Go Big or Go Small
Generally speaking, prepaid service from the smaller carriers—such as Consumer Cellular, Google Fi, Republic Wireless, and Ting—benefits people with modest data needs (web browsing, email, Facebook). Heavy data users, especially those who want three or more phone lines, will most likely be happier with one of the Big carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless). Just a reminder that T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint has officially closed, so while the brand still exists, it’s technically part of T-Mobile.
Confirm the Coverage
Large carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, have a distinct advantage. They have the country well covered with high-speed 4G internet service. And they’re in the midst of building new 5G networks, too. Use the providers’ ZIP code maps and other resources to confirm basic coverage, especially if you’re looking for 5G. But these references don’t take into account small dead zones in your neighborhood or home. (You might want to ask friends in the area how well their phones work in those spots.)
You should also make sure you can cancel service and return any phone that you might have bought if a coverage problem crops up. For some carriers the grace period is a brief 14 days. They also might charge you a restocking fee.
Count Your Phone Lines
That’s easy: That’s pretty much you plus your immediate family, but it’s okay to cover people who don’t live with you, too.
Do the Math
For smartphone users, the biggest charge is usually related to data use. See below to estimate how much data you’ll need on a monthly basis.