How to find the best mobile network service

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There are many factors to consider when choosing the best mobile network service for you. This guide covers what you should look for and how to choose the best option.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Coverage areas

Most providers have some kind of coverage map that is meant to show you what area their 5G network functions in. However, looking at these maps isn’t enough to effectively evaluate the quality of the coverage in your area. Consider using tools, such as the Opensignal app, to evaluate the speed and strength of different carriers’ signals in your area. You may also want to check the results of independent tests.

It can also be useful to ask friends and family who live in the same area as you to find out what their experience with different carriers has been. Some networks may have great coverage in some parts of town and not work at all in others. Check local Facebook and Reddit groups. Be sure to ask how long ago someone used a company they provide an opinion on. Coverage in different areas can change, particularly since several companies have merged in recent years.

Try before you buy

It is easier now to purchase a phone that isn’t locked into a particular carrier than it once was. There are also options available that don’t require contracts. If you want to take this approach, choose a carrier that has a bring your own device option. Purchase a phone that is compatible with the carrier. Choose a provider that has a no-contract option. Try the service for a month or two. If you don’t like it, try a different service.

Don’t just consider the “Big Three”

AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are the most visible carriers because they spend the most money on advertising. However, there are many other carriers you can try. Mobile Virtual Network Operators use one or more of the big three company’s networks, but many offer cheaper rates. Examples of these carriers include Straight Talk, Ting, Cricket Wireless and Republic Wireless. 

Some of these companies offer more options than the big three carriers. If you are paying a lot of money for data or speeds that you aren’t using, it may make sense to switch to a company that offers less data or slower speeds for a lower price. When comparing these providers, start by deciding which company’s towers you want to use. Then, research which towers the MVNOs you are considering using. Once you have a list of MVNOs that use your desired towers, check to see which offer the features you want and how much the companies charge. 

Consider your data needs

Because their plans usually only charge for the data you use, plans for smaller carriers can be the best option for customers who do not use much data. How much data you use depends on how much time you spend away from wi-fi and what type of content you consume.  If you rely on your cellular internet for work or school or like to watch a lot of videos, play games or download other large files while you are not on wi-fi, an unlimited plan from one of the big carriers may make more sense.

Data usage is a big consideration when it comes to mobile network services
Data usage is a big consideration when it comes to mobile network services.

You can get a feel for how much data you typically use by checking your data usage for the past several months on your current carrier. With most carriers, you can find this information by checking your account on their website. You may also be able to check on your device. Keep in mind that if you are upgrading to a faster device, you may use more data, so allow yourself some wiggle room when choosing a data plan.

Check cancellation policies

Even if you do a lot of research, you could end up with a service that just doesn’t work for you. Make sure you choose a carrier that allows you to cancel your service without incurring a large penalty. 

Look into multi-line discounts

If you are purchasing a plan for your entire family, be sure to check into the cost of adding additional devices and lines. Some carriers offer family plans that can save you a significant amount of money. 

Consider your phone purchase options

Most providers have moved away from lengthy contracts that come with bundled phones. The main options are now to purchase a phone upfront or to pay for the phone in installments that are added to your monthly cell phone bill.

If you purchase a phone on an installment plan from your carrier, you won’t be able to switch to another carrier without paying off the balance. However, if you can’t afford to pay for the phone you want upfront, it can be a better option than paying high interest rates by financing your purchase on a credit card. 

Paying for your phone upfront allows you to switch carriers whenever you want. It also gives you the option to purchase your phone used or refurbished, which can save you some money. You will also be able to sell the phone when you are ready to upgrade.

Read the conditions for promotions and perks

Carriers often offer perks, such as unlimited data, or promotions, such as free phone upgrades to attract customers. Be sure to read the conditions before you make a decision. Unlimited plans are often not truly unlimited, so make sure you know what the caps are. Those free upgrades may come with unexpected restrictions or costs.

Find out how much it will cost to leave

Most cell phone providers no longer lock customers into contracts that come with early termination fees. However, if you purchased your current phone on an installment plan, you will probably be required to pay the remaining balance in full if you cancel your service before you finish paying for your device. If you fail to pay the balance, your provider will probably refuse to unlock the phone so that you can use it on another carrier or sell it to someone else.

Some companies offer to pay your balance off if you switch. However, they may not pay the full amount, so it is important to make sure you know how much you owe and figure out whether you can afford to pay the remaining balance before you change providers.

Decide whether to keep your phone or switch

Most phones work with more than one carrier. As long as your phone is unlocked, you can probably use it with a new company’s service. Some companies may offer you a discount on a new device or let you trade your old device in for the latest model. Check the current value of your phone on the resale market and compare it to what the company is offering in trade-in value before you make your decision.

mobile network service new smartphone lady woman hands
Some companies may offer you a discount on a new device or let you trade your old device.

Check for discounts

Some carriers offer discounts to members of the military, employees of certain companies, people in various professions and students. If you are 55 or older, you may qualify for a discount with some carriers.

There is no one perfect mobile network service provider for everyone. Where you live, how you use your phone and your budget all play a factor. Doing your research and comparing all your options can help you get the best service for you at the best price.

What do you think about these tips for finding the best mobile network service? Do you have any to add yourself? Let us know on social media by using the buttons below.


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