T-Mobile rate hikes & finding a better cellular provider in the US

T-Mobile IMHO lately hasn’t really been trying very hard anymore, certainly not since they took over Sprint and the imposed antitrust measures ran out. Coverage itself for me, in spite of sitting in one of the most urban areas of the US, is not exactly spectacular and the actual 5G bandwidth I see on average has been really mediocre (in spite of what nation-wide benchmarks might show).

But now T-Mobile put some icing on that cake: they just informed me (via text) that my wife and I will be charged an extra $10 a month for absolutely nothing at all (on top of what is already a mind boggling $110 for no more than 6 GB/month plus few minutes voice). So quite apparently, now’s the time to send them a memo by finding a better competitor and switching.

So the question becomes what is a better carrier for my use. I’m especially curious about all the MVNOs because it seems the big 3 have become fat and lazy and enjoy having successfully split up the “market” into a nice little oligopoly. All appear to be trying to entice customers by throwing in a whole bunch of “free“ extras. But I’m not really interested in any of that. I don’t need free wifi on an airplane since I expense that anyway. I don’t care about Netflix, Hulu, or any other of those other streaming time wasters, let alone some random sports ball coverage. I also don’t care about having them finance my phone. I’ll buy a phone when I need it and I’ll pay up front for it in full, thankyouverymuch. I want my carrier as far away from that choice as possible.

What I do want from my carrier is essentially very simple:

  • unlimited texts and minutes, fast data up to at least 5 GB/line
  • mobile hotspot (should be fast, reasonable data cap is fine)
  • wifi calling support
  • included or discounted min/texts abroad plus some form of reasonably fast data abroad. I don’t mind paying a lump sum for it, but I do not want to have to buy this for every single trip to every single country (I usually travel internationally once a month) and I do not want to be billed on a $/MB basis
  • PDF bill and autopay

If anybody knows where I can get that for ≤ $45/line, I’d appreciate a heads-up.

Finally, the actual cost per month for cellular here in the states varies considerably due to all kinds of local taxes and fees, and other political shenanigans. In order to do a proper comparison of carrier offerings it would be nice to know exactly what the monthly bill will look like, including all these fees and surcharges and any other shenanigans local politicians come up with. Anybody know of a good tool for that?

I’ll add that I’ve heard quite the rave about Consumer Cellular, but from what I can read on their website, international roaming is not something they do well. And since I travel a lot for work (and vacation) that to me is kind of a deal breaker.

A number of my family have moved to Mint Mobile(which they all like), which I believe is now owned by t-mobile. Maybe they will have a plan that will meet your needs:
https://www.mintmobile.com/

Also, I have read good things about Visible which is owned by Verizon, they have plans starting at $25 per month:

Not sure how either will work for your out of country needs.

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Consumer Cellular is a great choice, we use it. I’ve only one time used in in a coupla European countries and it was fine. And if it isn’t, you can always drop it, no contracts.

The high profile low cost, built for international, is Google Fi. I would still use it today but my wife’s office never could get a reliable connection.

I recently switched from Consumer Cellular to US Mobile. For two lines, unlimited voice and text, hot spot, Wi-Fi calling including free international calling if done on Wi-Fi, and autopay, the total is $18 per month all in. This is not an introductory offer.

You probably noticed I did not mention data. I get 2 GB of shared data on the two lines. I can buy 2 GB additional for $2; I don’t know if there is a discount for buying more GB. The extra GB roll over; the included 2 GB do not. In other words, if I purchased 8 GB every month, I would get 10 GB total of shared data on two lines and it would cost $26 per month. (I do not believe I could pay the $26 on autopay; I believe I would need to pay for the extra GB on separate transactions.) There are other plans.

One of my two lines is T-Mobile and the other is Verizon; that was my choice.

And now, a bonus rant about Consumer Cellular. In my experience, customer service is responsive only while the customer is on the phone and sometimes not then. At least twice, I called with a simple issue, the rep understood, but said it could only be fixed while I stayed on the line. Two other times, Consumer Cellular said I had vastly exceeded my data allotment and I would be bumped to a more expensive plan; both times, the reps said they could see the message was in error but they couldn’t restore my original plan until after the end of the current month (and again, I needed to wait on hold while it was done). And there’s more, but that was more than enough.

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A neighbor, who knows and cares a lot more about this than I do, raves (positively) about Xfinity Mobile. It is built on the Verizon network and uses WiFi whenever possible. In our neighborhood, Verizon is the only network that is reliable.

FWIW, I use T-Mobile because I like their roaming policies and I put a free microcell in our house (mostly for texts, since I use WiFi calling on my iPhone).

UK based talker here, with a comment that doesn’t help @Simon :
Blimey, $110/month or $45/month, is that a common pricing level in the US?

Here in the UK I pay £6/$7.64 a month for 5GB, unlimited calls and texts. This is with SMARTY, which is a secondary brand of mobile operator THREE.

My needs appear to be about the same as Simon’s. I have Mint’s $15/mo 5GB plan, but I see that they’re now offering unlimited data for $15 to new customers. Wifi calling, eSIM, autopay, not sure about international service because I’ve never needed it. Coverage here in Boston, 5G and otherwise, is fine.

No, you’re absolutely right. Cell pricing here in the US is absolutely bonkers. Back when I was working in Sweden, I had one line with unlimited calls/texts and 4 GB fast data for $25/month from a reputable carrier on their own (large) network.

IMHO our cell prices are no real surprise — 340M people effectively having to choose between one of just three networks. That’s not free market competition, that oligopoly. And our regulators do not just do nothing about it, they actually encouraged it when they last allowed one of the three to absorb what used to be one of the four.

But that’s just the way it is here. And nothing short-term going to change that. So back to the topic at hand. The question here is: who’s got the best offer for the few key points I have. And from what I can tell, it really just comes down to who makes a reasonable offer for international roaming because apart from that Mint or US Mobile appear to offer very competitive packages.

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No, they’re not really. That’s just the typical BS lure. It’s for the first 3 months only. And even the “unlimited” plan has a 40 GB cap. Not a problem for me — I’m sure I’d be fine with much less, but don’t be fooled by typical marketing shenanigans. Those people are professional liars. The real message that they’re trying so hard to mask is that their cheapest offer is $25 for 5 GB.

I should also note that Mint’s $25 do not include taxes and fees AFAICT. US Mobile OTOH does include them and their offer is $29 for 10 GB, so it’s even better. And they actually include 1 GB of int’l data in that. No idea yet though how they charge or what happens when you hit that 1 GB int’l cap.

I also have Consumer Cellular, works fine for my needs. At the time I switched to it, i think it was the only budget service that could include a Watch ($5 per month extra).

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Uh, my yearly 5GB plan (which I never come even close to using) is $15/mo, as promised in that link: plus taxes etc. = $200.53/year. Ting, my previous carrier, was something like that price for less data (I didn’t use that either), but didn’t offer an eSIM for my new phone (they may do so now). So I switched. Give the three month starter a try, you can always jump ship . . .

I find it strange that no one has mentioned Visible, a subsidiary of Verizon. They have two plans: Visible ($25/month) and Visible+ ($45/month):

Both plans offer unlimited data, talk & text on Verizon’s 5G & 4G LTE networks— and even unlimited hotspot data, with the catch that you’re limited to one connected device and 5 Mbps in the case of Visible and 10 Mbps in the case of Visible+.

Visible+ adds 5G ultra wideband and prioritized data. An Apple Watch data plan is included at no extra charge.

It’s easy-peasy: you do everything through the Visible app. Reps are available through in-app chat.

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Too true about many business lines.

When I signed up, US Mobile charged $10 for one month immediately for one line, then (during the same phone call) charged $8 for one month for the second line, but then linked the two lines and put them on autopay at $18 per month. Did that answer the question?

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I have Consumer Cellular and it is fine. Previously, I had ATT and I easily cut my bill in half and ended up with more data as well. They do use the ATT network so depending on your area, that might be an issue vs your previous TMobile.

The best deal from them if you are an AARP member or join ($16.00/year) is the 2 lines for $55.00 which includes unlimited calling and texts and “unlimited” data which means that high speed data caps out at 50GB but will continue to work although very slowly for basics like email and web browsing.

I’ve been on Mint for a couple of years and it’s ok (t-mobile reception isn’t great at my house). I have the ~20/month (when paid yearly) which was 10GB data, but increased to 15 GB when tmob bought mint. I may switch when my year is up, since I want more data to bypass my very slow intertube to the house. If things don’t change before winter, Visible looks like a good option which it wasn’t back when I was shopping and chose mint.

For those of you on Visible, do you know if they block VPNs? I use Mullvad. I looked at the fine print, and it amounts to “we’ll block anything we want to, and pretend it’s necessary for network quality”. The privacy policy is even worse, making the VPN essential. Unfortunately, all US communications privacy policies seem to be similarly dreadful.

US Mobile is the cheapest carrier that uses Verizon’s network, which generally has the best coverage.

Their cheapest prepaid plan is only $60/year.

I’d be curious what you find. I assume you want cellular international, not WiFi.

We’re on an old T-mobile plan for 55+ and switched to T-mobile for the international and good price. Currently at $70 for two lines + $10 for one watch with cellular. Ours is going up $2/line, so assume that’s going to be $86 total. International data is unlimited, but slows down at some point. Will have to wait to see bill. Last payment on phone was with last bill (I didn’t even want to finance it, but paying full price wasn’t an (easy) option. And we added the watch a couple of months ago, so our bill has jumped around. That includes taxes and $5/month discount for autopay.

Every carrier has different option packages at different prices. Some packages might suit you more than others.

For many years I had Ting (cheap prepaid plan at $20 plus usage per month), but when I upgraded my old iPhone 7 to an iPhone 14 Pro last year, they could not support it due to the eSIM requirement. So I had to look around.
Ting used the Sprint network which at the time I signed up it (maybe 15 years ago) was the only carrier that had a signal at my house. In the last year or two, other carriers became able to reach my neighborhood.

I found a prepaid plan on ATT that could be purchased ONLY online and ONLY prepaid yearly ($300/year - $25/month). It has unlimited calls and text and 16 GB data/month. Unused data rolls over to the next month. Hot Spot is an add-on purchase when I need it ($10 for 5 GB, scale up as needed).

International service is extra. The next time I go to Japan I plan to purchase a local eSIM to use as a second eSIM there.

So search for a plan meets your needs and fits your budget. Don’t limit your search to what is the most prominently advertised contract.

Question to Mint users: if you buy their international pass ($20 for 10 days and 10 GB), is that specific to one country or does that cover all countries on their list for one trip? If I hop around, will I have to buy an individual pass for every country I go to on the same trip?

Question to US Mobile users: if you get a sharable data plan instead of their “unlimited”, how does international calling/data work? The unlimited comes with 1 GB intl data, what happens when you go over? And which network (“Warp 5G” and “GSM 4G LTE+5G”) is Verizon, which T-Mobile?