Posted: 6:00 a.m. Monday, Aug. 19, 2013
By Clark Howard
It seems like every week there's a new price point being set in the telecommunications world. There's an all-out war going on between the traditional Big 4 wireless carriers -- AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile -- and smaller Tier 2 operators such as Metro PCS, Cricket, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk and others.
The Big 4 have historically pushed expensive "bucket of minutes" business models with 24-month contracts. That's allowed the Tier 2 operators to carve out a market niche by offering cheaper unlimited calling plans with no contracts.
Which would you rather have?
The success of the smaller players is now actually forcing the Big 4 to come around with better deals for customers. That's the point of this guide. I want to keep you updated with the best deals out there so you can have the cheapest possible cell phone bill in your life with the fewest strings attached.
THE BIG 4 PROVIDERS
T-Mobile offers customers basic unlimited calling starting at $49/month with no annual contract. Customers in select areas of the country may also be eligible for a more traditional plan that offers 1,000 minutes and unlimited nights/weekends for $39/month
AT&T is competing with the Tier 2 providers by introducing its "A List with Rollover" plan. "A List" allows you unlimited free calling to the 5 numbers you call most -- regardless of whether they're AT&T customers or not. You'll need a minimum $59/month calling plan to be eligible to do "A List."
The ink wasn't dry on the AT&T plan when Sprint came out with its "Any Mobile, Anytime" plan. It offers unlimited calling to any cell phone on any network for $69/month. No need to designate "favorite" numbers or worry about which carrier your friends and family have.
Verizon does not have any particularly good unlimited deals at this time. However, there is a sneaky back-door way to use their infrastructure through Straight Talk (see below).
THE TIER 2 PROVIDERS
The basic Metro PCS unlimited calling plan starts at $40/month. Additional fees apply for unlimited texting and data.
Unlimited calling with Cricket starts at $30/month. Additional fees apply for unlimited texting and data.
PAGE PLUS CELLULAR
The basic Page Plus Cellular unlimited calling plan starts at $30/month with 20 MB of data. However, the better deal may be the "Talk n Text 1200" plan, which offers 1,200 minutes of talk time, 3,000 text messages and 50 MB of data.
Virgin Mobile offers $35/month unlimited messaging, e-mail, web and data, plus a scant 300 minutes of actual talk time.
Boost Mobile offers an unlimited calling/texting/web plan with no contracts for $50/month. There are, however, some downsides. The cell phones available through Boost are antiquated. And they're not subsidized, so be sure to look on eBay or Craigslist for a deal on a used one.
Straight Talk offers two flavors of no-contract plans. The first comes with 1,000 minutes and 1,000 text messages and 30 MB for $30/month. The second is an unlimited calling/texting/web plan for $45/month. Straight Talk uses AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon towers, depending on which area you live in and which phone or plan you purchase.
This unique service routes calls over wifi and uses Sprint when you're not near wifi. Pricing starts at $19 a month for unlimited talk, text, and web.
PAGE PLUS CELLULAR
This smaller player mentioned above also offers an attractive plan called "The 12" with 250 Minutes, 250 Text/Picture Messages, and 10 MB Data per month for light cell phone users. The cost? You guessed it -- $12!
This is a T-Mobile sub-brand offering a $45 a month unlimited talk/text/high-speed web (5GBs a month) plan for smartphones. Unlimited plans start at $30.