How to choose a cell phone plan in 2021: What to know before you switch carriers

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Switching wireless providers is not easy. Although there are three major networks in the US, the actual amount of wireless carriers and plans is much higher. Going through it all is a confusing mess that can overwhelm the best of us. We want to help make this process a little easier. Here’s how to choose a cell phone plan in 2021.

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Best unlimited phone plans in 2021

Which network works best for you?

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There are three major networks in the US: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. All three provide direct services and have nationwide networks that offer 4G LTE and 5G.

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as we written about beforeThe most important aspect of choosing a network is finding a network that works in your area. This makes it very difficult for us to give a comprehensive recommendation of any one carrier. T-Mobile’s service in New York may be excellent, but if you’re in rural Iowa, Verizon is more reliable.

While your mileage may vary, the good news is that these networks are growing and improving all the time, especially as the three major players race to blanket the US with 5G. It’s quite possible that a decade ago you may have left a network complaining about their sparse service, but now it has reinvented itself due to an arms race to acquire customers.

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If you know any friends or family in your area who are already using the carrier you are considering, ask about their experience. You can also visit a carrier’s store and see if they offer a free way to try out the service before switching, such as T-Mobile’s test drive.

Know small and prepaid players

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Visible, Google Fi and Mint Mobile are just a few of the many MVNOs that rely on large networks.

While those three carriers operate the major networks, there are a number of smaller wireless providers that offer service over their airwaves. First, each carrier has its own prepaid brands. Verizon has Visible, AT&T has Cricket, and T-Mobile has Metro. All use their respective parents’ networks for the service.

As for the smaller players, they too are dependent on the larger network for service. Mint Mobile and Google Fi, for example, use T-Mobile’s network, while cable companies Comcast and Spectrum rely on Verizon for their respective Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile brands.

boost Mobile, Which is now owned by Disho, uses a combination of T-Mobile and AT&T While Dish makes its own 5G network.

The advantage of these smaller carriers — many of which are called MVNOs (or mobile virtual network operators) — is that you can get access to a larger provider’s service at a more affordable rate. If you find that Verizon works best where you live, but their service is too expensive, then switching to Visible, Spectrum Mobile or Xfinity Mobile could potentially keep you the same coverage, but pay slightly less. (though you may lose out on some other perks such as free streaming services).

We Broke some of these providers, including who uses which network and some tradeoffs you’ll want to keep in mind.

Know how much you owe on your installment plan

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Getting a new iPhone at a hefty discount from a carrier often requires committing to living for two to three years.

The two-year contracts have thankfully largely disappeared from the US wireless market. Unfortunately, they are now set to be replaced by increasingly longer installment plans.

Together iphone 13 dealsOf course, AT&T is required to agree to a 36-month installment as part of its terms in order to receive a free device. T-Mobile is asking 30 months to receive its deals while Verizon is using 24 months to 30 months to go.

The advantage of these longer timelines is the ability to get a new phone at a much lower cost. The downside, is you need to stay on that carrier (and potentially with a pricier unlimited plan) for two or three years. Going past that time has elapsed and you need to pay the amount owed over the phone.

The good news is that major carriers often offer several hundred dollars for a switch to subsidize the switch. But you’ll want to go online to your account or visit your carrier’s store to check how much is owed on your phone before you leave.

One good thing that has changed: Modernization of phones and networks means that your current phone will probably work just fine on a new carrier and all the major players offer a similar assortment of the latest devices, especially when it comes to the iPhone and Galaxy. Comes. phone line.

You’ll probably want to take this time as an opportunity to upgrade your device to get the most out of any Switch, but if not, you can rest assured that your current device will probably work just fine.

Know your discount

As we’ve written before, a few other things you’ll want to keep in mind are discounts. All carriers offer additional savings you may be eligible for based on your employer, military status, student status, or even age. If you’re on a family plan, a family member may be eligible, even if you’re not.

First responders, military members, veterans, nurses and teachers, in particular, can get discounts on every major carrier. Verizon Offers Discounts For students, while T-Mobile may have a work perk Knock $10 per month off Magenta Max plan, AT&T. with Offering a similar program to your Unlimited Elite plan which is called a signature.

You may also be eligible for a concessional scheme if you are 55 years of age or older: T Mobile Meanwhile, offers discounted plans nationwide for as little as $55 per month for two lines, Verizon And AT&T Offer similar options but only for Florida residents.

This can work to save you money if you switch, or potentially lower your current rate a bit and save you the hassle of having to transfer providers.

understand the perks

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If you have the right Verizon plan, you can get Disney Plus for free.

Several major carriers bundle in perks for using their high-end unlimited plans, especially streaming services. Verizon offers Disney bundles (Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus) to those with its Play More and Get More Unlimited plans, AT&T offers HBO Max with its Unlimited Elite and T-Mobile offers Netflix and Apple TV Plus with its Magenta and Magenta Max Holy offerings.

Even prepaid and smaller carriers like Cricket (HBO Max with ads), Metro by T-Mobile (Amazon Prime Video) and US Mobile (various options) offer perks with their unlimited plans.

best streaming service deals

Beyond streaming, some Verizon plans (like its top Get More options) include Apple Music while T-Mobile’s Magenta and Magenta Max also offer Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi. T-Mobile’s Metro offers 100GB of Google One storage as well as Amazon Prime membership. AT&T offers six months of free gaming with Google’s Stadia Pro.

If you’re already paying for one or more of these subscriptions, switching to the right provider may be a way to help you save even more.

We will continue to update it with more cell phone planning tips.

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