
+

Unlimited data for $40

+

Discounts on multiple lines

+

Services uses Verizon’s network

Reasons to avoid

Speeds can be slowed if network’s congested

5G coverage limited to iPhones

Variety is not the spice of life when it comes to Visible’s service options, as the discount carrier and Verizon MVNO offers only one service plan. But it’s a really good option — you get unlimited data for $40 a month over Verizon’s LTE network, which has been the top performer in our testing.

Visible used to place a cap on data speeds when the carrier debuted, but that restriction has since been lifted. That means you can enjoy the full power of Verizon’s network, with your speeds slowing only should the network get too congested. (That’s standard operating procedure for networks like Visible that use another carrier’s towers for their coverage, though.) 5G service is now available through Visible using Verizon’s coverage, with both the iPhone 13 and Galaxy S22 models. Other 5G phones are supported as well, though you should double-check which ones with Visible.

Compared to the best cheap cell phone plans, Visible has the best option for families thanks to the generous discounts as you add lines to your plan. Two lines of unlimited data at Visible reduces the per-line cost to $35, while a family of four pays a total of $100 (or $25 per line) each month. Your Visible Party Plan isn’t limited to people living at the same address — it can cover friends, distant relatives or roommates. And a referral program can reduce your bill to just $5 for the month after a new customer you’ve referred joins Visible.

Visible got its start as an iPhone-only carrier, though it subsequently added Android phones to the mix, from flagships like the Galaxy S22 and Pixel 6 to budget offerings like the Galaxy A42. A new early upgrade program lets you switch to a new device after you’ve paid off 50% of your phone. You can also bring your own device to Visible. And iPhone owners can try out Visible for free for 15 days using their own device.

best phone carrier: Mint Mobile

(Image credit: Mint Mobile)

5. Mint Mobile

Low rates if you pay upfront

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $30/month unlimited data plan

Best Tiered Data Plan: N/A

Best Prepaid Plan: $20/month 10GB plan

5G Coverage: 310 million people (nationwide)

Parent Network: T-Mobile

Reasons to buy
+

Low monthly rates, especially for unlimited data

+

Uses T-Mobil’s network

Reasons to avoid

Low rates require a year’s commitment

Minimal perks

Mint Mobile offers some of the lowest rates around, provided you’re willing to pay for coverage up front. Pricing starts at $15 a month for 4GB of LTE data — that’s better than even T-Mobile’s Simple Connect plan. But that price is only available through the first three months of your service. To maintain that low rate, you’ve got to sign up for a year of coverage, limiting your flexibility to change carriers if you’re not satisfied. (That approach also holds true for Mint’s 10GB and 15GB plans as well as the carrier’s $30-a-month unlimited data plan.)

Mint uses T-Mobile’s network to provide coverage, so you should expect fast performance, particularly if you live in an urban area. Mint says you’ll get 5G or 4G coverage depending on which signal is stronger — assuming you’ve got a 5G-compatible phone, of course. 

Speaking of devices, Mint sells both iPhones and Android handsets, at a wide range of prices. You can also bring your current phone to Mint if you prefer. Our Mint Mobile vs. AT&T and Verizon vs. Mint Mobile comparisons offer a closer look at how this discount service compares to bigger phone carriers.

best phone carrier: Metro by T-Mobile

(Image credit: Metro by T-Mobile)

6. Metro by T-Mobile

A good discount phone carrier

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $50/month Unlimited plan

Best Tiered Data Plan: N/A

Best Prepaid Plan: $40/month 10GB plan

5G Coverage: 310 million people (nationwide)

Parent Network: T-Mobile

Reasons to buy
+

Good variety of plans

+

Uses T-Mobile’s network

+

5G coverage with compatible phones

Reasons to avoid

Few perks

Data speeds can be slowed if network is busy

Metro By T-Mobile — formerly MetroPCS — remains one of the best phone carriers if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on your cell phone service. That said, Metro is facing stepped-up competition from big-name rivals and obscure discount carriers alike. Parent company T-Mobile stole some of Metro’s thunder by offering a super-cheap $15/month cell phone plan, while Verizon has doubled the amount of data it packs into its prepaid packages.

Still, there’s plenty to like about Metro, which benefits from using T-Mobile’s cellular network for its coverage. Even though Metro traffic can slow down when T-Mobile’s towers get congested, in our testing, that’s been a rare occurrence. More importantly, Metro customers with 5G-capable phones can enjoy T-Mobile’s 5G coverage, which now stretches coast to coast.

Verizon may offer more data to prepaid customers, but Metro’s $40-a-month plan still includes a generous helping of 10GB of data, with streaming music from more than 40 services not counting against your cap. Metro’s unlimited plans — $50 for the entry level plan and $60 for a plan that includes an Amazon Prime membership and more hotspot data — are pretty attractive, too. 

Metro has a good selection of phones, with around a third of the handsets on sale costing less than $200. You can find additional savings if you port over a phone number when signing up for service with Metro.

best phone carrier: Google Fi

(Image credit: Google Fi)

7. Google Fi

The best phone carrier if you go with Pixel

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $70/month unlimited

Best Tiered Data Plan: $20/month for talk and text plus $10/GB

Best Prepaid Plan: N/A

5G Coverage: 310 million people (nationwide)

Parent Network: T-Mobile, US Cellular

Reasons to buy
+

Only pay for the data you use

+

Use data and text overseas

+

Optimized for Google Pixels, select Moto phones

Reasons to avoid

Cheaper unlimited data is available elsewhere

No longer restricted to just Google’s own phones, the Google Fi wireless service now supports just about any kind of handset (including iPhones). But it’s really the best option if you have a Google Pixel device or a fully compatible third-party phones like the Samsung Galaxy S22 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 or Motorola devices including the Moto G Power (2021) or Motorola One 5G Ace. Those phones seamlessly switch between the carriers that provide Google Fi’s coverage — T-Mobile and US Cellular at this point — so you’ll always have the best connection available. You give that up if you bring your own device to Google Fi. 

Both the Pixel 5a and Pixel 6 are out, and those phones are optimized for Google Fi. In fact, Google Fi is the only carrier to offer the Pixel 5a. Presumably, the Pixel 6a will be optimized for Google Fi, once that rumored phone arrives later this year.

Google Fi’s pricing is pretty compelling if you don’t use a lot of data. Google charges you $20 for unlimited talk and text and then just $10 for each gigabyte of data you use. But that’s adjusted to the precise amount of data you consume — if you use 2.5GB, say, you’ll pay $25 instead of Google rounding up to $30. You can opt for unlimited data if you prefer, but at $70 a month, Google’s pricing matches what T-Mobile charges for the best unlimited data plan. There’s a $60 unlimited data option at Google Fi, but it drops the ability to use your data overseas, a feature that makes Google Fi so appealing.

That feature lets you use your data and text when you’re abroad in 200-plus countries. Data is also available at decent speeds overseas. It’s available in Google Fi’s $70 unlimited plan as well as its by-the-gig pricing, but not in the new $60 option.

Best phone carrier: Consumer Cellular

(Image credit: Consumer Cellular)

8. Consumer Cellular

The best phone carrier for seniors

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $55/month Unlimited Shared Data

Best Tiered Data Plan: $25/month 3GB plan

Best Prepaid Plan: N/A

5G Coverage: Yes

Parent Network: AT&T, T-Mobile

Reasons to buy
+

Discounts for AARP members

+

Low rates if you don’t need much data

Reasons to avoid

Cheaper plans elsewhere if you use lots of data

Some criticism of customer service

Consumer Cellular is a good option for your cell phone service if you don’t need a lot of data each month or you don’t need unlimited talk minutes. (Or both!) The carrier has small data tiers available at reasonable prices, and you can switch around your data allotment on a monthly basis if you anticipate needing more data. 

The 3GB plan probably offers enough data for many users who don’t stream music and movies and at $25, it’s a pretty affordable option.

Because Consumer Cellular offers an additional 5% discount on monthly rates to AARP members, it’s become a hit with seniors. The carrier uses both AT&T and T-Mobile for its coverage, so it’s likely you’ll get good network performance no matter where you are. (And if you buy an iPhone 13 or 5G-ready Android phone through the carrier, you can enjoy 5G coverage.) Consumer Cellular does take some criticism for customer service, but it’s generally regarded as any easy service for managing your plan and keeping your cell phone costs low.

best phone carrier: Boost Mobile

(Image credit: Boost)

9. Boost Mobile

A new era of the discount carrier

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $50/month Unlimited Gigs

Best Tiered Data Plan: N/A

Best Prepaid Plan: $25/month 5GB plan

5G Coverage: 308 million people (nationwide)

Parent Network: T-Mobile/AT&T

Reasons to buy
+

Unlimited plans compare nicely to Metro’s

+

Good selection of low-cost phones

Reasons to avoid

Unlimited plan isn’t truly unlimited

Limited perks

Once owned and operated by Sprint, Boost Mobile is now the property of Dish in a $1.4 billion purchase spurred by the Sprint-T-Mobile merger. Boost is keeping its name, and it’s in the process of switching over to AT&T’s network as Dish looks to build out its own network. 

Boost continues to offer the same plans as before, with your best option being one of the company’s two unlimited plans. The $50 plan features 12GB of hotspot data. For $60 a month, you get HD video streaming and 30GB of hotspot data. Both unlimited data plans slow your speeds after you use 35GB of data in a month.

Boost’s unlimited prices compare favorably to what you get from Metro by T-Mobile, though T-Mobile’s prepaid service doesn’t put caps on music and game streaming like Boost does. The best tiered plan at Boost gives you 5GB of data for $25 a month, with 2GB ($15) and 10GB ($35) options as well.

best phone carrier: Xfinity Mobile

(Image credit: Xfinity Mobile)

10. Xfinity Mobile

A good option if you believe in bundles

Specifications

Best Unlimited Plan: $45/month Unlimited plan

Best Tiered Data Plan: $30/month 3GB plan

Best Prepaid Plan: N/A

5G Coverage: 230 million people (nationwide); 100 million (Ultra Wideband)

Parent Network: Verizon

Reasons to buy
+

Low unlimited rate

+

5G coverage on Verizon’s network

+

Discounts on multiple lines of unlimited data

Reasons to avoid

Requires Xfinity internet subscription

If you already get your internet service from Comcast — and since it’s the nation’s biggest internet service provider, you probably do — Xfinity Mobile offers you the opportunity to save money on your monthly phone bill. The Comcast-backed phone carrier uses a combination of Verizon’s cellular towers and Xfinity hotspots to offer nationwide phone coverage.

Xfinity’s best plan for individuals is its $45 unlimited plan. Not only is that cheaper than what you’ll pay for unlimited coverage at the major phone carriers, it also includes access to Verizon’s 5G network if you have a 5G-capable phone. That means you can get 5G for nearly half the cost of what you’d pay for a Verizon unlimited data plan.

Xfinity Mobile has added discounts on additional lines, eliminating one of the big cons against this best phone carrier option. While a single line of unlimited services costs $45 a month, a second line of data brings the per line cost down to $40. A family of four pays $120 each month, or $30 per line.

You’ll find a good selection of phones at Xfinity, including the latest iPhone and Android flagships, such as the iPhone 13 and Galaxy S22. These days, Xfinity offers better support for bringing your own device beyond just the iPhone; recent Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel devices are supported, too, if you already own those phones.

What to look for when choosing a phone carrier

The first thing to consider when determining the best phone carrier for your needs is to figure out who has the best coverage in your area. Concentrate on the places where you spend a lot of time and need cell phone service, such as your home, office and frequent hangouts. Our network performance testing looks at download speeds in select cities, and third-party testing can give you an idea of how networks perform on average. But to truly get a picture of local network coverage, you’ll need to ask friends and family about their experience.

If you’re comfortable looking beyond one of the major cell phone providers, you can always try a discount carrier. These MVNOs turn to the larger networks to provide cellular service, so be sure to find out which network a discount carrier uses to make sure it’s one that provides good service to where you live and work.

Once you’ve figured out which phone carriers offer the best coverage in your areas, look at plans and pricing. You’ll need to figure out how much data you need — whether an unlimited plan is required or if you can opt for a cheaper plan with tiered data. We’ve analyzed the best cell phone plans overall to help you find one that fits your needs.

phone carriers

(Image credit: 10’000 Hours)

One other thing to consider when picking carriers is perks that come included with a monthly subscription. You’ll find more of these with larger carriers, while discount carriers and prepaid cellular service tends to skimp on the extras. Popular perks include streaming service subscriptions, high-speed hotspot data and the ability to use your plan while traveling overseas. (Speaking of overseas travel, we’ve also got a look at the best international phone plans from the major carriers.)

How we test phone carriers

We evaluate network performance by heading out to eight US cities and running Ookla’s Speedtest app to measure download speeds. For real-world testing, we download a sizable app off of Google Play and time how fast it takes to get the app on a smartphone. We augment our own testing by looking at network performance reports from third-party firms including RootMetrics, OpenSignal and Ookla. All that data helps us evaluate a carrier’s network performance.

We continuously review cell phone plans to compare how much data each carrier offers and how unlimited plans vary at each provider. We also look at the best prepaid phone plans, including extras you have to give up for the lower price to evaluate whether those are good deals or not.

We’ve done customer support testing in the past where we contact carriers incognito to ask them questions both about their service as well as phones they offer. We conduct this undercover testing both over the phone and through social media support accounts on Twitter and Facebook.