Cell phone service has become a near-necessary utility! So none of us can escape this question: Which cell phone service provider should I choose?

It all boils down to two factors: Cost and reliability. I’ve hashed out the details so you can determine where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

So, before you sign up for a new phone plan, check out this breakdown of the top ten networks in America.

 

1. Sign up for Sprint if you want a cheap plan and don’t mind slower data speeds.

Sprint has solid national coverage for less than other major carriers — just be prepared for a few hiccups.

  • Pros: Sprint has a decent range of compatible phones, broad coverage, and low prices.
  • Cons: Sprint’s data speeds are the absolute slowest of any major carrier. Plus, despite broad coverage, users may experience a higher frequency of dropped calls and brief lapses in service.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $140/month
  • Who should get Sprint: If you use your cell network mainly for calls and texts, and do most of your streaming while connected to a wifi network, Sprint’s pricing makes them a great option.

 

2. Try T-Mobile for solid data speed and coverage if you live in the city (but not a rural area!)

Over the past two to three years, T-Mobile has been rethinking their strategy, focusing more on flexibility and avoiding long-term contracts and lock-ins.

  • Pros: T-Mobile has the fastest peak data speeds, and their coverage in cities is excellent. They also have solid customer service.
  • Cons: Their coverage in rural areas is almost non-existent.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $150/month
  • Who should get T-Mobile: If you live in a city and don’t need coverage for rural travel, T-Mobile’s flexibility and data speed might make it your top pick.

 

3. Sign up for AT&T to get reliable coverage (in most areas) for $10 less than Verizon.

AT&T has slightly less coverage than Verizon, but they’re still considered very reliable.

  • Pros: AT&T actually has the largest selection of compatible phones on the market.
  • Cons: They require you to enroll in auto-pay in order to get the best prices on data.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $150/month
  • Who should get AT&T: Since their coverage is inferior to T-Mobile (except in rural areas) and their plans are equally expensive, only go with AT&T if you score a promotional rate or if they have the best coverage in your area.

 

4. Choose Verizon for the best coverage with the biggest price tag.

Verizon is known for having extremely reliable coverage and great customer service.

  • Pros: Speeds on the Verizon network are consistently high and their coverage is compatible with almost any phone.
  • Cons: Verizon plans are some of the most expensive on the market.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $160/month
  • Who should get Verizon: If speed, reliability, and phone flexibility are absolute musts for your family, their plans might be worth the extra cash.

 

 

5. Get AT&T coverage at screamin’ low prices with Cricket Wireless.

Since AT&T acquired Cricket, their value is undeniable.

  • Pros: The opportunity to get such reliable coverage at a bargain price must not be ignored.
  • Cons: Their phone selection is limited and their data speeds are capped, so you’ll never stream faster than 8 Mbps.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $100
  • Who should get Cricket: If you’re flexible on phone choice and don’t mind slightly sub-par data speeds, this is an insanely good deal.

 

6. Use Sprint’s network for $20 less per month with Boost Mobile.

Boost Mobile is the prepaid provider on the Sprint network, which means you use Sprint’s network for a cheaper price.

  • Pros: When you sign up for auto-pay, Boost Mobile is one of the most affordable networks out there.
  • Cons: They have a limited device selection (no Windows phones, Blackberries, or tablets) and, of course, all the same weaknesses of the Sprint network.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $120/month
  • Who should get Boost Mobile: If cost is the name of the game, it doesn’t get much better than Boost Mobile.

 

RELATED: 4 Ways to Get Free or Cheap Internet

 

7. Try Virgin Mobile for their unique unlimited music streaming plan.

Slightly different than MetroPCS or Boost Mobile, Virgin actually leases coverage from Sprint then resells it to customers.

  • Pros: Virgin Mobile partners with music streaming companies like Pandora, iHeart Radio, Spotify, and more to provide unlimited music streaming that doesn’t count toward your data usage. However, they do not work with two major music streaming providers: Google Play Music and Apple Music.
  • Cons: Virgin has a limited phone selection and even slower, spottier service than Boost Mobile.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $120/month (They don’t offer a family plan, but individual plans are typically $30/month with auto-pay.)
  • Who should get Virgin: If you stream a lot of music through any participating service and want the absolute lowest costs, Virgin Mobile could really save you some money.

 

8. Prepay with MetroPCS to use T-Mobile’s network for $10 less per month.

MetroPCS offers the speed and reliability of a major carrier at prepaid prices.

  • Pros: You’ll get to use the T-Mobile network for less, and their customer service is surprisingly good for a prepaid network.
  • Cons: Their phone selection is a bit limited, and despite excellent coverage and speed, users may experience poor call quality at times.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $140/month
  • Who should get MetroPCS: If you’re flexible about phone choice and can handle some minor quality issues, MetroPCS is a reliable carrier that’ll save you some dough. Again, since they use the T-Mobile network, I don’t recommend them for rural customers.

 

 

9. Get rebates for unused data and free international service with Project Fi.

Since it’s relatively new, you’ve probably never heard of Project Fi. This Google project works to connect you to open wifi networks and local cellular networks wherever you are.

  • Pros: Project Fi will credit you for any unused data toward your next bill. Their customer service team is also outstanding.
  • Cons: Only certain Google phones support Project Fi, so you’ll need a Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Pixel, or Pixel XL.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $145/month before rebate. My bill for four lines is usually $100-$115/month after rebate.
  • Who should get Project Fi: For anyone with a Google phone (or anyone willing to get one), this is by far the cheapest plan on the market with consistently reliable service. Plus, free international service is an insane perk for anyone who travels.

 

10. Enjoy coverage from all four national carriers with Straight Talk.

Think of Straight Talk as a blend between Virgin Mobile’s and Project Fi’s styles of coverage. They lease network capacity from all major providers and resell it to customers.

  • Pros: Straight Talk has broad national coverage that supports almost any unlocked phone. They also have very reasonably-priced international plans.
  • Cons: They have broad coverage, but not necessarily the most reliable coverage. Plus, their customer service is pretty sub-par.
  • Average cost of four lines + 8GB data: $180/month (Straight Talk does not offer family plans; individual plans are $45/month.)
  • Who should get Straight Talk: I definitely don’t recommend Straight Talk for families since you can’t bundle and save, but if you’re single and looking for an extremely flexible option that’s still affordable, this might be your match.

 

UP NEXT: How to Get the Best Deal on Your Internet Service

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