DH discusses cell phone plans


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?

29 Responses to “DH discusses cell phone plans”

  1. Mrs PoP Says:

    Don’t forget, Republic Wireless has a very limited phone selection, and I’ve heard that the transition of calls from WiFi to network is sometimes iffy for people.

    Personally, we have Ting – switched about a year and a half ago after they started letting iPhones come on their network. You’re right that sometimes you end up *just* over a bucket usage and into the next one. But when that happens – instead of looking at how expensive that marginal text or MB was – I remember that even in these “expensive” months, we’re still saving over $100/month to what our comparable bills were for 2 iPhones on Verizon. So… big picture.

  2. Kingston Says:

    Keeping an eye on minutes, texts and data on Ting is not at all difficult. I just keep the link to my TIng dashboard on my bookmarks toolbar and check in every few days to see where I stand. It is super-transparent. Also, since I tend to have long phone calls, I keep my Ting voice minutes down by also having an internet home phone line. I’m able to keep my Ting bill down at about $22 that way (I use no data). Also, I was able to bring a secondhand, older-generation iPhone to Ting. I paid $160 for it and it’s been great.

    • sarah. Says:

      We use Ting as well and never had a difficult time keeping track of our data usage (which admittedly is low). For two phones, we end up spending between $36-45 total/month; a large amount of this is taxes and fees. The most appealing part of Ting is that they have the absolute best customer service I have ever encountered.

  3. bogart Says:

    Until I got my first smart phone (6 months ago?), I had a Doro dumb phone through Consumer Cellular and paid ~$22/month for (just) calls. I use a google voice number (not sure those are still available? Or desirable? But I like mine), so I can give people one number and still have them reach me on my office phone when I am there. And get texts, as long as I have access to email (i.e. computer/tablet).

    Then I got a smartphone (MotoG, no contract, $50 from BestBuy which in the past maybe month has again been offering that phone on sale really cheap for ~24 hours at a time (i.e. flash sales, but several of them) and switched to Ting. It’s been good so far. With the Google voice setup I am mostly at $17/month (it helps me keep both calls and texts that come straight through the phone and count against my limits down, though I did have one month when I took an hour-long conference call out of the office and went up to $27 (OTOH I had another month where I did the same conference call thing and managed to keep call usage under 100 minutes total, which tells you something about my calling behavior and obsession).

    I find it really easy to monitor. I will say I don’t travel much, and that helps.

  4. First Gen American Says:

    Do you use your phone for work or just personal? Can you deduct it as a business expense?

    Since my cell phone is my lifeline for work, I use the service provider with the best coverage, but my phone is paid for by my company but I’d still go that route even if I had to pay. Texting seems to be the new mainstream communication method, especially for the under 30 crowd or anyone with teenagers. It also seems like the primary communication method for coaches, sport teams, etc. If you get mad every time you get an unsolicited text, then I’d do some flat rate plan.

    That being said, when I lost my work phone for a while and didn’t need it for work, I got the cheapest plan (for like $50) and it was fine. Check with your carrier to see if there is a discounted plan for university employees. My work has a discount with ATT, so I know there are “employee” plans out there.

  5. Thisbe Says:

    For data-budgeting information – I have never once gone over 1 GB in a month. I set the smartphone to not do updates unless it’s on wifi, and I remember not to stream video over cellular network, etc.

    When I didn’t have internet at home and we were occasionally tethering both laptops off the partner’s smartphone, I’m told we went through 4-6 GB in a month.

    Thanks for this post, we’ll probably change our phone & plan setup here sometime in the next 6-12 months (I may give up the phone company I have had since 2002!) and it’s nice that somebody else had laid out the options.

  6. Leigh Says:

    My boyfriend uses T-Mobile prepaid. They have a $30/month plan that gives you unlimited text, data, and 100 minutes. We have a landline at home, so neither of us ever goes over 100 minutes (except when I was job hunting). We know a ton of people with that plan.

    I use Ting. I actually haven’t paid a cell phone bill in 2.5 years because people keep clicking on my referral link. The bill I haven’t been paying has averaged about ~$30/month over that time period. I have an Android phone and use Google hangouts for any calls while I’m at work since there’s WiFi there and that helps to save on minutes. I checked on my Ting usage ALL THE TIME when I first started using it, but now I don’t that much since my usage is pretty routine. There is an app on my phone though that shows me my usage, which is helpful.

    The bucket thing is a bit annoying with Ting. For example, the data buckets are 0-105 MB (they have a 5% buffer on every bucket before you go to the next one) and 105-525 MB. I average about 250 MB, yet I’m paying for the 500 MB bucket. That bugs me a bit. But, I really like that if I go over on minutes, I only pay more that month, rather than paying for that amount every month.

  7. Rented life Says:

    AT&T but I’m grandfathered in with 300mb of data which you can’t even get now. We never use all of it and now that it rolls over month to month I don’t see a reason to raise it. I use my phone for work a lot but use wireless everywhere I am (home, parents, coffee house,). Data is largely used to check directions (usually when we disagree about where we are) or if we are out but my job has a deadline and I need to check email.

    • Rented life Says:

      I should add we use AT&T because Verizon repeatedly dropped our calls. Verizon would be cheaper for our needs except that poor service isn’t cheaper.

  8. Linda Says:

    I’m another lucky person who has my mobile smartphone and usage subsidized by my work. I’m eligible for up to $199 every two years to purchase a new smartphone and my data/call usage is also mostly covered. I say “mostly” because personal use of mobile minutes/data needs to be broken out on our expense report. It’s still pretty cheap for me to do that because the basic and recurring costs of fees, taxes, etc. aren’t something I claim as personal, just the usage of mobile talk minutes and any texts that go over the base amount allowed. So my personal costs for mobile usage each month are usually around $15-$20.

    I use AT&T because I have an iPhone and they are the only ones offering simultaneous use of mobile minutes and data with an iPhone. I do use both at the same time, such as checking my email when I am on a call or having GPS/maps running while talking on the phone, too. Our corporate plan allows for unlimited data, 100 free text messages per month (I think…I’ve never exceeded it, so I’m not positive about that), but we do get charged for each voice call. Since I try to use the IP phone on my computer for all work calls when I’m telecommuting, that keeps the minutes down quite a bit, and most of my bills average about $60 a month now. Prior to that I’d have bills around $100 a month or sometimes more. But 90% of that was work calls while telecommuting or away from the office.

  9. gwinne Says:

    This is something I need to start considering as well.

    I currently use tracfone (which comes out to $10/month) because I don’t use a cell phone except for emergencies/contact from kid school. I don’t text. Ever. We have a landline at home, which is primary number (AT&T). Except it’s getting pricey…

    Need to figure out what our needs actually are.

  10. OMDG Says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! I’d been wondering about these other (i.e. non-ATT, non-Verizon) plans that were popping up, but lacked the time or inclination to research this myself. We do a Verizon family plan and have three lines, data only on my line. Since I now have an iPhone through my job that is paid for, I’ve thought of going back to a dumb-phone for myself, but I still have 4 months left on my contract. These other alternatives sound like they might be reasonable possibilities. I’d love to get rid of my $150 per month bill.

  11. chacha1 Says:

    I have an LG phone that could be a smartphone except I am a cheap beyotch and refuse to activate any services on it except voice calls and text. :-) Not even voicemail. I pay about $13/mo for a limited number of texts and voice minutes. This is a pay-as-you-go plan from “Page Plus Cellular” which uses the Verizon network, which in my experience has not been demonstrably better than the Sprint network I was on before, but I am paying a lot less than we did when I was on a Sprint family plan with the hubs, so hey.

    Since I am tethered to a desk with a landline and email, I saw no need to give people another way to reach me at THEIR convenience. It took years to train people not to call my cell phone during the day. It blew people’s minds that I would turn it off during business hours. I’m like “hello, I’m at WORK. That’s a PERSONAL phone. For MY convenience.”

    I do not think my solution would work for anyone who does not have a conventional office job (with phone) and/or for anyone who has kids. :-)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My office is in a dead-zone for cells. (But even when I explain that to people, they’ll still try to set up playdates with me instead of with DH.)

    • Thisbe Says:

      Years ago, a friend talked me into getting my first cellphone by pointing out that I didn’t HAVE to answer it anytime I didn’t want to. And I don’t!

      Recently a friend was fussing about the idea of bothering me at work and I explained that at times when I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to be using my phone, I just put it in airplane mode. The only way to bother me at work is to call my actual work number! And even then, that will just result in a receptionist walking over to me and asking me if I can take a call right now, which probably not. The bonus of this system is that in an actual emergency, the receptionist can find me whatever I am doing and tell me that I really NEED to take the call.

      I don’t think this solution would work for anyone who doesn’t have someone else to screen all their calls. :)

  12. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I use MetroPCs which is now owned by T-Mobile and that’s what I would suggest in your case. We pay $85 a month for three lines– two with data, one without. Supposedly I have gone over my data usage and I’ve never noticed a difference. And I prefer that than the stupidity of being charged extra. I’ve never had any problems whatsoever and have found that my coverage is pretty equivalent to my friends. The only problem I have had is that the phones are bought full price because there are no contracts with discounts. This means I usually buy pretty inexpensive smartphones which can get frustrating for someone like me who likes her gadgets.

  13. anandar Says:

    My data point: We have T-Mobile. I usually use up the 1 G at the highest speed about 2/3 of the way through the month, but the lower speed for the rest of the month doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t download media at all, and only use wireless when at home/work, but do use the phone for navigation and for long work calls while out and about, and that can really add up. I am grateful to have a fixed price each month and not worry about monitoring my usage.

  14. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    I’m still in the putting-off-the-smartphone-decision stage myself, but I think I’ve finally come up with a plan: buy an android in the relatively-affordable-but-not-cheap range (because of aging eyes, screen clarity is probably key to my actually wanting to use the thing), and try out cricket wireless. I’ll probably take a look at some of the other options mentioned here, but it looks like I can get an (individual) cricket plan that will cost me no more than I’m currently paying Sprint for talk and text on a little-used flip phone ($40). The fact that I use the current phone so little is probably the major reason I haven’t yet made the switch; I’d start investigating, beginning with reminding myself of what I’m paying for the flip phone, wonder whether I should be paying even that, realize that the smart phone would cost more per month, and give up. But every few months I’m in a professional situation where the ability to text and/or receive email on the go is assumed, and I feel out of step (there are also family members who communicate almost exclusively by text these days). I also spend more time than I’d like printing out google maps before going somewhere unfamiliar. And as a writing teacher (and someone who sometimes has her students do digital humanities projects, and knows that some students try to do coursework on their phones, for all that I tell them not to), I figure I should really become familiar with this new reading/writing environment. So I guess I’m getting to the point where I feel that I might actually get $40/month’s worth of use out of a smart phone, and the cricket plan (which I also like because the taxes, etc., are included; I hate signing up for something without the true total cost, and trying to learn what the taxes and fees will be is somewhere betweeen tremendously difficult and impossible in most cases) allows me to say “well, I won’t be paying more per month.” Since I’m not getting that value out of the flip phone, and I think I can find a phone in the $200-$300 range that will suit my needs to do the bring-your-own thing, I suspect I’ll take the plunge pretty soon.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I feel kind of the same way, but laziness is still winning for me.

    • chacha1 Says:

      If my employers ever expect me to answer a phone call or email after hours, they had better provide me with a mobile smartphone at their own expense. … My current firm issues Blackberries to attorneys and paralegals. Support and administrative staff are not expected to be available 24/7.

    • lessisenough Says:

      I use the Airvoice $10/mo plan, and I have a Google Voice number. The GV number forwards to my cell number and to my home/office (landline) number. Texts and voicemails forward to my email. This is great for me since I’m usually on my computer and it saves me from having to deal with both computer and phone. Then I can use the phone for outgoing calls, which you can do through the GV website and the number shows up as your GV number.

      For two or three years I used GV exclusively for texting, I didn’t have a cell phone at all.

      I bought a Motorola smartphone for ~$150 in July 2013 and used ReadySIM for a few trips and wi-fi the rest of the time. I got the Airvoice plan in May 2014 and it worked great with GV, I would connect to the web interface and text through that when it wasn’t convenient to use the computer. Then about 3 months ago, the interface changed from the regular desktop interface to some kind of integrated Google Mobile interface, which I actively hate. So I’m back to GV on my computer and making everyone confused by occasionally texting or calling from this random cell number that no one knows.

      But the main point of this comment was to mention Airvoice, which has been great for someone with minimal cell phone/smartphone needs. Smartphone is worth $10/mo to me, but not much more than that. So it’s nice to be able to have it when I need it without spending very much on it.

  15. Katherine Says:

    We are on an AT&T plan with two dumbphones, unlimited talk and text, and 300(?) MB of data that we never use. We didn’t want the data, but they would not sell us a plan without it. I wanted an iPhone, but AT&T charges more per month to have a smart phone even with the exact same phone and data plan. That really annoyed me, so I refused to do it. We pay about $70/month after the university discount.

    At the time we got this plan, I wanted to go to Republic Wireless because I’d read great reviews at Evolving PF and a few other blogs, and my office has no cell service (the university took away the grad students’ office phones because everyone has a cell phone, nevermore the fact that most grad student offices are in basements and don’t have any cell service). But I’m attached to my phone number and I wasn’t going to be able to port it to Republic. Maybe next time we need new phones or a new phone plan will switch to an MVNO.

  16. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    This whole entire topic makes #2 want to stab myself in the eyeball with a spork. This dumb topic is taking up so much of the nation’s mental bandwidth. We could cure cancer if this stuff wasn’t so stupid, expensive, and complicated!

  17. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    “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.”

    Oh, yes. It will change! If you get a good smart phone, in many ways it is a better way to access the Internet than a desktop or laptop computer.

    I’m on Verizon, and really like it because the network works great for me, and because customer service is outstanding.

  18. Rosa Says:

    We’re kind of stuck with Verizon because our various parents live/travel in places where Verizon is basically the only chance at phone reception. I have had terrible experiences with their customer service, but I think that happens with every cell phone company. I would like to go cheaper – especially for my partner, who basically doesn’t use his phone except to call his mother once a week and get texts from me – but the times we really need our phones, we’re traveling in those places where Verizon’s the only option. So there we are.

    Since I am mostly in wifi range, I have never ever gone over the data limit on my Verizon prepay. But this month they gave me unlimited data, so maybe it won’t even ever matter.

  19. Linda Says:

    Someone posted this link that has a few details on pre-paid plans. Maybe you’ll find some of the info usefull: http://arstechnica.com/business/2015/05/heres-how-badly-were-getting-ripped-off-by-our-mobile-phone-providers/

  20. We got iphones, now what? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] finally got DC1 signed up for piano, so the next thing on his list was  smart phones.  He presented me with a bunch of choices and after some discussion and a lot more waiting I chose […]

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