We’ve witnessed a lot of changes in the past couple of years, but you may have overlooked the upheaval in the wireless industry. Sprint customers finally became T-Mobile customers in 2020, thanks to the companies' completed merger (although some Sprint customer plans are still in transition). The deal reduced the number of major wireless carriers from the big four—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon—to the big three. But the big four weren’t the only ones making waves.
Cox Communications, a cable provider, appealed an October 2021 court decision that stopped a wireless network deal with Verizon. Cox was hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow cable providers Comcast and Charter Communications, which have entered the mobile fray as Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile, respectively, with network deals with Verizon. Add in the smaller carriers, including Ting, Mint Mobile, Google Fi and others, and the competition for your dollars is intense.
Shopping for a new plan comes down to the data and phone needs of you and your family. A family of four can save close to $930 a year, on average, by switching wireless carriers, says Toni Toikka, president of Alekstra, a New York City-based research firm that analyzes the wireless service industry. Plus, carriers may allow you to stack promotions because phone deals and plan deals are separate.
The box below has plan recommendations for four typical users. To compare wireless plans, you can go to WhistleOut.com or Wirefly.com. Both sites offer search tools that allow you to compare plans and current promotions from dozens of carriers. If you agree to set up automatic payments and elect paperless billing, you’ll typically score a discount ranging from $5 to $10 a month per line.
But don’t let price alone sway you. On top of your data needs, consider how often you like to upgrade your phone and how valuable the promotions are to you.
To combat customer flight to competing carriers, the big three have been offering free lines and free phones. Plus, wireless companies are increasingly pairing up with media companies to offer subscriptions to HBO Max, Netflix and more.
AT&T and Verizon are essentially giving phones away to attract and keep customers. AT&T is offering new and existing customers a free iPhone 13 with 128 gigabytes of storage that you own outright with an eligible trade-in. Verizon is offering those who open a new line and trade in their old device (as long as it’s working) up to $1,000 off the iPhone 13 Pro, which has a starting retail price of $999.99. The newer your current phone is, the higher its trade-in value. Verizon is also offering a similar promotion with Android phones.
THE RIGHT PLAN FOR YOU
We picked solid, competitively priced plans for four profiles. If you are not inclined to shop around, call your carrier and ask if there’s anything it can do for you. For example, the plan you originally signed up for may not be offered to new customers anymore, so you could be upgraded to a newer plan at your current price.
For a family of four looking for a combination of phone and plan deals, T-Mobile’s Magenta plan is a solid choice. It costs $35 per month per line and it comes with 100GB of premium data and 5GB of high-speed hotspot data (after which the data slows to 3G speeds, but data use is unlimited). The plan also comes with a basic Netflix account. T-Mobile currently has a promotion that offers to pay off eligible phones up to $1,000 if you switch to T-Mobile from another cell-phone carrier by bringing your number over. Eligible subscribers include Verizon, AT&T, Spectrum, U.S. Cellular and more. The promotion is limited to five lines per subscriber, meaning your whole family could be reimbursed for each phone and number that is ported. Reimbursement is via prepaid Mastercards. (As of mid-November, the promotion’s expiration date hadn’t been set.)
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