The Cheapest Data Plans for Mobile Phones
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
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.
The clear #1 in the cheap smart phone data plan 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 of $7.50 per each 0.5 GB of used data.
Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk:
I reviewed Virgin Mobile Unlimited plan previously, 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/4G network and offers an unlimited data, talk, and text plan for just $35/month. Here’s a run-down.
- No Contract: $35/month, includes unlimited data, talk, and text. Note that high speed data is throttled at the 1 GB level. You can get an additional 1 GB of high speed data for $5 more.
They have a few other plans as well, but this is the cheapest one that includes data.
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 is a Tracfone subsidiary (like Net10). I just discovered Straight Talk recently, and they also offer an unlimited mobile plan. It looks like a great option for high data users, as data is not throttled until the 5 GB level.
- No Contract: $45/month, unlimited data, text, and talk. 3G/4G availability varies by phone and location. Throttling begins at 5 GB.
T-Mobile Data Plans:
T-Mobile recently started offering a cheap data plan that is prepaid. For $20 a month, you receive 1 GB of data (no talk or text, but there are other plans with talk/text if you’d like). 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.
Costs at different data levels include:
- $20/month for up to 1GB of 4G LTE
- $30/month for up to 3GB of 4G LTE
- $40/month for up to 5GB of 4G LTE
There are some other nice perks with this plan as well:
- Use your monthly high speed data in Canada, and Mexico like you do in the U.S. at no extra charge.
- “Data Stash” rolls your unused 4G LTE data forward into the next month for domestic use in the next 12 months, plus we’ll give you up to 10GB free 4G LTE data to use first!
- Unlimited music streaming that doesn’t count against your 4G LTE data on our network on services like Pandora, iHeartRadio, and more.
Metro PCS is not nationwide in coverage and does have roaming charges. But they do offer some cheap data-only “tablet” plans if they are in your market area and you don’t travel frequently.
- No Contract: starting at $15/month, unlimited text, up to 2 GB data w/roaming charges. Network is limited in coverage at 4G speeds.
Boost mobile data plans include unlimited talk and text, starting at $30/mo. You can’t get just a data plan with Boost.
- No Contract: starting at $30/month, unlimited talk, text and 2 GB data. 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 has a few options. They offer a “tablet” plan with starting at $10 (just 100 MB). You can get 1 GB for $15. You do have to lease the tablet, from as low as $10/month.
- lease only: $10+/month + lease charges.
AT&T Data Plans:
AT&T data plans range from $30/month for 3 GB of data on up (there is a 250 MB plan for $14.99) with some free device offerings, but you do have to sign a contract. There are prepaid plans, but they are more expensive and require buying a device.
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 1 GB of data, but that does come with unlimited talk and text. Contractual plans start at $50/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?