Changing telephone provider in 2024: What you should know before changing provider

Changing mobile phone providers is not easy. Although there are three major networks in the US, the actual number of wireless providers and plans is significantly higher. It can be overwhelming to sift through this big, confusing mess, but we want to help make the process a little easier. How to choose a cell phone plan in 2024.

Which network works best for you?

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile logos on smartphone screens Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile logos on smartphone screens

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are three major networks in the US: AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. All three offer services directly and have robust nationwide networks that offer 4G LTE (fast) and 5G (very fast) data.

The most important aspect of choosing a network is finding one that works in your area. It is therefore difficult for us to make a general recommendation for a single provider. For example, T-Mobile’s service may be excellent in New York, but if you live in rural Iowa, Verizon is more reliable.

While your coverage may vary, the good news is that these networks are constantly growing and improving, especially as the big three players continue to try to blanket the US with 5G. It’s entirely possible that a decade ago you left a network because you complained about its sparse service, but now it’s stepped up because of the customer acquisition arms race.

If you know friends or family in your area who already use the wireless provider you’re considering, ask about their experiences. You can also go to a cell phone provider’s store and see if they offer free ways to try out the service before switching, such as: b T-Mobile’s Network Pass This allows you to test T-Mobile’s service free of charge for three months. Verizon offers a similar 30-day “trial program.” while the cricket prepaid service has its own test offering This allows you to try out parent company AT&T’s network.

Then of course there are the plans themselves. Below is a comparison of some of the latest plans from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. For this table, we’ve focused on each provider’s cheapest plan, as well as their respective “middle” options that we think might make sense for most people.

It is worth noting that some plans, such as Some programs, such as T-Mobile’s Go5G, include streaming perks like Netflix, while Verizon lets you add perks like the Disney Bundle (Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, and Hulu) for $10 per month if you have the latest Unlimited Welcome Plus or Ultimate Plans.

Most unlimited plans from Verizon and AT&T (with the notable exception of AT&T’s Value Plus VL) also don’t require you to have all lines on the same plan. So if only one of the lines on your family plan requires additional hotspot data, you can do without it. Others resort to cheaper options and save something there.

If you’re looking for multiple lines with T-Mobile and the cheapest plan, the regular Essentials or Essentials Saver plans are better for you. As part of a promotion the carrier is running, it’s available for $100 per month for four lines.

WLAN tariffs in comparison

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To planTotal dataCost of a line (with AutoPay)5GHigh-speed hotspotCost for four lines (with AutoPay)
T-Mobile Essentials SaversUnlimited$50YesYes (but at “3G speed”)$120
T Mobile EssentialsUnlimited$60YesYes (but at “3G speed”)$100
AT&T Value Plus VLUnlimited$51YesNO$124
Welcome to Verizon UnlimitedUnlimited$65Yes (5G nationwide only)NO$120
T Mobile Go5GUnlimited$70Yes15GB per line$140
AT&T Unlimited Extra ELUnlimited$76Yes30GB per line$164
Verizon Unlimited PlusUnlimited$80Yes30GB per line$180

Know the smaller and prepaid players

Visible, Mint Mobile and Google Fi logos on smartphone screens Visible, Mint Mobile and Google Fi logos on smartphone screens

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

Sarah Tew/CNET

While AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon operate the major networks, other smaller providers offer service on their airwaves. First, there are the prepaid brands that every cell phone provider owns. Verizon has Visible, AT&T has Cricket, and T-Mobile has Metro and now Mint Mobile. Everyone uses their parents’ respective networks for the service.

Even smaller providers rely on the larger networks for service. Google Fi, for example, uses T-Mobile’s network, while cable companies Comcast and Spectrum rely on Verizon for their respective brands Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile.

Boost Mobile, the dish belongsuses a combination of T-Mobile and AT&T while Dish is building its own 5G network. Dish has begun offering its own service that competes with the major airlines. what it calls Boost Infinite.

The advantage of these smaller carriers – many of which are known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) – is that you can access the larger provider’s services at a cheaper price. If you find that Verizon works best where you live, but the service is too expensive, you can consider switching to Visible, Spectrum Mobile, or free streaming services).

We have some of these providers broken downincluding which provider uses which network and explaining some of the trade-offs you should keep in mind.

Find out how much you owe under your payment plan

iPhone 13 Pro Max iPhone 13 Pro Max

Getting a new iPhone at a significant discount from a wireless carrier often requires a major commitment.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Two-year contracts have largely disappeared from the U.S. wireless market. Unfortunately, they now seem to be being replaced by ever longer installment payments.

AT&T and Verizon now only offer 36-month installment payments for the latest devices from Apple, Google and Samsung. T-Mobile, meanwhile, still has 24-month installment options with plans like Go5G Plus, which offers better upgrade deals every two years, and Go5G Next, which offers deals every year.

With these longer terms, you can get a flagship phone for significantly less, but you’ll have to stay with that carrier for two or three years (and perhaps on a more expensive unlimited plan). If you leave before this time, you risk having to pay off the balance owed on the phone, which some providers require before they “unlock” the device for use on other networks.

Major airlines often offer several hundred dollars when switching, which can help subsidize the price of switching. Check your account online or go to your carrier’s store to find out how much you might owe on your phone before you leave.

Decide if you want to keep your current phone

Modernizing phones and networks means your existing phone will likely work fine with a new carrier. All major wireless carriers offer a similar range of latest devices, especially when it comes to the iPhone and Galaxy lines.

To get the most out of switching, you should probably take this opportunity to upgrade your device, especially if it’s a few years old and doesn’t have modern features like 5G. When adding or opening a new line, there are often additional offers to help you pay off a payment plan or get you a better device.

If you’d rather keep what you have, your existing device will probably work fine as long as it’s unlocked from your previous carrier.

Know your discounts

Note that all airlines offer additional savings that you may be eligible for depending on your employer, military status, student status, or even age. If you have a family plan, a family member could be eligible even if you don’t.

In particular, first responders, military personnel, veterans, nurses and teachers can receive discounts from all major providers. Verizon offers discounts for students and a range of professions, while T-Mobile work benefits could get 15% off Go5G Plus or Go5G Next plans, and AT&T offers a similar program for its Unlimited Premium PL and Elite plans that it calls Signature.

If you’re 55 or older, you may also be eligible for a discounted plan: T-Mobile offers discounted plans nationwide for just $55 per month for two lines, while Verizon and AT&T offer similar options but only for residents Florida.

We break down the discounts in more detail here, e.g AT&T, Verizon And T Mobile.

This could save you money if you switch, or potentially lower your current rate slightly and save you the hassle of switching providers.

Understand the benefits

Disney Plus logo on a phone screen Disney Plus logo on a phone screen

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

Sarah Tew/CNET

Many of the major providers bundle discounts for the use of their unlimited high-end tariffs, especially streaming services. Verizon offers the Disney Bundle (Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus) as a $10 monthly benefit on its latest unlimited plans, while T-Mobile offers Netflix Standard (with advertising) on ​​its Go5G branded offerings and also a subscription to Apple TV Plus and includes Hulu (with ads) with Go5G Next.

Even prepaid and smaller providers like Cricket (HBO Max with ads) and US Mobile (various options) offer perks with their unlimited plans.

Additionally, Verizon offers perks on services like Apple One, Walmart Plus, and a Netflix/Max bundle, while T-Mobile’s Go5G plans also offer onboard Wi-Fi and unlimited data abroad. T-Mobile’s Metro offers 100GB of Google One storage and one-year subscriptions to ViX Premium, while AT&T offers six months of free gaming with an extended trial from Nvidia GeForce Ultimate.

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

We’ll continue to update this with more cell phone plan tips.

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