Ready to check out your phone carrier options? While prices have risen for some of the major carriers this year, competition in the market is strong, which means attractive offers for those switching carriers. Read on for an overview of the best phone carriers in the United States. We’ll cover Verizon vs T-Mobile vs AT&T as well as some of the best affordable iPhone plans from smaller carriers. This guide will also detail how to find real-world coverage maps, how to test a new carrier for free instantly with eSIM, and more.
Best phone carriers: Verizon vs T-Mobile vs AT&T plus budget plans
Instant Free eSIM Trials
Although it has been difficult to try out a new carrier in the past, eSIM support on iPhone and other smartphones has opened up a new opportunity for carriers.
T-Mobile and Visible (Verizon) are taking advantage of technology that offers potential customers the ability to instantly test their networks for free alongside their existing carrier.
One of the best things about eSIM trials is that you can see the signal for your current carrier and the one you’re testing simultaneously. And you can even decide to continue using your existing carrier and number for phone calls while using the trial for cellular data.
AT&T doesn’t offer eSIM trials at this point, but you can pick up a prepaid SIM card from an MNVO like Cricket or H20 to test out AT&T’s network for a month without having to change your phone number.
While Verizon has led the top carriers in the most customers (and still is) as well as the widest coverage over the past decade, T-Mobile has gained a lot of ground with its acquisition of Sprint and its rapid deployment of 5G. That means Verizon and AT&T are both playing a bit of catch-up with T-Mobile on 5G coverage as they work to roll out more midstream spectrum.
However, Verizon launched 5G UWB coverage in 1,700 US cities earlier this year.
All of the major carriers’ coverage maps will likely look great on their websites, here are some tips for actually figuring out how the coverage will actually be:
- Check coverage with the independent third-party Opensignal app
- Opensignal gets real-world data from millions of devices and billions of measurements
- Do a quick comparison of 4G/5G coverage with Signalchecker for your region
- Take a free eSIM trial to test coverage (available with T-Mobile and Visible/Verizon)
- Chat with friends, family, or people at work who use the carrier you’re considering
Remember that small carriers (MVNOs) lease access to the networks of the three major US carriers. While you’ll generally get the same performance, there may be data caps and limitations during congested times.
Like coverage, a carrier’s speed will depend on a variety of factors, including your location, device, signal strength, network congestion, and more.
And if you live in a big city or a small town, the speeds can be very different. Verizon leads with the fastest speeds of over 1,000 Mbps if you have 5G UWB coverage, but T-Mobile has more uptime at the moment with its more moderately fast 5G midband.
Here’s a look at how the top three carriers compare for average US speeds in Ookla and Opensignal’s early 2022 studies:
- Verizon has the fastest top speeds if and where you have 5G UWB coverage
- T-Mobile has the fastest average 5G speeds with more median coverage
Opensignal results show average 5G download speeds in the US in Q1 2022.
Best telephone operators: prices
We’ve recently seen AT&T and Verizon raise prices, but strong competition has kept prices generally close between the three.
However, as T-Mobile touts, it typically offers around 20% lower prices for its unlimited plans compared to AT&T and Verizon. T-Mobile also includes taxes and fees in its advertised prices.
Keep in mind that these prices may vary depending on the number of lines you need.
|Basic unlimited||$35/phone with automatic payment and 4 lines||$26.25/phone with automatic payment and 4 lines||$35/phone with automatic payment and 4 lines|
|Unlimited update||$40/phone with autopay and 4 lines||$35/phone with automatic payment and 4 lines||$45/phone with automatic payment and 4 lines|
|Premium unlimited||$50/per phone with autopay and 4 lines||$42.50/per phone with automatic payment and 4 lines||$55/phone with autopay and 4 lines|
In contrast, T-Mobile Connect, Mint Mobile, and Consumer Cellular offer prices as low as $10-20 per line.
Incentives and offers
All major phone carriers are offering (at the time of writing) up to $800 for a trade-in when buying a new device. But T-Mobile is the most aggressive with up to $650 for early termination fees or to cover the current device balance.
Major carriers also include a free video streaming service with some of the unlimited plans. And Verizon offers more than the Disney+ package. Depending on the unlimited plan, you can get additional benefits like Apple Music, Apple Arcade, etc.
Meanwhile, the carrier is hosting “T-Mobile Tuesdays” to provide regular benefits and savings to customers.
Verizon and T-Mobile are both offering up to 50% 5G home internet to their cellular customers.
Best Affordable Alternatives to Major Carriers
If reducing the cost of your phone bill is a top priority, check out our comprehensive guide to the best affordable iPhone plans.
We go over the top networks each provider uses, key features and more with plans starting at just $10 per line.
Summary of the best telephone operators
It’s hard to pick a single winner when it comes to the best phone carriers. Which is more important to you will decide, probably between your location coverage, price, incentives to switch and the number of lines you have.
But I hope you now know how to compare major carriers, how to independently check network coverage, and start a hassle-free trial. Thanks for reading our guide to the best phone carriers!
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