Six questions you should ask before choosing a new cellphone company

Joe Supan

Nov 29, 2020 — 6 min read

Thinking about switching wireless providers? We highlighted some of the most important things to consider while making your decision.

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Whether you’re looking for a cheaper phone plan, a great deal on a new phone or just better coverage where you live, switching cellphone providers presents a great chance to step up your phone game.  

Unfortunately, wading through all the marketing buzzwords in cellphone plans can feel like the least fun kind of homework. To make things simple, we broke down the process into the six most important questions you should consider before switching.

Should I go with a prepaid plan?

If you’re looking to save money with your new carrier, prepaid carriers have some of the cheapest phone plans you’ll find anywhere. This means that you’ll pay for your monthly bill upfront instead of after the fact. Many carriers also offer some decent discounts if you prepay for multiple months at a time. 

This is one of the best ways to save money on a cellphone plan. Here are a few popular phone plans, along with the money you’d save by switching to a cheaper prepaid plan:

These companies are called mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs. That means they piggyback off the major networks — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — rather than use their own cellular towers. 

The conventional wisdom says that MVNOs have worse coverage than the companies who operate their own networks. But in practice, customers have often been more satisfied with their service. According to a Consumer Reports survey of their 103,000 members, MVNOs almost always scored higher than carriers that operate their own network. (T-Mobile was the lone exception.)

Learn more about prepaid phone plans

Do I need a new phone?

One of the best perks of switching to a new cellphone company is that you can usually pick up a free phone in the process. Unfortunately, these phone deals are mostly confined to the major carriers. If you go with a prepaid plan, you’ll probably have to go with an older phone if you want to get one for free. Here are some of the best deals available through the “big three” carriers right now: 

To get deals on new phones from these companies, you’ll have to commit to a two-year contract and open a new unlimited data line. Many times, you’ll also have to trade in an eligible phone. But those steps are usually worth the hassle. Right now, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are all offering free iPhone 12 models when you switch. 

Learn more about phone deals

Which carrier has the best coverage in my area?

While most people switch carriers because of price, it can also be a good opportunity to improve your coverage, too. In most third-party tests, T-Mobile and Verizon usually take first place, with AT&T coming in last. Here’s how some of the major analyses rank the networks:

Of course, just because one carrier scores well overall doesn’t mean it will be the strongest in your specific area. We recommend checking out each of their coverage maps to find one that has a strong network where you live.

Keep in mind, if you go with a prepaid carrier, it will use one or more of the networks above, so it’s still a good idea to check its coverage before you sign up. 

Learn more about cellphone coverage

Is it time to get a 5G phone?

If you’ve turned on a TV in the past year, you’ve probably been inundated with commercials telling you that the “best 5G network” is already right in your backyard. The truth is a little more complicated. 

While AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have all made great strides on their 5G networks, the next generation of wireless technology is still not available everywhere. According to tests from Ookla, T-Mobile users in the U.S. connected to 5G 54% of the time in October, compared 18% for AT&T and less than 1% for Verizon.

But wherever we currently are in the 5G race, there’s no debating that it’s the future. If you’re looking to switch cellphone providers, it’s worth factoring into your decision. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon include 5G coverage in all of their unlimited plans, and you can also get good deals on 5G phones when you open a new line. 

Learn more about 5G plans and coverage

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology. Just like the 4G rollout a decade ago increased data speeds — the internet connection your phone uses when you’re away from Wi-Fi — 5G promises an even faster connection. Right now, average 5G speeds in the U.S. are 52 Mbps, which is about twice as fast as 4G, but they should rise much higher. Verizon’s average 5G speeds are a whopping 494.7 Mbps already, although its network is much more limited than that of AT&T and T-Mobile.

Should I open a family plan?

If you’re already on a family plan with your current cellphone company, it’s a no-brainer to open another one with your new carrier. But if you’ve only been looking at one-line accounts for your new plan, it’s worth getting a few people together who might also be interested in switching. The savings can be enormous.  

For AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, the price per line on family plans is half the price of a single line.

What’s more, phone deals for new customers are typically available for each line that’s opened. So, if four people open a new family plan, all four would likely be able to get significantly discounted phones in the move. 

You don’t always need to have one account-holder handle the bill every month, either. Carriers like Visible Wireless let each line manage their own account, so you can skip the frantic Venmo requests at bill time every month.  

Learn more about family plans

Which streaming services do I want?

All of the major cellphone companies tie in perks like free streaming subscriptions to their plans. Here’s what you can get right now:

  • AT&T: HBO Max included with $85/mo. plan (one line)
  • Boost Mobile: TIDAL HiFi included for six months
  • T-Mobile: Netflix included with two or more lines ($60/mo. plans and up)
  • Verizon: Apple Music, Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN+ included 

But while these are certainly enticing, they shouldn’t be the only factor when deciding where to switch. In some cases, these plans are so much pricier than cheaper options that you could subscribe to the services separately and still save money with another carrier.

That’s certainly the case with AT&T and T-Mobile — after the value of the streaming services is factored in, their plans are still pretty pricey — but Verizon’s perks actually add up to a whopping $23/mo. Granted, you might not even want each of Apple Music, Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN+. But if these promotions catch your eye, it’s worth doing a little math before making a decision based solely on these.

Learn more about streaming services
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Joe Supan

Written by:

Joe Supan

Senior Writer, Wireless & Streaming Content

Joe oversees all things wireless and streaming for Allconnect. His work has been referenced by McAfee, Fox network and more. He has utilized thousands of data points to build a library of metrics to help users n… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband & Wireless Content

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