Best phone carriers in 2024: top carriers and networks to choose from

We may earn a commission if you make a purchase from the links on this page.
Best phone carriers in 2024: top carriers and networks to choose from

Intro


PhoneArena is ranking the best cell phone carriers in the US to help you choose based on their 4G and 5G network coverage, download speeds, variety of phones on offer and, last but not least, the plan prices. 

From unlimited 5G plans to prepaid SIM cards and the ease of bringing an unlocked phone to Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T, we aim to set apart the best phone carrier in the US depending on your particular usage scenario.

Also read:

Why do we have this list?


Choosing a phone and a carrier network has gradually become one of the most important decisions in both urban and rural lifestyles alike. A fancy phone is nothing without good network coverage at the places you live or frequent the most, so having a combination of the two is the ideal usage scenario and that's where the choice becomes challenging.

The US cell phone carriers, be it the big three - Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T - or their more affordable MVNO offshoots as well as independent regional carriers, offer different plan options, 4G and 5G coverage areas, or phone prices and promotions.

Since the rampant inflation forced carriers to raise both employee wages and plan prices to compensate, the choice of a carrier network and the variety of phones it offers has grown even further in importance. 

We all want an affordable cell phone monthly bill without sacrificing coverage quality and extra plan perks like free streaming services, minutes and data in Mexico or Canada, as well as privacy and security options, not to mention quick and available customer service to manage those. 

That is why we created this best 2023 phone carriers list to help you navigate the dizzying variety of networks, plan features, prices, phones, customer service, and coverage that the US carriers offer at any point in time.

How did we choose the best phone carrier of 2024?


  • 4G/5G network coverage in rural and urban areas
  • Family and individual plan prices
  • Unlimited data options and throttling allotments
  • Phone choices
  • Extra plan perks such as streaming services
  • Privacy and security plan features

To help you pick the best US phone carrier in 2024 we started with the most important thing - network coverage - which gets further broken down by the still ubiquitous 4G blanket, or the newfangled 5G option.


Bear in mind that both of these network generation standards differ from carrier to carrier and, ultimately, the best phone carrier for you is the one that has coverage where you live and travel, even if it is "only" 4G LTE, so there is no need to slave over brand names or phone promos.

After the all-important coverage issues is sorted out, there remains the pressing questions of price. The carriers with the best coverage tend to have higher pricing, but this might be worth it for getting from one bar of signal to maxing the strength out when you need it the most. Carriers try to obfuscate direct plan price comparisons by offering family bundles and different data tiers, but now that unlimited plans have become ubiquitous, it's easier to sift through the rabble.

Those unlimited 4G and 5G data plans come with different perks to further complicate the matter - from T-Mobile's generous Tuesday freebies, to AT&T's deprecated HBO Max subscription. Oops, not that one, as it recently got nixed in an ever-changing play of competitiveness.

In the very restricted in terms of phone brands on offer US market the variety of phones that the carriers offer matters even more, given that the vast majority of users shop for phones through carriers rather than go for unlocked handsets to bring over.

Last but not least, security safeguards over the privacy of your conversations, messages, browsing habits or app data should be considered in the never-ending quest to evade malicious software or stealth hacking tools. All of these criteria combined make the best US phone carrier of 2022 for some, but not others, so here's what we found.

Best phone carriers summary


  1. Verizon - the best rural coverage and overall network strength at the most expensive prices
  2. AT&T - second best coverage at competitive prices and the most phone choices
  3. T-Mobile - the leader in next-gen 5G network speeds and spread with the cheapest family plans, but with more limited total coverage

Verizon


Pros

  • Best coverage
  • Most stable network
  • Rich collection of streaming services as plan perks

Cons

  • More expensive plans
  • More limited phone choices
  • Low 5G network availability



  • Cheapest Verizon 5G unlimited plan: $30/month 4-line family plan
  • Best Verizon prepaid plan: $60 for 25GB data
  • Verizon subscriber count: 143 million
  • Verizon 5G coverage (millions of Americans): 175 million people covered by 5G Ultra Wideband
  • Verizon median download speeds: 69 Mbps (Q4 Speedtest by Ookla)


The largest US carrier needs no introduction as not only does it offer the best network coverage, even in the rural boondocks, but also has the most reliable 4G fallback and plenty of perks to choose from with its admittedly expensive plan prices.


The biggest current weakness of the Verizon network is falling behind on the 5G network rollout as its 4G speeds were so robust that it only felt it needed to provide 5G at really fast high-band mmWave speeds at limited urban spots.  

The next weak spot is the relatively limited number of phone options to choose from compared to the former GSM carriers like AT&T or T-Mobile, yet with the advent of 5G phones this issue is starting to fade away as they'll work on a different standard.

Verizon unlimited 5G plan price comparison


512GB Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra for $449.99 with trade on Verizon Welcome $30/month unlimited 5G plan

The 512GB Verizon model will net you a $150 immediate discount on a Verizon payment program over 36 months if bought via Samsung, as well as a reasonable $800 trade-in offer that is good even for phones with cracked screens. That price includes the free storage upgrade to 256GB or 512GB that you get from Samsung and Verizon, too.
$12 50 /mo
$38 90
Expired

  • Best cheap 5G plan on Verizon: Welcome unlimited priced at $120/month for four lines (no perks)
  • Best premium Verizon 5G plan: Get More unlimited priced at $220/month for four lines with 9+ perks

*All prices are after Auto Pay and w/ paperless billing, include unlimited talk&text in the US
 

AT&T


Pros

  • Second best coverage
  • Widest choice of phones
  • Competitive plan prices

Cons

  • No streaming service add-ons
  • Lower 5G network availability



  • Cheapest AT&T 5G unlimited plan: $35/month 4-line family plan
  • Best AT&T prepaid plan: $50 for unlimited data with throttling during congestion
  • AT&T Mobility subscriber count: 100.5 million
  • AT&T 5G coverage (millions of Americans): 255 million
  • AT&T median download speeds: 66 Mbps (Q4 Speedtest by Ookla)



The loving heir of Ma Bell's monopoly-busting spree in the eighties seemingly offers the sweet spot of network coverage, median speeds, and plan prices. While it's not as aggressive in marketing as the infamous Verizon vs T-Mobile spat, it nevertheless offers the second most robust rural network in the US, and the unlimited data pricing to match.

Granted, it also fell behind T-Mobile in 5G network rollout, but its solid 4G network has been improving leaps and bounds lately and compensates to the extent that for all intents and purposes AT&T offers the fastest median download speeds when both the 4G and 5G networks are taken into account.

Since it is the original GSM carrier, AT&T also has the widest choice of phones to pick from and most of the unlocked ones you'd bring to it would work, too, making it an ideal choice if you need compatibility for traveling abroad or landing in the US.

AT&T unlimited 5G plan price comparison


512GB Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra for $12.5/month with trade on AT&T Extra 5G unlimited plan

The 512GB AT&T version of the S22 Ultra can be had for just $12.50 a month on a 36-month AT&T Extra unlimited 5G plan which will cost you $35/month for unlimited 5G and 15GB hotspot per line. AT&T has the most amazing trade-in offers and will give you $800 for your old Galaxy S7 even, plus you get a free storage upgrade to 512GB from Samsung, and a $50 instant activation credit.
$12 50 /mo
$38 90
Expired

  • Best cheap 5G plan on AT&T: Extra unlimited priced at $160/month for four lines
  • Best AT&T 5G plan: Premium unlimited priced at $200/month for four lines with no throttling, 4K streaming, 50GB hotspot, and unlimited data in Latin America

*All prices are after Auto Pay and w/ paperless billing, include unlimited talk&text in the US
 

T-Mobile


Pros

  • Best 5G coverage
  • Fastest median download speeds
  • Cheapest family plan prices

Cons

  • Weakest overall coverage
  • Lowest hotspot data sharing allotments
  • More limited phone choices



  • Cheapest T-Mobile 5G unlimited plan: $26/month 4-line family plan
  • Best T-Mobile prepaid plan: $50 for unlimited data with throttling above 50GB
  • T-Mobile subscriber count: 115 million
  • T-Mobile 5G coverage (millions of Americans): 260 million people covered by Ultra Capacity 5G Ultra Wideband
  • T-Mobile median download speeds: 153 Mbps (Q4 Speedtest by Ookla)


From a scruffy but feisty newcomer, T-Mobile has become a 5G network juggernaut in the US thanks to its FCC-approved acquisition of Sprint not long ago that allowed it to build the so-called "layer cake" of a robust 5G coverage from the low to the mid-bands.

T-Mobile is consistently scoring the fastest 5G network download speed awards and the most robust 5G coverage for a few quarters in a row now, and it also offers the most competitive family plan prices. It's also an OG GSM carrier like AT&T, so phone choices and compatibility are better than on Verizon.

Despite all the marketing fluff, however, and its underdog status that made it a favorite among users, T-Mobile still has a way to go in coverage outside of the big city areas and frequented highways compared to AT&T or, even worse, to Verizon's coverage.

T-Mobile unlimited 5G plan price comparison


512GB Galaxy S22 Ultra for $10.42/month with trade on T-Mobile Magenta Max $30 unlimited 5G plan

T-Mobile uses Samsung's generous $1000 cracked screen trade-in offer to arrive at a Galaxy S22 Ultra payment plan at just $10.42/month over a 24-month period with a $30/month Magenta Max-ed out plan of truly unlimited 5G with no throttling. That's for the 512GB version, too, if you activate on T-Mobile via Samsung with its free storage upgrade and $50 instant activation credit.
$10 42 /mo
$58 34
Expired

  • Best cheap 5G plan on T-Mobile: Essentials unlimited priced at $105/month for four lines with throttling above 50GB
  • Best premium T-Mobile 5G plan: T-Mobile Go5G Next is upgrade-ready every year and offers unlimited 5G data at full speed

*All prices are after Auto Pay and w/ paperless billing, include unlimited talk&text in the US


Best prepaid phone carriers in the US


  1. Visible and Straight Talk - low 5G Unlimited plan prices, widest 4G LTE coverage using Verizon's network.
  2. Cricket Wireless: AT&T network power, unlimited 5G plan at just $25 a month for a family of four.
  3. Ultra Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile: $100/month of 5G unlimited data for four lines, 15GB hotspot.

    Ultra Mobile plan features


    If you’re looking for a no-frills phone plan on the nation’s largest 5G network, look no further than Ultra Mobile. Why pay more with Verizon or AT&T when you can have premium wireless coverage at a fraction of the cost? Every plan comes with unlimited nationwide talk & text and unlimited global text & talk to 80+ international destinations.

    While Ultra is already affordable, we have an exclusive PhoneArena reader code that will knock Ultra Mobile’s 2GB plan to just $10/month when you purchase a 12-month plan – that’s $120 for an entire year of premium wireless (normally $168 for 12-months). Simply use code PHONEARENA at checkout to redeem the offer!

    Grab an Ultra Mobile 5G plan for just $10/month!

    Ultra Mobile is gifting PhoneArena readers a 12-month subscription to its expansive 5G network plans for just $120. Just input PHONEARENA at checkout and get it for $10/month while enjoying all the exceptional benefits of the biggest 5G network in America plus free calling abroad!


    • No contract or commitment
    • Free 5G coverage on the largest network
    • Unlimited Nationwide Talk and Text
    • Unlimited Global Text
    • Free Unlimited Talk to 80+ International Destinations
    • High Speed 5G • 4G LTE Data
    • Wi-Fi calling and texting
    • Free mobile hotspot
    • Easy account management via the Ultra Mobile App, online or offline
    • BYOD unlocked phone policy
    • Transfer your current phone number
    • Multilingual customer care

    Visible



    • Network coverage: Verizon
    • Best Visible unlimited 5G prepaid plan: $45 with 50GB hotspot data and 5G Ultra Wideband network access.

    Visible piggybacks on the best American carrier network - Verizon - which means top notch connection quality and the widest coverage at rock bottom prices as Visible only tacks on perks you'd actually need and doesn't maintain a huge variety of phones.

    Lock your Visible plan price and get $250 gift on the Google Pixel 7 PRo

    Visible is running a holiday promo that will lock your $30/$45 unlimited 5G plan rate with hotspot allowance for 5 years if you subscribe before January 3, 2023. In addition, you can get an excellent $250 deal on phones like the Google Pixel 7 Pro in the form of a virtual gift card to spend on Visible's services if you maintain good standing for at least 3 months. Unless you want to bring your own phone, that is.


    Visible's plan prices are very simple - $30 for one line with deprioritization at any time, or $45 for one line with 50GB at full 5G speeds, including on Verizon's superfast Ultra Wideband mmWave network. All Visible plans include hotspot data, too, albeit the $45 plan offers 50GB at top speeds, not restricted to 5 Mbps. 

    For the $30 per month after taxes and fees for a single line, you will receive unlimited data, talk, text, and hotspot. The tier also includes spam protection and unlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada. As for 5G, this service works with Verizon's nationwide 5G (available in over 2,700 cities) and 4G LTE. Keep in mind that Verizon's nationwide 5G download data speeds are closer to the wireless provider's 4G LTE speeds. If traffic is heavy over the nationwide 5G and 4G LTE networks, your data speeds can be throttled.

    If you want to connect with Verizon's faster 5G Ultra Wideband service, you'll need to pay $45 per month for a single line of Visible Plus. This service includes unlimited data, talk, text, and mobile hotspot, as well as data roaming in Mexico or Canada, and calling to more than 30 countries. After consuming more than 50GB of premium mobile data, you could find your data speeds throttled if there is heavy traffic on the 5G or 4G networks. But as we said, this plan allows you to connect to Verizon's fastest mobile 5G service as Ultra Wideband delivers download data speeds north of 400Mbps on average.

    Cricket Wirеless

    • Network coverage: AT&T
    • Best Cricket Wireless prepaid plan: 5G unlimited data on 4 family lines for $100 a month

    Cricket Wireless is an AT&T-owned prepaid plan carrier with 10 million subscribers who piggyback on Ma Bell's expansive 4G LTE and 5G networks. Its current best Cricket Wireless plan deal is 4 lines for $100 a month for unlimited 5G network access with throttling if the network becomes congested. Add $30 more per month for a family of four, and get a 15GB hotspot allowance for each line, too.


Mint Mobile

  • Network coverage: T-Mobile
  • Best Mint Mobile 5G unlimited prepaid plan: $30 a month for a 12-month period

The newly minted Mint Mobile has one of the most affordable prepaid plan prices and it also benefits from being available on T-Mobile, so it can use its widely available 5G network. Mint's plan prices are a bit convoluted as it depends whether you sign for 3, 6, or 12-month period. 


Straight Talk 

  • Network coverage: Verizon
  • Best Straight Talk 5G unlimited prepaid plan: $45 a month with 5GB hotspot

America's largest prepaid phone plan virtual carrier with more than 30 million subscribers among its various brands - TracFone - got acquired by Verizon and is now part of the big happy family with the best coverage in the US. The Straight Talk brand is the most popular of the TracFone umbrella companies and takes advantage of the Verizon 4G LTE and 5G networks at much lower prices with places like Walmart selling Straight Talk phones and plans like hot cakes.

Straight Talk prepaid plan prices




Metro by T-Mobile

  • Network coverage: T-Mobile
  • Best Metro by T-Mobile 5G unlimited prepaid plan: 4 lines for $120 including 15GB hotspot

What was originally Metro PCS got rebranded to Metro by T-Mobile and kept as the only T-Mobile prepaid brand upon its merger with Sprint after DISH scooped up Sprint's Boost Mobile.

Metro by T-Mobile prepaid plan prices



Recommended Stories

Loading Comments...
FCC OKs Cingular\'s purchase of AT&T Wireless