The Cheapest Data Plans for Mobile Phones
Mobile Data Plans Vary Widely in Price & Usage Limits
We’ve already entered the era of smartphone. It’s been estimated by a number of publications that smartphone shipments will outnumber PC some time within the next year. 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.
If you still fall in to the calling/texting only camp, Net10 and Tracfone are the two cheapest options out there (you can check out my net10 review and tracfone review for more info.). But if you’ve made the permanent leap over to a heavily used mobile data plan, you’re going to have to look elsewhere since Net10 and Tracfone’s smartphone offerings are limited and you won’t be able to find an unlimited mobile data plan.
Unlimited Mobile Data Plans without Talk & Text Add-Ons
And 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.
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.
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.
A startup from Bandwidth.com, Republic Wireless charges $19 for unlimited everything. Pay close attention to the T’s and C’s, however, as you may be kicked out as a customer, if you consistently use more data than average users do.
How does Republic Wireless do this? They run on wifi. If no wifi is available, they then kick you over to Sprint’s network.
Early reviews on service and support have been mixed, but if you want a data plan that is supremely cheap, this is the one.
- No Contract: $19/month, includes unlimited data (within reason), text, and minutes on wifi and Sprint’s 3G network.
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 $20 higher price. However, if you use a ton of call minutes, this plan might come out ahead. The Beyond Talk plan jumps to $60/month if you want unlimited minutes. They also offer up a plan for 1,200 minutes/month for $40/month. The downside to the plan is that based on location, you might not be able to purchase 3G enabled phones.
- No Contract: $45/month, unlimited data, text, and talk. 3G availability varies by phone and location.
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.
Another bonus – T-Mobile offers Android smartphones.
Note that after Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk, and T-Mobile, there is a huge drop off in value on other providers plans.
Metro PCS is not nationwide in coverage and does have roaming charges. But they do offer a $40/month plan for unlimited data, 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, data w/roaming charges. Network is limited in size. No 3G.
Boost mobile data plans are included as part of an unlimited talk, text, and data plan for $50/mo. You can’t get just a data plan with Boost. If you have to choose between Boost and Sprints other subsidiary,Virgin Mobile, Boost costs twice as much if you can stay under 300 minutes/month and they both run on the same network. The choice seems pretty obvious.
- No Contract: $40/month, unlimited talk, text, data, no roaming charges. 3G 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 Everything Data, but it rings up at a whopping $69.99. 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: $79.99/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 $15/month for a meager 200 MB, and $25/month for 2 MB. If you’re not a data hog, their pricing plans might work out in your favor. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth the worry about racking up additional charges.
Verizon Data Plans:
Shortly after AT&T axed their unlimited data plan earlier in the year, Verizon followed suit. Verizon data plans require you to buy a mobile package that exceeds $29.99 and you’re limited to 5GB per month.
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?