With dozens of potential phone service providers to wade through, picking the best cell phone carrier in 2020 can seem like a challenging and confusing task. It can be tempting to just choose the cheapest carrier, but this can make you end up with service that's unreliable, slow or even unavailable. Carriers have also made the task of choosing harder with the addition of new plan features to grab new customers. To make choosing a carrier easier, explore the pros, cons and monthly pricing of the four top cell phone carriers in 2020.
Overall Best Cell Phone Carrier in 2020: Verizon Wireless
When it comes to the best cell phone carrier in terms of overall performance and coverage, Verizon Wireless comes out on top. Organizations like Nielsen and J.D. Power have ranked the carrier first in the industry for reliability and network quality. Verizon estimates that its network serves 99 percent of the U.S. population, and you can check its coverage map to verify availability in your location.
Verizon also offers a wide selection of plans for individuals, families, and even children. Basic individual unlimited plans start at $70 per month, and you can choose from $80 and $90 options available for faster 4G LTE mobile data for video streaming and discounts on connected devices. A family of four can get the basic unlimited package for just $35 a line, while the premium options with faster speeds and device discounts range from $45 to $55. The restricted service for kids comes in at $35 a line with the family plan.
When considering Verizon against other carriers, do know that your phone bill will likely be higher than with some of the other popular carrier options. WhistleOut also warns that Verizon tends to offer fewer features than other carrier options and has a more average level of customer service. For example, Verizon offers a temporary subscription to Apple Music versus some of the permanent subscriptions to streaming services that other carriers offer.
Best Carrier for Customer Service and Perks: T-Mobile
If you're looking for a carrier with competitive pricing for unlimited plans along with extra perks you can use regularly, T-Mobile shines for these features. Some examples of perks include free Netflix, weekly discounts and promotions through T-Mobile Tuesdays, free in-flight Wi-fi and free international texting and data. The carrier has also won a J.D. Power award for customer service and has made significant progress rolling out its super-fast 5G coverage across the country.
T-Mobile offers both basic unlimited plans along with those including more perks and pricing inclusive of taxes and fees. An individual can pay $60 per month plus taxes and fees for a basic unlimited plan for texting, 4G LTE data and calls, or they can pay between $70 and $85 for all-inclusive plans with 4G mobile hotspot data. Pricing for a family of four begins at $30 a line plus taxes and fees for the basic unlimited plan and rises to $35 or $43 for all-inclusive plans with Netflix and 4G mobile hotspot data included.
While T-Mobile can be a great value when you consider its cell phone plan prices and perks, do know that it has less coverage than its competitors. You'll want to check the coverage map since rural areas or even streets in larger towns may have dead spots. You should also know that 5G coverage isn't available in all areas and will require having a compatible phone to gain access to those speeds.
Best Carrier for Reliable High-Speed Data: AT&T
When you want a reliable carrier that can offer the best speeds to stream videos, browse the web and upload content, AT&T competes strongly in 2020 against Verizon for top network performance and T-Mobile for its mobile data speeds. Further, AT&T's coverage map shows strong coverage within much of the U.S., so there's less worry about dead spots. You also get benefits like international roaming in Mexico and Canada, fraud blocking and access to the carrier's WatchTV streaming service.
AT&T's wireless plans for individuals start at $65 per month for a starter plan with standard-definition video streaming and no hotspot data or 5G access. The next individual plan costs $75 and comes with 5G access and 15 GB of hotspot data, while the $85 plan adds high-definition streaming, doubles the hotspot data and comes with HBO. A family of four pays $35 a line for the starter plan, $40 a line for the mid-tier option with 5G and hotspot data and $50 a line for the top plan with high-definition streaming and HBO.
Like Verizon's offerings, AT&T's plans are known for being on the expensive side. The carrier also has some limitations for mobile data to acknowledge. It tends to offer smaller allowances for mobile hotspot data than competitors like Sprint and T-Mobile. There's also a lower threshold before the carrier slows down your high-speed data access for the month, and this can be a deal-breaker for those who stream a lot of videos.
Best Carrier for Frugal Spenders: Sprint
If you've got a tight budget and want to save money, Sprint ranks among the best cheap post-paid plans that offer high-speed data with unlimited calls and texts. It also periodically offers further discounts that allow you to save if you bring your own device, or it will offer bonuses like Hulu service when you sign up. The carrier also provides roaming for travelers to Mexico and Canada along with a large amount of LTE mobile hotspot data with its unlimited plans.
The carrier's unlimited plans for an individual start at $60 a month and come with Hulu service and standard-definition video streaming. The more expensive unlimited plans for individuals come in at $70 or $80 and come with high-definition streaming, 50 to 100 GB of mobile hotspot data and additional streaming services. As of publication, a family of four can pay $100 for the basic unlimited service and either $140 or $180 for the plus and premium options.
Be aware that the carrier's competitive pricing comes with some potential drawbacks. WhistleOut notes that the plans still require taxes and fees, unlike some of T-Mobile's all-inclusive options. Further, Sprint doesn't place in the top rankings for customer service. Like with T-Mobile, Sprint tends to fare weaker when it comes to nationwide coverage, so check the coverage map to make sure you'll have service where you need it.
Learn More: How to Pay Your Sprint Cell Phone Bill Online
Now that you've explored the top carriers of 2020, you're ready to pick the best cell phone carrier for you. While pricing is certainly important, you'll also want to check the carrier's coverage map so that you don't end up with dead service in the places where you use your phone most. Also, weigh the pros and cons of each carrier in terms of network speeds and plan features to make your choice.
- Verizon: Our Network
- Verizon: Plans
- WhistleOut: Verizon Cell Phone Plans Review 2019: Pros and Cons
- T-Mobile: Cell Phone Plans
- T-Mobile: T-Mobile Takes J.D. Power’s Top Spot – AGAIN – for Wireless Customer Care
- T-Mobile: What Is 5G?
- T-Mobile: 5G Coverage Map
- Sprint: Unlimited Plans
- WhistleOut: Sprint Review 2019: Pros and Cons
- Sprint: Coverage Map
- AT&T: America's Best Network
- Tom's Guide: Fastest Wireless Network 2020: It’s Not Even Close
- AT&T: Wireless Coverage
- WhistleOut: AT&T Cell Phone Plans Review 2019: Pros and Cons
- AT&T: Wireless Plans
- WhistleOut: Carriers
- NerdWallet: Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans 2020
Ashley Donohoe has written about business and technology topics since 2010. Having a Master of Business Administration degree, bookkeeping certification and experience running a small business and doing tax returns, she is knowledgeable about the tax issues individuals and businesses face. Other places featuring her business writing include Zacks, JobHero, LoveToKnow, Bizfluent, Chron and Study.com.