I’ve assumed we want two smartphones with at least some 3G or 4G data.
Smartphones default to wifi, so when we have wifi access any data should not count towards plan limits.
[ed: With our flip phones and no data we currently spend $84/mo including fees and taxes because people keep texting us. Without the texting it would be more like $78/mo.]
Considering two extremes…
We can get as low as $50/month plus fees & taxes for 6GB data each using Republic Wireless on the Sprint network (i.e., same network we use now).
If we go for the best network, we’d be paying Verizon $90/month plus fees & taxes for 1GB data each per month.
This website has pretty good overviews. Here’s some more info about coverage. Also here.
Verizon has the best network in general.
AT&T seems to be second-best network in general.
If we bring our own phones, then Verizon has a 1GB “prepaid” plan for $45/month.
So that would run us $90/month plus taxes & fees for two lines.
Verizon’s contract plan (in which they subsidize the phone cost and we’re locked-in for 2 years) would run $120 / month for two lines and 2GB shared.
AT&T has a similar setup for Bring-Your-Own-Device of $90/month for two lines ($25/mo/phone plus $40/mo for 3GB), and it would be $120/month on a 2 year contract with subsidized phones.
T-mobile doesn’t have contracts, though one can pay off a device over 2 years like with a contract. They would be $80/mo for two lines with 1GB each. Interestingly, once you hit that limit you can still get data, it’s just really slow, whereas almost everyone else charges you an additional $15 for the overage or just cuts you off.
Sprint’s prepaid is $70/mo for two lines with 1GB each.
It’s unclear if Sprint’s family/contract plan has any options, but it looks like it would be $90/month for the first year, then $120/month after that.
Another factor is that Sprint has a discount on our account of 15% because of our university connection.
Then there are the MVNOs, which are services that use another company’s network.
Republic Wireless. Uses the Sprint network. No contracts. Extremely limited in phone selection. Calls automatically switch to wifi whenever possible. A flat rate depending on whether we want wifi + cellular talk & text ($10/mo per line), wifi + cellular talk & text + 3G data ($25/mo per line) or wifi + cellular talk & text + 4G data ($40/mo per line). So we could both switch to this now and pay $20 per month (plus tax & fees) instead of our current Sprint bill which would effectively give us smartphones around wifi and dumbphones away from wifi. The call quality might even be better since it’ll default to wifi instead of the poor reception we get indoors. The plans can be changed up to twice a month, and they prorate the bill.
Ting. Depending on the phones we use, Ting will use either the Sprint or T-mobile networks. It doesn’t offer unlimited talk or text, unlike everyone else, but charges each aspect based on buckets at the end of each month (and then an incremental cost past the last bucket). Ting has the potential to be the cheapest plan, but we would have to keep an eye on minutes, texts, and data, to make sure we didn’t bump up into the next bucket. For example, 500 minutes, 100 texts, and 0.5GB would be $36/mo, but add another minute and another 0.001GB and it’d be $52/mo. If we go over 2GB data the bill goes up quickly. Based on our history, we’d be paying $33 – 62 / month depending on data usage.
Cricket Wireless. Uses AT&T network. $70/month for two lines with 2.5GB of high-speed data, then throttled data after that.
Freedompop. I don’t trust them. Their website broke when I was trying to view their plans, and they required an email just to see their plans. Then, they prevented me from using a mailinator email account, which is ridiculous because the majority of people that use mailinator (to avoid exactly what Freedompop was attempting to force me to do) know that there are many domain names that forward directly to mailinator, so I just used the forwarding domain name that was prominently displayed on the mailinator webpage at the time.
Project Fi is invite only.
Republic Wireless is interesting in that it’s a low flat rate with the catch is that we can’t go over 6GB of data used away from wifi. I doubt we would since we spend the majority of our time with wifi access.
Ting is not as appealing, even though it could save us up to $17/mo over Republic Wireless, because I don’t want to have to keep a sharp eye on usage. I think we’d end up around $45/mo, but then be anxious about using data during trips.
Verizon’s network sounds great. The bill would not be so much more than we’re paying now for dumbphones. In the end, I think we just don’t use our phones enough to make the extra cost over Republic Wireless or Ting worthwhile. Maybe once we have smartphones that will change, but who knows.
Ed: None of these are affiliate links. #2 would like to put in a plug for Credo Mobile, because they have a social justice bent.
What will we do? My best guess is nothing. We will continue to put this decision off even as other plans that offer more than our current plan get less expensive. My best guess is that eventually one or both of our phones will break and we’ll go through this process again and actually make the switch at that time.
What do you all use?