It seems like every week there's a new price point being set in the telecommunications world. There's an all-out war going on between the traditional Big 4 wireless carriers -- AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile -- and smaller Tier 2 operators such as Metro PCS, Cricket, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk and others.
The Big 4 have historically pushed expensive "bucket of minutes" business models with 24-month contracts. That's allowed the Tier 2 operators to carve out a market niche by offering cheaper unlimited calling plans with no contracts.
Which would you rather have?
The success of the smaller players is now actually forcing the Big 4 to come around with better deals for customers. That's the point of this guide. I want to keep you updated with the best deals out there so you can have the cheapest possible cell phone bill in your life with the fewest strings attached.
THE BIG 4 PROVIDERS
T-Mobile offers customers basic unlimited calling starting at $49/month with no annual contract. Customers in select areas of the country may also be eligible for a more traditional plan that offers 1,000 minutes and unlimited nights/weekends for $39/month. In addition, they have a plan for $30 a month that includes unlimited data and text plus 100 minutes.
AT&T is competing with the Tier 2 providers by introducing its "A List with Rollover" plan. "A List" allows you unlimited free calling to the 5 numbers you call most -- regardless of whether they're AT&T customers or not. You'll need a minimum $59/month calling plan to be eligible to do "A List."
The ink wasn't dry on the AT&T plan when Sprint came out with its "Any Mobile, Anytime" plan. It offers unlimited calling to any cell phone on any network for $69/month. No need to designate "favorite" numbers or worry about which carrier your friends and family have.
Verizon does not have any particularly good unlimited deals at this time. However, there is a sneaky back-door way to use their infrastructure through Straight Talk (see below).
THE TIER 2 PROVIDERS
The basic Metro PCS unlimited calling plan starts at $40/month. Additional fees apply for unlimited texting and data. From time to time, they'll run an offer of $25 for unlimited talk and text, with no data whatsoever.
Unlimited calling with Cricket starts at $30/month. Additional fees apply for unlimited texting and data.
PAGE PLUS CELLULAR
The basic Page Plus Cellular unlimited calling plan starts at $30/month with 500 MB of data. However, the better deal may be the "Talk n Text 1200" plan, which offers 1,200 minutes of talk time, 3,000 text messages and 500 MB of data.
Virgin Mobile offers a variety of different smart phones from Android to the iPhone 5s. Plans range from $35/month with 300 minutes of voice service to $45/month with 1,200 voice minutes to $55/month with unlimited voice. All plans include unlimited messaging and data.
Boost Mobile offers an unlimited calling/texting/web plan with no contracts for $55/month. Exclusive to Boost, after every 6 on-time payments, your monthly payment shrinks by $5 a month, up to a maximum $15.
Straight Talk offers two flavors of no-contract plans. The first comes with 1,000 minutes and 1,000 text messages and 30 MB for $30/month. The second is an unlimited calling/texting/web plan for $45/month. Straight Talk uses AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon towers, depending on which area you live in and which phone or plan you purchase.
This unique service routes calls over wifi and uses Sprint when you're not near wifi. They launched with $19 a month for unlimited talk, text, and web. But in November 2013, they unveiled plans as low as $5 with unlimited talk, text, and data on wifi only.
PAGE PLUS CELLULAR
This smaller player mentioned above also offers an attractive plan called "The 12" with 250 Minutes, 250 Text/Picture Messages, and 10 MB Data per month for light cell phone users. The cost? You guessed it -- $12!
This is a T-Mobile sub-brand offering a $45 a month unlimited talk/text/high-speed web (5GBs a month) plan for smartphones. Unlimited plans start at $30.
Offers 200 minutes, 500 text messages, and 500MB of data for free each month, all with no contract! Onetime purchase of a $99 Android phone required.
Monthly plans start at $30 and offer unlimited talk, text, and 500 MB of data, plus $5 in international talk credit and free international text.
Offers free texting all the time on the Sprint cellular network, and then free data and voice minutes when you're near wifi. If you're not near wifi and the need for calling arises, you simply buy a pass for either $1.99 by the day or $15 unlimited for the month. Same thing for data, though the price point is $25 for 1 GB. (Texting remains free and unlimited all the time, no matter whether you're on wifi or a cellular network.)