Just a few years ago, finding the best cell phone plan was a pretty simple task. You just checked the plans of the three or four cell phone carriers in your area and picked the best one.
But today, you can get phone plans in all kinds of colors and sizes. It is far more complicated today as there are literally hundreds of cell phone carriers across the country and they all offer a large variety of plans.
There are plans that provide more than enough data for use with Uber and Lyft ranging in price anywhere from $25 a month to $150 a month. And each company offers a slightly different set of features and options – making the decision even more complicated.
So, finding the best unlimited data plan from a cell phone carrier that also provides the best cell phone service, can be difficult, to say the least.
It’s great to have a lot of choices, but when you have so many, you can spend hours researching and figuring out which one is the best. Hopefully, we at Ridester can help you with that now.
We’ve looked at all the best cell phone plans to see how they stack up for Uber, Lyft and other gig economy workers, so you can make the smart choice when purchasing a plan.
Since many gig and sharing economy workers don’t make an excessive amount of of money, you need the most economical plan possible. But, you also need service that is 100% reliable and fast.
With those things in mind, we have put together this list of the best cell phone plans and carriers. Let’s dive right in.
How Much Cell Phone Data do Rideshare Drivers Really Need?
A lot of drivers are looking for the best unlimited data plan because data is the backbone of our business. Data runs our navigation apps and it runs our driver apps, like Uber and Lyft or DoorDash and Postmates, so when people start driving for Uber or Lyft they can get anxious over how much cell phone data they’re going to need.
- Will it put them over their plan’s limit?
- Will they end up having to pay a lot more for their phone plan?
- With high costs like these, are on-demand services even worth a try?
These are great questions, but what you may not know is that these apps don’t really use all that much data. And the navigation apps don’t use much data either.
You probably don’t have to worry much though because it turns out the Uber and Lyft apps as well as the other gig economy apps, don’t really use all that much data. Neither do the navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze.
Drivers report that when they work 50 hours a week they use roughly half a gigabyte (500 Mbs) of data per week. That comes out to about 2-2 ½ GBs per month – which is about the same amount of data a single 90-minute HD video would use.
This means a plan that includes just two GBs of data per month would be more than enough for your rideshare work – at least as long as you don’t watch any 90-minute videos in HD! And if you work less than 50 hours a week, it should be more than enough. But it doesn’t leave much room left over for anything else.
Of course you’ll want more data than that because you’ll need it for other things as well – such as watching videos while you wait for your next ping! But if you need or want to save as much money as possible, you most likely won’t need one of the more expensive unlimited plans. You can easily get by on a 5 Gb per month plan, if you limit your other internet usage.
There are a few other things you’ll want to consider besides just the price and amount of data you’ll get.
You’ll also want to look at the quality and reputation of the cell phone provider and you’ll want to look at the quality of the actual cell phones – especially those features that relate specifically to sharing economy work – such as GPS quality.
Beware of the Limits on Unlimited Plans
With all of the companies advertising and marketing “unlimited” plans – we could find no plans that were actually unlimited. All plans we found had some kind of limits.
To illustrate my point – look at these four plans from Walmart’s Family Mobile:
Notice the word “UNLIMITED” in large text on each of the ads? But, look at the last one – the $49.88 plan. It says “TRULY Unlimited”. Well, if this one is the only one that’s TRULY Unlimited – then what does that make the other ones? “LYINGLY Unlimited”!? If something is unlimited, but it’s not TRULY unlimited – that means it’s, what? That means it’s Limited!
And that’s the point. All the so-called “unlimited” plans are limited. All of them.
Even, the “TRULY Unlimited” plan from Walmart is LIMITED! It TRULY is!
Most of the companies that offer “unlimited” or even “TRULY Unlimited” data plans, cap your plan at 22 Gigabytes per month. After that, they slow your speed.
But don’t make the mistake I made one month! I used the full 22 GBs because I was curious what really happens when you do. Well, I found out and it wasn’t what I thought!
I thought that after hitting 22 GBs, they would slow you down to 3G speeds. And I remember 3G. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. You could do things with it. You could even watch videos.
But guess what? They don’t slow you to 3G. They slow you to 2G! And 2G is so slow you literally can’t do anything with it. It’s so slow that it’s almost impossible to even get an all-text email.
Heed my warning: when they say they “slow” you to 2G – what they really mean is, they practically shut off your service entirely. They just don’t want to say they shut it off – because if they say that – they can no longer call it an “unlimited” plan.
But as long as they can claim to provide some service (even though they know it’s not a service anyone can use), they can legally, by law, claim that they offer unlimited plans. It’s really nothing more than these companies finding a way to tell a legal lie.
Don’t believe me? One of my favorite tech bloggers, Tim Schofield, proved it in real-time. Watch the video below to cell phone throttling in action for yourself:
Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, let’s dive into the world of cell phone plans for Uber and Lyft drivers.
The Top Cell Phone Carriers:
The Top Four cell phone carriers in the United States are:
These are the companies that build the actual cell phone networks. In the past, these were also the only providers you could get cellular service from. But today, there are seemingly hundreds of new companies that all sell discounted service plans.
If you’ve ever wondered where all these other companies came from and how they relate to the four major cell phone providers, here is some information you’ll find interesting. All the other companies are basically resellers of the services of one or more of the top four companies.
In the industry they’re called “Mobile Virtual Network Operators” or MVNOs. These MVNOs are much smaller companies than the top four carriers. And they don’t build any networks, they don’t own any cell phone towers. They are simply resellers of the services provided by the likes of AT&T and T-Mobile.
They lease telephone and data services from the major carriers and then resell those services. Because they lease large chunks of the big carriers’ networks, they get discounts on their services. They then turn around and sell those same services, quite often surprisingly, at a higher price than the big carriers do.
We have two cautions though on getting your phone service from an MVNO.
First, one of the major carriers sells data cheaper than all of them. So, you’re probably not going to get a better deal going with one of these companies.
And second, they are not all on the up and up like the four main carriers are. If you port an existing phone number over to them or if you get a new phone number from them that you end up using as your primary phone number, you are not guaranteed that they will allow you to take your number with you when you leave.
By law, all phone companies are required to allow their customers to take their phone numbers with them when they leave. It’s called the Full Mobile Number Portability act – and it’s the law. But, some of the shadier MVNOs will stall the process of number transfers for so long that their customers will eventually give up.
They won’t come out and say that they won’t allow you to transfer your number to your new carrier, but they’ll say they’re having trouble with it – and they just need a few more days. And every few days, they’ll tell you they need another few days.
Finally, if you’re like most people you will either give up and lose your old number – or you’ll give up on switching companies and stay with your current MVNO. And that, of course, is exactly what these companies are hoping you’ll do.
Losing your number can cause a great inconvenience though so if that’s a concern for you, you’re better off sticking with the Big Four.
So Many Plans – How Do I Choose?
Yes, there are literally thousands of plans and it can be difficult to choose. However, we can simplify it and make it much easier to understand.
While there are thousands of plans, they can be filtered into two basic categories.
- Plans for people with high-data usage needs.
- Plans for people with low-data usage.
Some reseller companies offer great savings to people who don’t really need to use many services but who need a basic phone primarily for emergency purposes. The Big Four don’t really offer any plans for people who just need an emergency phone.
But the companies that specialize in low-use customers, can put you on a plan for as low as $15 a month. It won’t offer much, but if you just need a basic phone for cheap, it might be the way to go.
However, power users would end up paying way too much with these companies. For instance, Ting Mobile has plans for people who don’t need an unlimited calling plan and who expect to use fewer than 100 calling minutes per month. If they also only need just 100 text messages and 100 Mbs of data, they can get a phone for just $15 a month.
But this same company would charge you just about $100 a month if you needed 1,000 minutes, 1,000 texts and 7 GBs of data. Hardly a good deal for more demanding users. And if you dared to purchase 22 GBs of data (the upper limit most other companies offer), you’d pay $250 a month! But you can get that same amount of data from the Big Four for much, much less.
Basically, any company that advertises great prices for low-end users is more than likely going to have very high prices for power users. And vice versa. Companies that have great prices for high-end users are likely going to be very expensive on the low end or they won’t offer anything on the low end at all.
For Uber and Lyft drivers, whether you want a bottom of the barrel minimum plan or you want to max out at full-speed-ahead – depends on whether or not you’re going to use this phone solely for driving or if it’s going to be your “everything” phone.
If it’s going to be your everything phone, then you’ll need something much more than the most basic minimum plans. But, if you have another phone you use for everything and you want to use a separate phone for driving, then you might very well only need a basic minimum plan.
Let’s Take a Closer Look
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular plans out there. First, we’ll look at the Big Four, then we’ll take a look at some of the resellers.
Please keep in mind that the companies are constantly changing their plans, so use this as a guide to compare the companies. Whoever has the best deal today is probably likely to have the best deal tomorrow – even if they all change things up a bit.
Since there are so many plans with all kinds of different features and variations, we will use a Cost per Gig comparison to get a clear view of who is really giving you the best deal.
On the left side under the cell carrier’s name we will put the Cost per Gig of their “unlimited” plan – which is usually the best price they offer.
We will put the Cost per Gig under each individual plan as well.
My personal recommendation to anyone is if you’re in an area that gets good T-Mobile coverage – go with T-Mobile. T-Mobile has hands down, the lowest price per gigabyte of data at $1.40 per gig.
The next closest is Sprint coming in at $2.95 per gig. Which is 2.1x higher than T-Mobile’s price. And with Sprint you have to put up with their unbelievably unreliable network!
And T-Mobile has the highest limit on the unlimited plan at 50 GBs per month. So, hands down, T-Mobile has the best deal.
I have watched T-Mobile achieve great improvements each year. Years ago their coverage was spotty in most of the country. It was fine in major cities but once you got a few miles outside the city you’d start having problems.
But today and for the last several years – their coverage has been excellent. And everywhere I’ve travelled in the country, I’ve never had a problem at all – even when I’m way out in the country.
I also mentioned above that I like their honesty in marketing. I really do like that a lot.
Verizon and AT&T both come from a monopolistic background. They were both monopoly companies from their inception until the they were broken up by law. But I’ve found both of these companies still have a kind of monopoly mindset when it comes to dealing with their customers.
They have always treated me like – they’re so big I should be thankful they’re even bothering with me. I also believe their sky-high prices are a reflection of that original monopolistic mindset that is still at their core.
Their modus operandi has always been to offer a monthly package at a low price (or at least what they thought was a low price), but then to charge extra for the one feature most customers have to have.
Remember back when text messaging first came out – and people just couldn’t get enough of it? Before text messaging, these companies sold their plans by the number of minutes you’d use on the phone. Then when text messaging came out – that gave them a new thing to charge for so they all went to a “low” flat rate for the phone minutes.
They started advertising “unlimited minutes”. They could do this because they could now charge extra for text messages. So they picked a quantity of text messages that they knew was much lower than what most people used and they said that number was included. But they knew people would pay more (a lot more) to get a few more text messages.
When smart phones became the rage – suddenly they had a new thing they could charge for – internet usage. So now they began advertising plans with unlimited phone minutes, unlimited text messages – and a few megabytes of internet data. They set that limit well below what they knew most people would use and sold additional data at a price that was – and still is today – far higher than it actually costs them.
Only T-Mobile offers a plan that really does give consumers far more data than they’ll ever be able to use – for a low, flat monthly rate.
T-Mobile has always been competitive in that way. And they came to America (from Germany) as a competitor – not a monopoly. Even though their parent company was spawned from a former monopoly. But when they came to America, they had to compete as a company no one had ever heard of. And they have been very competitive – always offering plans and features that were ahead of the other companies.
T-Mobile has always made me feel like it is the only one of the four major cell phone carriers that has actually competed honestly. And by honestly, I mean, they tell you the price and that’s the price.
There are no hidden taxes or fees. And there are no charges for more of this or that feature. No additional charges for data overages. They are also usually the first to offer new and nifty features that the other companies are always scrambling to catch up with.
On every list of carriers, Sprint always shows up last. And there’s a reason for that. They are the worst.
They have the worst reception. They have the slowest data network. They have the least coverage, nationally. They have the worst customer service. And as I discovered during my research, they also apparently have the worst website! It’s the only one that went down while I was looking at it.
The main advantage to getting your cell phone plan through an MVNO reseller is that they sell the exact same services as the Big Four – but at substantial discounts. We’ll take a closer look later at some of the top resellers and the plans they’re offering.
But for now, below is a list of some of the top cell phone resellers in the country today. We provide this list as a reference to you in case you’d like to check out more companies than the ones we review here.
Next to each reseller is the Host Network which is the network whose service they are reselling. That’s good to know because if you know one provider has better service in your area than the others – then you should look for a reseller that uses them as a host.
This list will also tell you the resellers with whom you can bring your own device and it will display which ones have unlimited data plans and which ones don’t. That should help you narrow down your search.
|MVNO (Reseller)||BYOD||Unlimited Data|
|Best Cellular||AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon||Yes||No|
|Boom Mobile||AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|Chit Chat Mobile||Sprint||Yes||No|
|Consumer Cellular||AT&T, T-Mobile||Yes||No|
|Credo Mobile||Sprint, Verizon||No||Yes|
|China Telecom Americas||T-Mobile||Yes||Yes|
|EcoMobile||Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|Expo Mobile||Sprint, Verizon||Yes||No|
|Flash Wireless||Sprint, Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|good2GO Mobile||AT&T, Sprint||Yes||No|
|Hayai Mobile||AT&T, T-Mobile||Yes||Yes|
|Jolt Mobile||AT&T, T-Mobile||Yes||No|
|NTT DoCoMo USA||T-Mobile||No||No|
|OTG Mobile||Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|Page Plus Cellular||Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|Patriot Mobile||Sprint, Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|Pix Wireless||AT&T, Sprint||Yes||Yes|
|Proven Wireless||Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon||Yes||No|
|Puppy Wireless||Verizon, Sprint||Yes||No|
|Red Pocket Mobile||AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|Republic Wireless||Sprint, T-Mobile||Yes||No|
|ROK Mobile||Sprint, Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|Speed Talk Mobile||T-Mobile||Yes||No|
|Straight Talk||AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|Telcel América||Sprint, T-Mobile||Yes||No|
|Tempo Telecom||Sprint, T-Mobile||No||No|
|The People’s Operator USA||Sprint, T-Mobile||Yes||No|
|Total Call Mobile||Sprint||No||Yes|
|TracFone||AT&T, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon||Yes||No|
|US Mobile||T-Mobile, Verizon||Yes||Yes|
|UWT Mobile||AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile||Yes||No|
|Virgin Mobile USA||Sprint||Yes||Yes|
|Walmart Family Mobile||T-Mobile||Yes||Yes|
Now, let’s take a look at some of the reseller deals. This is where you might think you’d be most likely to find the best cell phone plans. But that’s not usually true. Contrary to what many believe, the four major cell phone carriers in some cases have plans that cost less than their resellers do.
Finding the right carrier and the right data plan is difficult because there are so many out there. If you’re an Uber or Lyft driver or any other gig economy worker, you rely on your cell phone and its data plan to do your job. So, finding the best unlimited data plan should be the most important consideration.
When these MVNO resellers started popping up and becoming more prominent and well known, people were amazed at what seemed like their great deals. I remember a friend calling me one day and saying, “Did you know you can get a cell phone for just $50 a month with unlimited EVERYTHING!?” I said, ‘no way!’ It didn’t sound possible, as I was paying well over $100 to one of the Big Four.
That was their gimmick in the beginning. Offer a price that sounded like half what the majors were offering and say everything is “unlimited”. If everything, especially data, were truly unlimited, then they would indeed have some awesome deals.
But upon closer examination, it turns out that in most cases, their data plans cost more per gigabyte than the plans of the four majors. And in fact, one of the four beats everybody on price – the resellers as well as the other three top carriers. The reason the resellers don’t beat all of the four majors is because they do in fact have limits on their data that causes their plans to be quite expensive in the end… even at just $50 a month. If their plans truly were unlimited, then they would beat them.
These companies resell the networks of the above-mentioned four major carriers. So, you can first eliminate the ones that are on carriers you don’t want to be on. Either they don’t have good coverage in your area or for some other reason you don’t prefer them.
After you’ve eliminated the ones on the carriers you don’t prefer, then you’ve narrowed the list down considerably and finding just the right plan she be easy after that.
Sprint – is the big loser in the race for the best cell phone plans. It is so widely recognized that Sprint is a third-rate network, we advise staying away from any reseller that uses Sprint exclusively. Some use Sprint along with the other networks. In those cases you can ask them at the time you order service to put you on a non-Sprint plan.
Also, it may come as a surprise to learn that two of the most well-known resellers are wholly owned by Sprint! Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile.
So, which is the best unlimited data plan and which is the best cell phone plan overall, after all is said and done? Looking at the four major carriers by price – T-Mobile easily comes in at #1. Followed by Sprint, Verizon and AT&T.
AT&T and Verizon are the most expensive companies and the difference between them on price per gigabyte is just a few cents. Sprint is the third most expensive. But because of their well-known problems, we don’t recommend going with them.
T-Mobile, as you can see in the graph below, is the company with the absolute best price and they have also earned a great reputation for features, service and reliability.
Looking at the top resellers, in the graph below, you can see that along with the four major carriers, T-Mobile still comes out on top – with the cheapest per gigabyte data rate. They literally beat everybody.
In looking at this chart it’s interesting to see because you can see the top three companies with the lowest prices per gigabyte on cell phone data are T-Mobile and two companies that resell T-Mobile. Those companies are Walmart and MetroPCS. MetroPCS is in fact owned by T-Mobile. So, T-Mobile really sweeps up in the best price category.
The second least expensive group are associated with Sprint
Monthly Plans vs. Annual Contracts
Monthly plans don’t involve any kind of credit check. They are pay as you go. So, if you have poor credit that might prevent you from getting a plan from one of the major carriers, then one of the pay as you go plans would be the way you’d have to go.
However, a lot of drivers think the MVNO reseller plans are cheaper. They’re really not cheaper on a per gigabyte basis, although they may come with a lower total monthly cost. So, if you just have to save that $20 or so dollars a month, then that would be the way to go.
Generally, the unlimited plans from the resellers cost around $50 a month, but they are in fact limited. And they have different limits. Anywhere from 15 GB limits to 35 GBs.
For $70 though, you can get as close to an unlimited plan as possible with T-Mobile. Their plan is $70 for up to 50 GBs of monthly usage. With that, you would never even have to think again about whether you’re using too much data. You won’t even get close to using that much data no matter how hard you try!
And in the end, for that convenience, it may not be worth the restrictions on a lower usage plan just to save $20 bucks a month. Because of the price and the generosity of data, T-Mobile has the best cell phone plans this year.
A lot of drivers don’t want to get tied into an annual contract, so they opt for one of the MVNO reseller plans. A lot of people also believe these plans are cheaper. But it turns out they’re not. So, unless you have a really good reason for avoiding an annual contract you’d more than likely be better off going with an contract plan with T-Mobile.