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Emergence of Unlimited Cell Phone Plans

Most carriers now offer a variant on the unlimited cell phone plan.   The days of rate plans segmented by minutes will likely come to an end in the next couple years.   We’ll probably be left with unlimited rate plans and, for very light users, pay-as-you-go plans.   Some of the prepaid offers have actually undercut the national carriers’ contract plans.    This is somewhat different than traditional prepaid minutes that have usually been more expensive.     However, those customers willing to sign a contract usually have access to better phones at a much lower price.

Here’s a summary of current carrier offerings, along with some pros and cons:

National Carriers with 2 Year Contract:

  • Sprint Everything ($99.99):   Best price for voice, text and data among the contract carriers.
  • AT&T, Verizon, Alltel  ($99.99):   Voice only.   Verizon offers an option with text for $119.99 and with text and data for $139.99.
  • T-Mobile:   ($99.99):  Voice + text.   T-Mobile also recently introduced a $50 unlimited voice plan to retain customers.

Family plans are also available, although most carriers charge about 2x the single unlimited plan, so it isn’t any great deal.  However, T-Mobile offers the unlimited family plan for about $150, making the 2nd line only $50.

Prepaid Carriers, No Contract:

  • Cricket & MetroPCS  ($35 to $50): Unlimited plans, with the higher price plans including text messaging, voice and data and extended coverage.   These plans are best for those not traveling a great deal outside their local area.  While both carriers can offer coverage in most parts of the country, that is achieved via agreements with other carriers.  As a result, roaming charges can quickly add up.
  • Boost  ($50):   From the prepaid divsion of Sprint, this unlimited plan offers voice, text, web and two-way radio.   When rolled out earlier in 2009, this low price point shocked many in the wireless industry.   The ‘catch’ here is that service is on the network that Sprint acquired when it purchased Nextel a few years back.  Coverage is somewhat limited (with roaming N/A outside those areas) and data is not 3G.    If you don’t frequent rural areas and don’t need data, this might be worth a look.
  • Virgin Mobile ($79.99):    Virgin uses the Sprint network, so they have undercut the major carriers by $20.   Add $10 for text and $10 for data, and the $99.99 price point matches that of Sprint.   Limited selection of 3G phones right now.