Too many of us are giving our business to cell phone carriers that aren’t adequately serving us.
But let’s face it: sometimes it feels easier to stick with the status quo, even if it’s detrimental to our wallets or our lifestyle. Change can require time and effort.
Luckily, with this list, we’ve made it easy for you to pinpoint the particular issues you may be facing — and we give you the tools you need to pursue the cell phone carrier that works for your unique situation.
So what are the signs that it’s time to switch carriers?
1. You feel trapped, ripped off, or generally unsatisfied
Unfortunately, many people are locked into a contract they wish they could escape. Anna Miran of MightyCall aptly describes long-term, expensive-to-break contracts as “literally the worst thing in the industry. Once a company locks you in, they lose incentive to keep you happy and provide the best service they can.”
If this situation describes you, you have some options:
- Break the contract and pay up
- Switch to a non-contract carrier that will pay off your early termination fee
- Wait until your contract is up before you skedaddle
Whatever you do, definitely shop around for a prepaid or postpaid month-to-month carrier that offers flexibility.
Andrew Moore-Crispin of Ting Mobile explains, “Life can be very fluid. You shouldn’t have to worry about fees and penalties should you land a job that provides a phone or takes you abroad.” Ting actually gives you your first month free and charges you only for the data, texts, and minutes you use each month.
2. Your phone is operating at sloth speeds
Do you often wait several seconds to upload, download, or access something on your phone? Among other factors, a number of issues might be at play:
- The file size is just really big
- You’re in a remote area with limited network connectivity
- You need to disable apps slowing you down or restart your phone
- The network is congested temporarily
- Your carrier isn’t delivering the speeds you’re paying for
- You need to up the amount of high-speed data you’re paying for
To determine your speed, test your data speed with Speedtest to put a number to your observations rather than just a subjective gauge that things are slow. Then check to see how much of your allotted high-speed data you’ve used for the month.
Even if you have an unlimited plan, it’s unlikely you have a claim on unlimited 4G LTE data. When carriers advertise unlimited plans, “unlimited” refers to all data available to the consumer, including lower-speed 3G and 2G data. Once you exhaust your allotted 4G LTE data, you’ll likely experience throttling, or slowing of data speeds.
Unlimited data ≠ unlimited high-speed data.
Experts and consumers generally agree that throttling as a network management strategy is superior to the time when overage fees were common, but it’s still an inconvenience.
So what are your options?
- Do nothing and wait and see where and how to access 5G speeds in the near future
- Upgrade your current phone plan to increase your high-speed data allotment
- Compare high-speed data packages from top-reviewed carriers such as Verizon, which offers a whopping 75 GB of data at 4G LTE speeds starting at $60 per month
3. You’re paying for data you don’t actually use
Data is the name of the game with all the competing top-of-the-line unlimited phone plans available. It’s all about more, better, and faster data. But not everyone needs exorbitant data amounts.
Does one of these scenarios describe your current situation?
- You’re a student who spends nearly all your time on campus connected to the university’s Wi-Fi.
- You primarily use your phone at home or work, where Wi-Fi is accessible.
- You use your phone mostly for texting and calling on the go rather than for surfing or using apps requiring Wi-Fi connectivity or data.
- Navigation apps are the only apps you use on the road. Or, you download area maps ahead of time for offline use and aren’t using apps at all.
- Rather than streaming music through your music app when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi, you download music ahead of time that can be played offline.
If you actually use the data you’re paying for each month, don’t bother downsizing your allotment. Just know that you don’t have to default to maximum data plans.
David Lynch of tech help hub Payette Forward explains, “There’s no one-size-fits-all cell phone plan, so it’s important for you to figure out what you really need. The average person only uses a few gigabytes of data per month. Switching to a plan with a smaller monthly allotment of data is a great way to immediately save money.” We couldn’t agree more.
As you navigate a data amount switch, make sure you do the math to confirm the switch saves you money in the long run, since in some cases carriers incentivize buying more data with additional perks (such as an AutoPay or multi-line discount) that do compensate for the higher data charges.
4. Your calls are dropping and texts aren’t going through
“If you find that you can't send messages or make calls because you lack service in
certain geographical locations, then the cellphone carrier may not have sufficient coverage for you,” explains David Steele of refurbished phone retailer EverydayPhone.
The biggest wireless providers operate networks nationwide and boast U.S. population network connectivity approaching 100 percent, especially in metropolitan areas. Sprint recently improved network coverage in Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City, with download speeds improving more than 50 percent.
However, some areas of the country can be better served by smaller carriers that provide region-specific coverage through roaming agreements with more than one carrier.
And sometimes a region-specific carrier makes more financial sense if you only need phone service in that area. For example, Appalachian Wireless covers parts of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia with its own LTE network operated from a spectrum leased from Verizon.
Talk to your local friends to gauge their satisfaction with their carrier’s network coverage as you determine which carrier is best. You can also search within the reviews section at the bottom of each of our company profile pages to pinpoint specific geographic areas.
5. Customer service isn’t actually serving you
As human beings (and even as self-interested consumers), most of us can overlook a mistake that is appropriately addressed. But it’s another story when the problem isn’t taken care of efficiently or fairly — or ever! When you pay for a service, you expect excellent service.
These red flags indicate subpar customer service from a carrier:
- Lacks transparency
- Charges hidden fees
- Adds on services that were not agreed upon
- Is difficult to reach on the phone
- Has long wait times for phone communication or email replies
- Cannot provide answers or solutions to issues
And sometimes it’s over-communicating that’s the problem. MyFoodSubscriptions’ Beverly Friedmann explains that “companies that send too many texts, emails, and notifications in reference to upcoming bills or promotions can be off-putting.”
Reading verified customer reviews is the best way to gauge the overall customer service quality of a cell phone provider.
6. You want to start or join an account with family or friends
Don’t settle for getting ripped off with your current family plan or overpaying for a single-line account. Cell phone carriers incentivize accounts with multiple phone lines by offering hefty multi-line discounts with ample high-speed data amounts, customizable international options, and few, if any, strings attached.
Take Sprint, for example. Sprint’s multi-line Unlimited Basic service plan gets you a third, fourth, and fifth phone line free, totaling $20 per month per line. That gives customers a $1,000 savings over the first year over comparable plans with some competitors.
7. You want better parental controls
If you’re ready for your children to have a mobile device, but you don’t want them to have untethered access to the digital world, your phone carrier’s parental controls are a good place to start. But what exactly do the parental controls actually control?
Verizon, Mobile, and AT&T’s parental control apps have these capabilities at a minimum, though each carrier varies slightly in other areas:
- Instantly turn off Wi-Fi access
- Instantly turn off data access
- Limit apps available for download
- Limit time spent on device
- Limit call minutes and number of text messages
- Locate family members’ locations and seven-day location history
Another thing to consider for kids is a basic phone rather than a smartphone. Unfortunately, some carriers don’t offer a text-and-talk only plan that makes sense financially — sometimes it’s actually less expensive to purchase data with your kid’s line. In that case, look into data sharing plans that allow you to allot specific data amounts to certain lines within the account.
8. You’re eligible for special discounts
Perhaps you’ve reached senior status and you’re eligible for a yearly phone bill discount — but your carrier doesn’t offer one. Or you’re an active member or veteran of the U.S. military. T-Mobile offers discounts for both of those situations.
Verizon gives military and veteran-status personnel discounts and discounts wireless accounts for the following first responders:
- Police officers
- EMS workers
Consumer Cellular gives AARP members 5 percent off monthly fees and usage charges, 30 percent off select accessories, and a 45-day money-back, risk-free guarantee.
9. You spot a deal you’ve just got to snag
Sales promotions aren’t always worth the hype. But some definitely are. Many carriers advertise these types of deals when you sign up with them:
- Receive a free, heavily-discounted, or zero-interest financing for a top-of-the-line phone
- Have your termination fee paid off if your current carrier charges one
- Get your device payment plan paid off
- Get a certain number of lines free on a multi-line account
When a promotion catches your eye, read the fine print and calculate your hypothetical startup and monthly costs with the new carrier and compare it to what you’re currently paying. Don’t forget to incorporate tax, early termination fees (if applicable), and SIM cards and other device-transfer costs. If you’ve done the math and you’re still feeling psyched, go for it.
10. You want entertainment perks and other add-ons
While there are plenty of options for keeping your phone plan simple, carriers are increasingly snagging our attention with bonuses and add-ons, such as hotspot integration.
- T-Mobile’s T-Mobile ONE plan comes with free Netflix and unlimited HD streaming at DVD quality
- Cricket offers individual country add-ons which include calling minutes and unlimited text, picture, and video messaging to Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Philippines, or Vietnam for $10-$15 per month per country
- GreatCall plans come with an urgent response medical alert along with health, safety, and medical apps