What Cell Phone Provider is Best For You?

Picking a cell phone plan is confusing, but it doesn’t have to be.

Providers purposely make it that way, so you don’t see all that you’re forking over per month until you’re locked into a horrible 2-year plan. It doesn’t have to be like this though. Let’s look at the data to find what cell phone provider has the best price.

better, you big babies?

Prices are a little different if you have an iPhone, but it’s not like you have a choice in provider anyways ;).

Okay, so now you’ve seen the numbers. Are you are on the right cell phone plan?


  • What is meant by the faintly shaded bars? And why are all charts vertically oriented except for the last?

  • Oh, I see. The colors are faded when that plan is clearly uncompetitive (more than $10 above the lowest price maybe?). At first it looked like the legend was missing some colors, though, so there may be a better way to indicate a plan is noncompetitive for that metric. Maybe use the same color but just the bar outline instead of fully shaded? This will visually de-emphasize the bar without making you interpret a new shade.

    • you’re right. originally only the lowest price was highlighted, but it didn’t seem right, because it was t-mobile and it was a 300-minute plan versus 450 for the others. the next step up for t-mobile was 600.

  • Excellent read! A similar comparison made for the dutch market can be found at https://www.delaagsterekening.nl/info/inzicht.

    How did you come up with the “Some Text” category?

  • Charts and graphs are suppose to aide ones understanding of the spoken or written word. This graph failed terribly.

  • Lorenzo Morales September 15, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Coloring is too cryptic to decipher. This will easily be dismissed.

  • The lighter-colored bars completely distracted me. I started at the chat for five minutes trying to figure it out until I found the answer in the comments.

  • Very nice simple comparison, thank you. It’s not often you see them directly compared like that. But they really won’t compare well if you had to put them next to some of the popular prepaid offers, a I right?
    I use Straight Talk unlimited, for instance, and I pay 45 bucks for unlimited text and talking minutes. That’s the price of 450 minutes and 300 texts from all the carriers. Wow! Now I feel quite good about my choice. And it’s on Verizon’s network too, so complaints there.

    • Ehhh… I meant NO complaints with the Verizon network. ;-)

    • actually, i never even considered the prepaid offers. i always assumed they were more expensive because they didn’t have a contract. but it sounds like you’re getting a good deal – and i’m feeling kind of ripped off now on my two-year plan that needs to end already :)

      • If you don’t use your phone every day or talk much, then you can save a lot of money with prepaid plans. I mainly only use my phone when I travel. So for that short time (a few days) I pay a lot per minute, but there are many months when I don’t pay anything at all. I now spend less than half what I did per month with a basic Verizon monthly plan (on average). And yeah, no contract :)

        But doing a direct comparison like this chart would be difficult, since it depends on your usage. When I was deciding to switch to prepaid, I set up several scenarios in Excel that described different usage patterns I thought I might have once I switched, vs. the different prepaid plans Verizon offered (Verizon has the only decent signal coverage where I live)– the different prepaid plans are different combinations of price per minute vs. fee per day when the phone is used. Then I could pick the usage pattern most likely and the prepaid plan that had the best value for me.

        The data was simple enough that I didn’t need a graphical visualization (just sorted the cells different ways), but I wonder now what a good one would be.

      • well i need help can you tell me what cell phone company is good for you without having bad reception

  • Tanget

    1. T-mobile offers the *same* rates that their contract plans have with what they call ‘flexpay’ – as long as you already own a compantible device (Tmobile uses GSM)

    2. It *is* possible to have a choice of provider with the original iPhone and iP{hone 3G (not 3GS yet), as long as you are smarter than a mushroom. Google ‘iphone unlock dev-team’

    3. It is possible to buy used original iPhones (and maybe the 3G) from eBay and other sites.

  • Was going to add – the iPhone is a GSM device

  • Why use a color key rather than label the bars directly (while also keeping the color to help distinguish the bars)?

    It took me some searching to find the key (I expected it to be near the bottom, my eye skipped the top portion of the graph where the key is completely).

  • I use a pay-as-you-go/prepaid plan here in Canada, and I end up paying about US$14 a month; granted, that’s for about 75 minutes a month, I don’t use my cell phone for long conversations. (And yes, phone bills in Canada are generally on par with the US, or worse when it comes to data plans.) The phone was free, a promotional offer. Are the prepaid plans in the US that bad? I suspect probably not, you just might have to go beyond the “big 4”, or maybe even they offer competitive deals if you look.

    If you want a data plan, though, you’re probably stuck with contracts. But depending on how you use your phone, pay-as-you-go can save you tons of money; contracts are deceptively expensive, even counting the phone subsidy.

  • Years ago when I started working independently, a phone was really necessary, so I went out and got a prepaid cell from AT&T (Cingular at the time) and since I knew that I would be using it a lot I went with the 10 cents per minute plan, rather than the 25 cents per minute plan. For well over a year I spent AT LEAST $15 daily to add minutes to the phone, but sometimes as much as $25 in one day. That was something like $500 per month. For over a year. And they had NO incentive programs or special benefits for customers who paid for prepaid minutes in volumes such as that. I remember T-Mobile had a rewards system if you bought enough minutes within a period of time.

    Oh yeah, and when I was using a different phone for a couple months and hadn’t put any time on my phone for about that long, I found out that they had given the phone number that I’d had for over a year to someone else, since I hadn’t let them rip me off any further for a whole two months.

    I figure someone is going to ask me why the hell I didn’t just get a contract phone. I had no credit at all, and when I explored that option I was told I had to give a $500 deposit. I know in the long-run that would have been a good idea, but it wasn’t within my budget at the time to do that all at once.

  • For people who consistently use less than 450 minutes a month, no-contract cell phone plans are usually a better deal. Why? Although the cost per minute is greater on paper for no-contract and prepaid plans, the amount of minutes you actually use is the real measure of cost. For example, if you consistently use just 200 of 450 minutes a month on a $30/month plan, that is equal to $0.20 a minute. However, if you used 200 minutes a month on Consumer Cellular’s $20, 250 minute anytime plan with no contract, you would pay about $0.10 a minute. Plus, you can cancel Consumer Cellular’s plans at anytime and pay no early termination fees, saving you hundreds of additional dollars. You can visit http://www.consumercellular.com for more information. Full disclosure: I work with them. Thanks!

  • Great chart, nathan!

    Would love to see a similar assessment of prepaid plans, and unlimited prepaid plans.

    Straight Talk is a clean deal, but others add per-day charges on top of monthly fees and all sorts of other little “extras.”

    Looking forward to your chart!

  • Have you looked at all the new wireless providers coming into Canada this year? There are around 10 and one is likely to become a new nation wide provider. Here’s a list of the new guys and the amount of money they spent to acquire their contracts from the Government of Canada: http://www.investingincanada.info/2009/08/new-cell-phone-competition-whats-in.html

    Could you provide some advice about these new companies? I know the two largest are Shaw (yes the cable company) and Globalative.

  • Agree on Straight Talk. For $45 a month, unlimited minutes of talk and texting on Verizon is unreal. Love it!

  • With the economy and the recession we have fallen into we have all recentley looked for ways to save money, and i was spending a fortune on phone bills.So the best yet affordable cell phone provider is important. This web page is very good,as well as others.
    http://www.celldefense.com is also a good one. And it has a funny video clip of Bas Rutten.

  • comcast has poor customer service.

    • oops i meant verizon

      • Corey Anders October 31, 2009 at 5:20 pm

        Verizon’s customer service is irrelevant.

        Straight Talk’s customer service is handled by Net10 and TracFone, rate #1 and #2 by JD Power.

        Besides, if every works, who needs customer service?

        It works great for me. And my phone is a lot cooler than I expected.

        The best thing about Straight Talk is its simplicity. I am so tired of wading through funky phone bills with mysterious charges and fees.

        I really appreciate the savings, of course, but not having those awful and undecipherable bills has been a great stress-reducer.

  • what is the best cell phone company to have without having bad reception?