Finding a new smartphone or a new wireless plan is a complicated process, one that generally involves a lot of research and some careful thinking about exactly what it is that you need from your device or plan. But sometimes if you’re looking for something specific — like a plan that includes only data, not voice, SMS, or the hassles that go along with them — it seems like you’ll never find the right plan, much less figure out whether you’re getting a good deal or not.
When you’re looking for a data-only plan, you’ll likely encounter plenty of carriers that want to sell you voice and SMS along with your data, even if you don’t ever make voice calls (or if you do, use an app like WhatsApp or Google Voice). But if you’re searching for a truly data-only plan, there are a few carriers and plans that you should consider. Here are our seven favorite carriers with real data-only mobile plans.
Haje Jan Kamps reports for TechCrunch that a new mobile provider called Charge was created especially for people “who prefer to tap on their mobile devices rather than talk into them.” The company offers pay-as-you-go data on Sprint’s network at just $15 per GB, or $13 per GB when you buy 3GB or more. You can use most iPhones, Google Nexus phones, iPads, and other Sprint-compatible devices with Charge’s service (though the company is planning to add support for GSM-only devices in the future).
The company’s data-only plans don’t involve contracts or monthly plans, and you can just buy the data you need, when you need it. And you can use the data any way you like, whether you want to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot or share data across two or more devices.
2. Project Fi
Google’s Project Fi offers the option of data-only SIM cards (and you can take a look at the coverage for the service’s data-only service on this dedicated map). As with Project Fi’s other plans, data costs $10 per GB, and at the end of the month, you’ll be credited for any data that you didn’t use. As Android Central reported late in 2015 when Google introduced Project Fi’s data-only option, the list of compatible devices is fairly limited, and initially only included tablets.
But the data-only SIM could also work in other T-Mobile-compatible devices, and a Project Fi support page at the time noted that customers could use the data-only SIM in a smartphone if they just wanted to have data, and not calls or texts. However, one limitation of Project Fi’s data-only plan is that you can’t tether from a device with a data-only SIM.
Ting is an MVNO that saves you money by charging you only for what you use. If you take a look at the carrier’s rates, you’ll see that you’ll pay a base charge of $6 per device each month, and data costs $19 for 1GB, $29 for 2GB, and then then 1.5¢ for each additional megabyte. If you don’t need any minutes or plan to send any text messages, you won’t pay for them. (But unlike when you opt for a data-only plan from some other carriers, and all calls and text messages are blocked, you’ll still be able to make a call or send a message on occasion if you need to.)
Additionally, tethering and hotspot functionality are included with your service. At the end of each billing cycle, you’ll pay for whichever usage level you hit. That means that you don’t have to pick a plan or try to figure out exactly how much data you’ll need ahead of time, and also that you’ll avoid prepaying for data that you aren’t going to use. Ting offers coverage on both GSM and CDMA coverage, and you can have any combination of GSM and CDMA devices under one account, sharing minutes, messages, and megabytes.
Tello is another MVNO that you should consider if you’re shopping for a data-only plan. Tello, which runs on Sprint’s network, enables customers to build their own custom plans. You can choose the amount of minutes and texts that you want — or opt for zero minutes and zero texts and pay nothing for that functionality. Tello charges $11 for 1GB of data, $21 for 2GB of data, $31 for 3GB of data, or $45 for 5GB of data. Or, if you want just a few minutes or texts to use, just in case, you can add them for just $2 or $3 per month.
Tello’s plans renew automatically every 30 days, but you can use monthly billing or opt to cancel your service anytime, without extra charges. Additionally, you can upgrade or downgrade your plan anytime without extra fees, and any changes you make will be applied instantly, and your balance will roll over for the next 30 days. You can bring any phone that’s compatible with Sprint’s network, or purchase a new phone through Tello.
While some of our favorite data-only plans are newcomers, T-Mobile has, for some time, offered deeply discounted plans for subscribers who want data-only plans. As CIO reported recently, T-Mobile’s data-only plans cost $20 a month per line for 2GB of data, or $30 a month for 6GB of data.
Despite rumors that T-Mobile was introducing new plans, T-Mobile has actually offered its data-only plans for some time, though they’ve traditionally been aimed at customers who are hearing-impaired and don’t need voice service. Anyone can get a data-only plan at T-Mobile, but unfortunately they aren’t available online, so you’ll need to visit a T-Mobile store or pick up the phone to get one.
If you’re looking for a data-only plan for your tablet, hotspot, or another device and prefer to stick with a major carrier, then another option is Verizon. Verizon’s data-only plans enable you to share data across multiple devices, and you can choose among a number of different options, including 2GB for $20 per month, 4GB for $30 per month, 6GB for $40 per month, 8GB for $50 per month, and so on (all the way up to 100GB per month). There’s an added fee for each device: $10 per month for a tablet, $20 per month for a hotspot, and $5 for any other “connected device.”
As Android Central reported in 2015, Verizon also introduced some prepaid data plans for tablets, which offer options between 500MB and 10GB. The data is good for a week, a month, or two months, and you can enroll in autopay if you want a data-only plan on an ongoing basis, instead of one that’s better suited to a business trip or vacation.
If you need a data-only plan not for a smartphone, but for a data-only device like a tablet, a laptop, or a mobile hotspot, one of AT&T’s Mobile Share plans might be for you. These plans include a shared amount of data that you can use on up to 10 data-only devices (and again, smartphones aren’t eligible). You’ll pay a monthly charge for the amount of data you want, plus a per-device access charge of $20 per month for a laptop, mobile hotspot, or netbook, or $10 per month for a tablet or gaming device. 4GB of data cost $30, 6GB cost $40, 10GB cost $60, and so on up to 50GB.
AT&T’s data-only Mobile Share plans aren’t available online, so to get one, you’ll have to chat with a representative online, call AT&T, or visit your local AT&T store. Tethering and mobile hotspot usage is allowed for up to five simultaneous devices.