Best wireless carrier in the U.S. 2022

Visible speed test on LTE
(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Finding the best U.S. wireless carrier can be a bit daunting as each carrier works to provide better speeds and coverage than its competitors. Luckily for the consumers, this competition helps drive these companies to continue to improve their networks and plans. So for most people, all of these carriers are likely to have some coverage appeal, whether it's LTE or 5G. Overall, T-Mobile is the best carrier thanks to improvements in its LTE coverage and the largest 5G network with great mid-band coverage already available.

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T-Mobile startup screen

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

T-Mobile

Tons of spectrum for 5G

Reasons to buy

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Tons of spectrum
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Large 5G network with mid-band
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Competitive unlimited plans
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Cheap prepaid options

Reasons to avoid

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mmWave 5G expansion is slow
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Rural coverage isn't great

T-Mobile has continued to improve its network consistently over the past few years, with some of the biggest improvements coming in its 5G network. T-Mobile has used a combination of low-band and mid-band spectrum to storm into the lead of the race to 5G. T-Mobile covers the vast majority of its customers with 5G with its mid-band upgrades reaching more than 235 million people with 260 million expected by the end of 2022.

T-Mobile has three main unlimited plans on its postpaid network. Each plan includes 5G support and an unlimited 3G speed hotspot. The baseline Essentials plan comes with unlimited talk, text, and LTE data. The price starts at $60 for one line and is discounted for each line added up to six. A family with four lines will be able to get connected for $105 per month thanks to a current promotion with a complimentary third line.

The next plan, Magenta, offers 5GB of LTE-speed hotspot data, Netflix on one screen if you add two or more lines, and international 2G data as well as 5GB of high-speed data in Mexico and Canada. Prices start at $70 per month for the first line, with discounts for each additional line up to eight lines. A family with four lines will pay $140 per month, and with this plan, taxes and fees are included.

The most expensive plan is Magenta MAX which brings LTE-speed hotspot data up to 40GB and upgrades Netflix to HD on two screens. International data speed is boosted to 256kbps, and video streaming comes in at HD resolutions compared to SD on the other plans. Starting at $80 per month for one line, this is geared more towards heavy users who need more hotspot data. Still, taxes and fees are included, and a family of four can get connected for $170 per month.

Verizon store sign

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Verizon

Consistent data performance

Reasons to buy

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Huge and reliable LTE network
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Wide range of plans
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5G coverage is improving with C-band
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Lots of premium data

Reasons to avoid

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Expensive plans
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Not all unlocked phones are supported

While Verizon isn't always the top scorer in terms of pure download speed, the size of its network and the consistency of the connection makes it one of the best options for a lot of people. Verizon's 5G deployment hasn't quite kept pace with T-Mobile's but its combination of nationwide 5G and Ultra Wideband 5G is making rapid progress. Ultra Wideband also includes Verizon's mid-band spectrum which has been delivering great download speeds where it's available.

Verizon has many plans available, ranging from a plan for basic phones with unlimited talk and text with 500MB of data. Most smartphone users will be more interested in the range of unlimited plans that start at $70 per month for the 5G Start plan. The price per line comes down with more lines up to five. A family of four will pay $35 per line with this plan, excluding taxes or fees. This plan comes with unlimited talk, text, and nationwide 5G data. You can also get Disney+ for six months, although this plan only streams at 480p quality with no hotspot data.

The three more extensive plans, 5G Play More, 5G Do More, and 5G Get More all come with hotspot data and 5G Total Access, which allows for both nationwide and Ultra Wideband 5G connections. Play More Unlimited comes with 25GB of hotspot data and a Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ subscription. Do More Unlimited trades the streaming perks for 600GB of cloud storage and discounts on connected device plans. Get More comes with all of the above and Apple Music, and 50GB of hotspot data, and unlimited premium data. Customers can also get 12 months of Discovery+, Apple Arcade, and Google Play Pass.

Verizon also added a cheaper Welcome Unlimited plan that's much more basic with nothing wasted on premium data or hotspot data. It's just a simple unlimited plan with access to nationwide 5G.

AT&T store sign

(Image credit: Android Central)

AT&T

Vast LTE coverage

Reasons to buy

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Fast data speeds
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Large coverage area
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Strong rural coverage
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Works with most unlimited phones

Reasons to avoid

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Expensive plans
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5G isn't available on the 4GB plan
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Mid-band 5G expansion isn't keeping pace with Verizon and T-Mobile

AT&T has one of the fastest LTE networks around, with excellent coverage in most of the country. The company also pushed forward with its nationwide 5G network, a low-band, and a mmWave network with nationwide coverage. AT&T has begun to build its mid-band 5G network in a handful of cities with C-band with more mid-band spectrum arriving for the carrier down the line. For now, most AT&T 5G customers will be using low-band nationwide coverage. AT&T also works with most unlocked phones though not all 5G phones will work with AT&T's network even if they support the right bands.

AT&T starts with a 4GB data plan for $50 per month with one line. With that, you get a mobile hotspot as well as unlimited talk and text. Unfortunately, streaming is limited to SD quality, but you do get unlimited texting to more than 120 countries. Moving up, AT&T has four unlimited plans starting with the AT&T Value Plus Plan. This unlimited plan is only available for a single line and costs $50 per month. With 5G access, it's a better value than the 4GB plan if you only need one line.

The top three unlimited plans are compatible with multi-line savings. The Unlimited Starter plan comes in at $65 per month for one line and the price comes down per line up to four lines, with four lines coming in at $140 per month. This plan has no hotspot but features unlimited talk, text, and data with video streams at SD quality. It goes all the way up to Unlimited Elite, which gets you video streams in HD and free access to HBO Max for $85 per month for the first line. All three unlimited plans come with 5G access.

US Mobile SIM cards

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US Mobile

Save big with three or more lines and unlimited data

Reasons to buy

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Choose from either the Verizon or T-Mobile network
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Most unlocked phones will work
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C-band 5G included with both unlimited plans

Reasons to avoid

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Limited phone selection

US Mobile is a prepaid carrier that uses both the Verizon network and T-Mobile network with 5G access on both. When you sign up, you can choose whichever SIM works best with your phone and provides solid coverage in your area. Both networks have great coverage around the county, though T-Mobile has a more developed 5G network. That being said, the access to premium data on a Verizon SIM will give it the leg up if you have coverage.

US Mobile allows customers to create their plans to get exactly what they need without any waste. Customers can start as low as 75 minutes with up to unlimited everything available. Even with this flexibility, US Mobile's Unlimited plan is one of its best values as long as you need the data. Unlike in the past, US Mobile's unlimited plan has no data cap or speed cap. Customers can also add 20GB of hotspot data for $10 more per month. US Mobile also includes taxes and fees in its unlimited plan price, so what you see is the price you'll pay.

Perhaps US Mobile's biggest strength is its two unlimited plans with multi-line savings. The cheaper Unlimited Basic plan has 30GB of premium data with C-band access and not much more. It starts at $35 per line but gets cheaper with each additional line. With four or more lines, for example, it comes down to just $20 per line.

There's a bigger Unlimited Premium plan with 100GB of premium data, 50GB of premium data, 10GB of eSIM international data, and access to the full Verizon 5G network. This plan starts at $45 per month with it coming down to just $30 per month with four lines.

Google Fi SIM cards

(Image credit: Android Central)

Google Fi

A combined network and international roaming

Reasons to buy

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Automatic network switching on some phones
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International data roaming is included
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Bill protection prevents excessive overage
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Unlimited available
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Most GSM phones supported

Reasons to avoid

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You need specific phones for full network

Google Fi is a prepaid MVNO carrier, which means that it doesn't build its own towers but uses the towers of other carriers. What's different about Google Fi is that it uses both the T-Mobile network and the UScellular network to create a unique coverage map compared to any other MVNO or carrier. So while the price is a little steep compared to other carriers and only a handful of phones take full advantage of the service, it provides one of the best and most reliable wireless experiences.

Google Fi makes use of T-Mobile and US Cellular's networks, picking which towers provide the best connection automatically and seamlessly switching your phone to it without you even knowing. Google Fi also has access to networks worldwide and roams internationally effortlessly in over 200 countries. For all this to work correctly, you'll need an approved phone. Fully compatible Fi phones include the Google Pixel series as well as the Galaxy S22 series. You can check your phone's compatibility when you sign up.

Google Fi also has full support for T-Mobile's 5G network, so if you have a phone that supports T-Mobile's 5G bands, you can get connected.

Google Fi isn't likely to be the best fit for many people, but if you travel often and need a network that will work not only in the U.S. but nearly anywhere in the world, there are no substitutes. A flexible plan is available alongside two unlimited plans with up to 50GB of high-speed data on the most expensive plan. If you use only a few gigabytes per month, the flexible plan will be a better deal. Unlimited is only for people that need fast speeds over 15GB.

Visible app on a Galaxy S20+

Source: Samuel Contreras / Android Central (Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Visible

Simple, prepaid, and unlimited

Reasons to buy

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Unlimited data
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Access to Verizon's LTE and 5G networks
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Unlimited hotspot (5Mbps)
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Two unlimited plans to choose from

Reasons to avoid

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SD video streams
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No roaming or 3G
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Limited phone support

Another interesting prepaid carrier is Visible, a prepaid carrier owned by Verizon with two simple unlimited plans. It's worth keeping in mind that Visible only uses the LTE and 5G networks meaning there is no access to roaming or 3G if the signal gets weak. For most people, this will be fine, thanks to the Verizon LTE network's massive coverage area.

Visible's cheaper plan, simply called Visible, is much like Visible's older plan with access to nationwide 5G speeds. For many people, this will be plenty and at $30 per month, it will be well worth the savings. This plan also comes with unlimited hotspot data at 5Mbps.

If you're looking for a bit more speed, Visible+ comes in at $45 per month but removes the speed limits with 50GB of premium data. Besides that, Verizon Ultra Wideband 5G is unlocked including C-band. Visible also packs in some extra international features making it easy to call many other countries with usage in Mexico and Canada.

Cricket Coverage Map S20+

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Cricket Wireless

Prepaid value on the AT&T network

Reasons to buy

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Great coverage on the AT&T network with 5G
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Multi-line discounts for the three largest plans
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Premium data on the top unlimited plan
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Mexico and Canada usage on the unlimited plans

Reasons to avoid

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Only has access to nationwide 5G network
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No multi-line or auto-pay discounts on the 5GB plan

Cricket Wireless is a prepaid carrier owned by AT&T and runs exclusively using the carrier's network for coverage. Cricket focuses on offering lower-priced plans as an alternative to AT&T's more expensive plans by cutting out things that many people don't care about like mobile hotspot and HD streaming. Cricket has full access to AT&T's LTE network as well as its nationwide 5G network on all plans.

Cricket's smallest plan comes with unlimited talk, text, and 5GB of high-speed data. This plan comes with more data at a cheaper price than AT&T's 4GB plan. It also includes 5G which AT&T's budget-oriented plan does not. Cricket's 10GB plan is much the same with double the data but is eligible for both auto-pay and multi-line discounts.

Crickets two unlimited plans will make the most sense for smartphone users, especially if they have three or more lines. With three lines, the smaller Unlimited plan matches the 5GB plan's price making it a no-brainer upgrade. The two unlimited plans also come with Mexico and Canada usage included in the price.

The pricier unlimited plan upgrades data to unlimited premium data meaning that your data is put first in line on a crowded tower. This plan also gets 15GB of hotspot data and 150GB of cloud storage. HBO Max with Ads is also included so you can stream to your heart's content on your unlimited plan.

Should you go with prepaid?

An MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, is a carrier that provides service by reselling service from one of the big carriers. It allows a greater range of plans on the same networks that may work better for you. Some of the best MVNOs can offer additional savings with longer terms or even just by cutting out things you don't need, like video service subscriptions. You can even get MVNOs that allow advanced features like tethering (hotspot data).

The most important thing is to choose the best cell phone plan for you as long as you have coverage.

Pick a carrier with plenty of data and coverage in your area

Most Americans will be covered by any of these networks, so the biggest questions are which plans are the best fit for you and how eager are you to get 5G. Nationwide 5G is available on all three big carriers, but you'll need a phone that supports it. Luckily, most of the best Android phones do. Verizon and AT&T are more comfortable charging a premium for service thanks to a good reputation for having a strong network. Most of the time, the best choice isn't the cheapest carrier but the one with the best coverage for you. Luckily, switching is reasonably easy, and you can even keep your phone number when you do.

For most people, T-Mobile is a great fit with solid speeds and great coverage. While not everyone is ready for 5G just yet, T-Mobile's rapid progress and already-deployed three-tiered 5G network promise continued growth. It's also refreshing that T-Mobile doesn't force customers onto more expensive plans to access 5G.

When Samuel is not writing about networking or 5G at Android Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.