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Home » Budgeting, Technology

The Cheapest Data Plans for Mobile Phones

Last updated by on 19 Comments

Mobile Data Plans Vary Widely in Price & Usage Limits

We’ve already entered the era of smartphone – even though some of us may choose to stay behind. 😉

With the smartphone emergence and the decline in cellular usage for actually calling people, the new challenge from a financial standpoint is to figure out how you can get the cheapest mobile data plan – without any other add-ons. Otherwise, the lifetime cost of a smartphone can really kill your savings.

I’m going to highlight the big ones here, but you can also check out this list of prepaid MVNO’s. A few of them do offer unlimited mobile data plans – at much cheaper levels than the big 4 national carriers.

Note that just about everyone throttles data once you hit a certain threshold and there are very few truly “unlimited” plans out there.

Unlimited Mobile Data Plans without Talk & Text Add-Ons

cheapest data plansAnd that’s the challenge – finding an unlimited data plan with no other services that you are paying extra for. With some of the unique low cost mobile VOIP and other free options available, a phone with a data plan can, in effect, serve as a phone with a talk plan. And if you’re using it for that purpose, you’ll rack up some bandwidth.

Who wants to constantly worry about how much in charges they are racking up for using the web as they want to? To help guide you, here’s a run-down of all the national mobile phone providers who offer data plans. As you’ll see, I highly value unlimited data versus pay-by-usage.

Republic Wireless:

The clear #1 in this space now. A startup from Bandwidth.com, Republic Wireless charges $10 per month for unlimited talk, text, and wifi data ($5 per month if you only want wifi-only on everything). You then purchase the amount of 3G or 4G cell data you think you need per month and are actually refunded for unused data!

If no wifi is available, Republic kicks you over to Sprint’s network.

If you want a data plan that is supremely cheap, yet fits your needs, this is the one.

  • No Contract: $10+/month, includes unlimited talk, text, and wifi data. Uses Sprint’s 3G/4G network for cell data at extra charge.

Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk:

I reviewed Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk earlier this year, and the review wasn’t the most favorable because I was comparing the total cost of the plan for those who like to use their phones primarily for texting and calling to other low cost cell providers. But when you look at it from a cost of unlimited data perspective, it actually turns out to be an exceptional bargain. Beyond Talk runs off Sprint’s 3G network and offers an unlimited data and text plan plus 300 monthly minutes for just $35/month. Here’s a run-down.

  • No Contract: $35/month, includes unlimited data, text, and 300 call-time minutes on 3G/4G.

They have a few other plans as well, but this is the cheapest one that includes data. Throttling begins at 2.5GB of data usage.

Virgin Mobile is actually a Sprint subsidiary, and their offerings here for low cost data plans are superior to Sprint, and another Sprint subsidiary highlighted in this post, Boost Mobile. Check out my Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk review.

Straight Talk:

Straight Talk is yet another Tracfone subsidiary (like Net10). I just discovered Straight Talk recently, and they also offer an unlimited mobile plan. It looks like a great option, but appears to be inferior to the Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk plan because you get all the same offerings with a $10 higher price. However, if you use a ton of call minutes, this plan might come out ahead.

  • No Contract: $45/month, unlimited data, text, and talk. 3G availability varies by phone and location.

Throttling begins at 3 GB.

T-Mobile Data Plans:

T-Mobile recently started offering a cheap data plan that is prepaid. For $30 a month, you receive unlimited text, data (5GB up to 4G speeds), and 100 minutes. This is a great mobile plan for how most people are using their phone these days. Many have questioned the capabilities of T-Mobile’s network, but you can’t question the price and customer-focus of this plan.

They also have a few different options with unlimited data, called “Simply Prepaid”:

  • $40 / month for unlimited data, talk and text + up to 1GB of 4G LTE
  • $50 / month for unlimited data, talk and text + up to 3GB of 4G LTE
  • $60 / month for unlimited data, talk and text + up to 5GB of 4G LTE

Note that after Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk, and T-Mobile, there is a huge drop off in value on other providers plans.

Metro PCS:

Metro PCS is not nationwide in coverage and does have roaming charges. But they do offer a $40/month plan for 1GB of 4G data (before throttling kicks in), text, and calling. With limited coverage and cheaper options available, it’s not the plan I would recommend.

  • No Contract: $40/month, unlimited talk, text, 1 GB data w/roaming charges. Network is limited in coverage. 4G speeds.

Boost Mobile:

Boost mobile data plans are included as part of an unlimited talk, text, and data plan for $35/mo. You can’t get just a data plan with Boost.

  • No Contract: $35/month, unlimited talk, text, data (1 GB before throttling), no roaming charges. 3G/4G available with some phones.

Sprint Data Plans

If you’re looking for straight up cheap mobile data plan only, Sprint is not for you. They offer a plan with unlimited data, text, and phone, called Sprint Unlimited Data at $60. And unlike most mobile networks these days, you can still rack up roaming charges. 4G or not, Sprint needs to price competitively to what the market is demanding. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 2-year contract only: $60/month, includes unlimited data, text, and calling. Roaming charges applicable.

AT&T Data Plans:

Earlier this year, AT&T started an unfortunate trend (for the cost conscious) in the mobile data business of getting rid of unlimited data plans. Today, AT&T data plans range from $45/month for unlimited data (1 GB before throttling) + unlimited talk/text.

Verizon Data Plans:

Shortly after AT&T axed their unlimited data plan earlier in the year, Verizon followed suit. Verizon data plans are not cheap. Even the prepaid plans cost $45/month for just 500 MB of data.

Mobile Data Plan Discussion:

  • Are you using your phone for data only? Which plan do you use?
  • How much data are you using each month?

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


19 Comments »
  • MG says:

    Thanks for this. I’m looking to ditch my phone plan once my contract expires in June and I’m looking for affordable data-only as a replacement, since I’ve found several apps that can use a combination of VoIP and text by linking it to a pre-existing number. Unfortunately it’s near-impossible to find a plan that’s unlimited data-only, or even affordable data-only.

  • AH says:

    When you can, will you take a look at Credo Mobile? thanks!

  • gary says:

    the best thing going right now is the framily plan with sprint – after the 7th person signs the rate is $25/mo unlimited talk & text with 1 gb of data… can buy more monthly data at $10 increments

    • gary says:

      You can go on Craigslist and find people looking for others to sign on their plans all you need is their id number and you will be on their plan – so you dont have to run out and find 9 more people yourself

    • Don says:

      I used to work for $print. I would not use their services if they were free. They have the worst customer service, screw up your billing repeatedly, and will do anything they can to shuffle you off the phone when you call in for support, as their helpdesk people are graded on how many calls they take per day. It’s a sweatshop. They have been in trouble for illegal labor practices more than once.

      Run AWAY!

  • Gary Jay says:

    How can one measure DATA usage in actual time units?

  • Keith says:

    You are all wrong, the best deal you can get is LYCAMOBILE, I discoveredLyca last time I was in England, you buy a SIM card for less than $2 And all calls cost about 7 cents a minute. ATT wanted about $1.20 a minute to use mu US phone.
    About 18 months ago I found out that Lyca was offering plans in the US, I and my wife are retired and we use our cell phones to contact each other when we travel and we use internet access sparingly. When we had an ATT plan with 700 minutes per month we only used 250 and the rest were wasted.. Cost was about $70 per month.
    With Lyca pre paid each call costs 2 cents per minute PERIOD. put $10 in your Lyca account and you get 500 minutes, and in addition the money in your account does NOT EXPIRE AFTER 30 or 60 DAYS. No it DOES NOT EXPIRE.
    you can use data fora very cheap price as well, you can setup your account so that it refills with say $10 when your balance reaches $5, automatically.
    Now Lyca does not serves all areas of the US, I live in TN and they say they do not provide service here. That really means that they do not have TN area codes such as 615 , so I ordered a SIM card ( $7 delivered) and activated the SIM with a Chicago area code 630. Lyca runs on the T-Mobile network and it works perfectly, you must have an unlocked GSM phone.
    Go to their web site and check it out, this may not be for everyone but for those who use their cell phones just for convenience it is by far the cheapest.
    You can get a regular plan, my son has a data and voice plan unlimited for $25 per month although I now understand it has gone up to $30.

    • Keith says:

      Follow up to my post on Lyca mobile.
      As of June 2014 the 2 cent per minute charge has increased to 5 cents per minute. It is still however a good deal to many low volume usage subscribers.

      • Mark says:

        I went to their website. Their cheapest pay as you go plan is $23 a month. Compared to T-Mobile’s pay as you go which is $8.33 a month ($100 for the year). Also minutes never expire, as long as you top off with at least $10 once a year. 10 cents a minute, but for low usage users it is by far the cheapest.

        • Rob says:

          I think I found what he’s talking about. I navigated through Lycamobile’s website to Lycatalk’s website here
          http://www.lycatalk.us/en/cheap-calls-to/usa
          and it does say 2¢/min, but it looks like you need to have service from another carrier. It seems Lycatalk is only for international calls so you don’t get higher international charges from your current provider. So it seems to use your current providers minutes and the 2¢/min is an additional charge. Your current provider will just treat it as a local call rather than an international call.

        • Rob says:

          Also, Airvoice is by far the cheapest option for low usage users. It can be as low as $3.33 a month if you almost never use your phone. It’s 10¢/min and text sent/received, 6.6¢ per MB of data, and funds expire in 90 days or more. The data being 6.6¢ per MB might make it cheaper to use Google Voice or another free VoIP per minute than making a straight call.
          https://www.airvoicewireless.com/PlansB.aspx

    • NANCY says:

      HI KEITH,

      SORRY, FOR THE CAPS BUT I HAVE VISION PROBLEMS. I DO APPRECIATE THE INFORMATION ABOUT LYCA CELL, I CURRENTLY HAVE REPUBLIC WIRELESS BUT THEY DON’T HAVE MUCH OF AN OPT FOR CELL PHONES. AND EVERYTHING IS DONE ONLINE.

      I’M ABOUT TO BUY A GSM PHONE TO GET THE SIM ALONG WITH THE SERVICE, I HOPE THEY SELL THE SIM CARD ONLINE.

      GOD BLESS AND THANKS FOR SHARING, IT’S THE 1ST TIME I HEAR OF THIS COMPANY.

  • anna says:

    Is t-mobile’s $30/mo per line or can you use it with two phone lines and pay the same price? Sorry, I’m new to the whole smartphone stuff.

  • Josh says:

    Family mobile is what I have now. With tax it is about $46.38 or so a month, and has unlimited talk, text and data. It has more coverage than the regular T-moble network. I am a little torn, when I go on vacation, it does not always get service. However, I don’t know if I can really get a better deal. Tried Straight Talk, do not do this. My story would take a while to tell, but I will tell you that you better read the rules before you buy, or you may have to upgrade your phone and plan in order to get any data use that is any good. Sprint framily sounded good, but the more I read, I don’t know if it is worth the hassle and hidden things. I think maybe I will just stick with what I have.

  • ron s says:

    Hey check out http://www.harbormobile.com they are a reseller of tmo business plans but anyone can get & they get all the perks of service thru tmo such as music freedom, data stash & etc.

  • ethan says:

    Straight talk is the best outa all prepaid, had it now for 2 years got sme issues but also ill keep it to myself. BOTTEM LINE (BEST PREPAID)

  • Peter says:

    You can get 400MB and 80 minutes voice for $15 (including tax) per month at puretalkusa. For low usage this is a good deal. They use AT&T towers.

  • Richard says:

    Here’s a good deal. Take a look at Selectel Wireless. They have an annual plan for $75. It includes 2000 minutes and 2000 texts. You can add 200 mb data for $10, and the data rolls over. They use Verizon towers and you can bring your own Verizon phone.

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