8 Steps to Help You Choose the Best Wireless Carrier

Finding the right wireless carrier is a task that nobody enjoys. Picking a smartphone is more fun. You get to choose between Android and iOS and find the device that has your favorite must-have smartphone features. But picking a wireless carrier isn’t nearly as exciting. We all know that most carriers have all kinds of sneaky ways to charge you more money. So choosing one over the other often feels like choosing the lesser of two (or more) evils.

But you don’t have to feel like you’re getting ripped off when you shop around for a new wireless carrier. And that’s not because we’re going to tell you exactly which carrier you should choose. After all, the specifics of the plans they offer and the rates they charge change constantly. So it would be pretty difficult for us to offer any universal advice on which carriers and which plans are best.

Nonetheless, it’s simpler than you think to choose the right wireless carrier. As long as you know the right way to do your research and evaluate your options, you can be confident you’ll find the best option and make the right decision. Read on, and we’ll step you through the process of choosing the right wireless carrier for you and your family. You’ll be well on your way to picking the best option in no time.

1. Figure out when and how you can leave

businessman reading on his mobile phone

Know the details of your plan when switching carriers | iStock.com/imtmphoto

If you’re thinking of switching wireless carriers, it’s important to verify what you’ll have to do or how long you’ll have to wait to leave your current plan. Two-year contracts are largely a thing of the past. But if you bought your phone through an installment plan, you’ll need to make sure that it’s fully paid off (and compatible with another carrier) before switching carriers. You should make sure that you won’t run into any early termination fees. And it’s worth seeing if there are any carriers who will pay those fees, or pay the rest of the cost of your phone, if you switch to their network.

2. Decide whether you need a new phone

pretty young woman texts on her mobile phone

Decide whether you can stick with your old phone for another year or so before switching | iStock.com/kcslagle

Maybe you just got a new smartphone and don’t think you’ll need another one for a couple of years. Or perhaps you’ve been holding on to the same device for longer than you can remember and are looking forward to upgrading. Maybe, on the other hand, your phone is relatively new but you like getting a new phone every year or so. Whatever your preference, make sure you’re clear on whether you’re looking for a carrier that will make it cheap to get a new phone or one that will offer an inexpensive plan that’s perfect for bringing your own phone. 

3. If you’re keeping your phone, find out which networks you can use

businessman texting in his office

Your phone may only be usable on some networks | iStock.com/shironosov

If you’ve decided to hold onto your current phone for another year or two, then you’ll need to do your research to determine which technologies it supports and which networks it’ll be compatible with. You can usually find those pieces of information relatively quickly with an easy Google search. (If you really get stuck, you can always contact customer service.) You’ll also need to make sure your phone is unlocked, or get it unlocked, before you switch to a new carrier.

4. Check out each carrier’s coverage

businessman using internet on smart phone

Make sure your new carrier has service in your area | iStock.com/anyaberkut

For people living in major metro areas, most carriers offer adequate coverage these days. But if you don’t live in a major city, you should make sure to research the coverage that each carrier offers in your area. If you consistently travel to other areas, or like to vacation in the same location each year, it’s also worth checking into the coverage in those areas, too. Unless you live in a really rural area, you’ll likely have several options for carriers that offer good coverage. But you don’t want to forget to research coverage, since that’s something you’re likely to regret later. 

5. Count how many people are going to be on the plan

woman sitting at a table using mobile phone

Take into account how many people are on your plan | iStock.com/loveischiangrai

Are you shopping for a plan for yourself? Or are you looking for one that can accommodate not only you, but also a few family members or roommates? Family plans often end up being cheaper than individual plans, though you’ll have to pay attention to the amount of data you’re getting for each person on the plan. The four major carriers are often the most straightforward about their family plans and may offer some attractive promotions. But there are also options to evaluate from MVNOs and prepaid carriers. 

6. Figure out your priorities

teen couple using smart phones in a train station

Know what you really need in your mobile carrier | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Determining what’s most important to you is a pretty crucial step in finding the right wireless carrier and plan. Do you want a specific phone and need a carrier that offers an affordable way to get it? Are you just looking for a carrier that will make your monthly bill as low as possible? Is it important to you to be able to roll over one month’s unused data to the next month? Do you want zero-rated music streaming or video streaming? Or do you need a lot more data than what’s offered with the average plan? Figure out what’s most important before you start comparing specific plans.

7. If you’re buying a phone, determine how

Young man lying on sofa at night illuminated by light

Decide how you plan on getting yourself a new phone if you need one | iStock.com/Art-Of-Photo

So you (and perhaps some other people who are going to be on your plan) want a new phone. What you need to figure out next is how you want to purchase any new phones you need. One of the best ways to get a new phone is to purchase your phone outright and get an unlocked model. But there are some good alternatives if you don’t have the cash to spare or don’t need that flexibility. Look into the installment plans that are offered by the carriers you’re considering and see what will work best for you. And if you want a new phone every year, do your research on leasing plans.

8. Compare your options, and make a choice

Woman wearing orange shirt texting on a smartphone

Do all of your research to make an informed decision | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

You’ve already thought about and done your research on all of the most important factors in choosing the right carrier and plan, so you’re ready to compare the specifics of the plans that are available to you. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of useful tools and websites, like WhistleOut and Wirefly, to find and compare the variety of options that may hit all your major criteria. Check out the websites of all of the carriers you’re considering, and if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of customer service to get the answers you need.