Find and compare the best cell phone plans in California at Wirefly. Which cell phone carrier has the best coverage in your area? Click the carrier logos below to launch their coverage maps. Then, use our tool below to compare the price and features of each carrier’s plans. Smaller carriers and MVNOs typically run on the networks of one of the big four carriers you see below.
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Although California residents had relatively few choices at one time, various carriers now offer a tremendous variety of cell phone plans. It has become relatively easy to find affordable services with desirable features. Nonetheless, it's important for people to think about what they actually need and the amounts they can afford to pay. Some plans might look appealing at first, but a little research may reveal equivalent options that cost considerably less.
Cell phone subscribers often end up using the same providers for many months or years. It's worth making an effort to carefully compare a wide range of plans before selecting a company. This can take a long time when people manually check the rates of different services. Wirefly makes this process faster and easier. It automatically compares various plans and helps users identify the most desirable options.
California cell phone coverage
When shopping for cell phone plans, you'll notice that there is often a trade-off between price and coverage. If you see a plan whose price is right, your next step should be to check the coverage map for California. The value of your plan is only as good as the coverage quality. Most major carriers have good coverage throughout the country, including California. Before committing to a plan, check carrier coverage maps against one another to make sure you can connect reliably.
Getting started: what different kinds of cell phone plans exist?
While the American wireless industry is changing rapidly and becoming exceedingly competitive, the overall premise of wireless plans remains the same. In California, you'll be able to choose from a family plan, an individual postpaid line, or prepaid plans that present no long-term contract or device financing requirements. Here's the basics on each type of plan available:
Family plans are the most popular type of cell phone plan in the United States. Family plans enable multiple people in a family or small business to share a single account, dividing line and data fees across several different people in order to get a less expensive monthly cost of service for each person on the plan. Most carriers offer deep discounts on the price of a GB of data for multi-line accounts, making it cheaper for everyone. However, multi-line accounts are also hard to move between carriers due to different device payment plans and coverage concerns.
Individual plans enable a single person to pick the amount of data they need each month for themselves. Though these plans are typically more expensive than family plans, individual plans are simpler to manage and are geared towards people who do not want to share expenses and device upgrades with friends or members of their family.
Prepaid plans have become far more ubiquitous these days. The majority of prepaid plans offer more data at a lower cost than an individual plan at a major carrier, but still offer many of the most popular phones. In addition, prepaid family plans offer more inexpensive costs for multi-line accounts than some traditional family plans at the 'Big 4' carriers. These plans are usually ineligible for device financing, which means you'll likely have to pay full price to buy a new smartphone.
Choosing a wireless plan that works best for you
When you are searching for a wireless plan, you will need to consider who will all be using the plan and the different services that you will need to include. Almost all cell phone carriers factor three things into each plan: minutes, text messages, data usage in MB or GB.
When you choose a cheaper plan, you can set a limit on how many minutes and text messages you can use to about 400 or less. But if you talk on the phone a lot and send multiple text messages, an unlimited plan will be the best bet. When you choose a no contract plan, you'll be loading your wireless card with cash that will pay for the minutes. These can be purchased by the minute or bought as a package. For example, 1,000 minutes for a flat rate of $40 is a typical purchase. When your minutes are used up, you'll need to add more to your plan.
The amount of data you use is another big factor in how to pick a cell phone plan. Almost all carriers in the California area charge higher amounts for high data usage, and there are basically no plans that allow for unlimited data. Cell phone plans are usually priced per gigabyte and megabyte. With many plans, going over the data limit per month can occur and will cost you in overages. To avoid this, choose a data plan that will be enough for yours or your family's needs.
Texts, minutes, and data: which option is best for you?
Now that you know which type of plan you'll be shopping for, it's time to make another important consideration: What do you need each month in terms of voice minutes, texts and data? While this used to be a pretty complex decision to make, especially for family plan members who were splitting each of these three things, that's no longer the case due to shifts in the industry. Current wireless industry plans have almost all dropped limits on voice minutes and texts. Postpaid family plans and individual plans at Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon, all include unlimited talking and texting. Only a select number of no-commitment prepaid plans still enforce limits on these use cases.
The good news is that you can focus only on the amount of data that you need on a monthly basis. Two carriers make this decision easy, while two others will require a bit of careful consideration before selecting a plan. Here's what to know when selecting a cell phone plan in California:
The Un-Carrier, as it's known, recently made a bold push toward unlimited data for all. The company replaced its Simple Choice plan lineup with T-Mobile ONE, an all-unlimited, single plan that it offers to individuals and families alike. The company's Simple Choice plans, which feature 2GB, 6GB, or 10GB of data, are still available for customers who prefer them, however. These plans feature 12-month data rollover and no overages, so there's no extra cost added to the bill based on usage.
Like T-Mobile, Sprint recently unveiled a flat-rate, all-unlimited mobile plan for new and existing subscribers. Customers who prefer not to get an unlimited plan can opt for a 'shared' amount of data that can be used by all lines attached to the account. By default, data speeds on limited plans slow down after all data has been used. Customers can buy a high-speed pass if they wish to have more full-speed data until the end of the month, however.
AT&T offers unlimited data only to customers who also have its DirecTV satellite television service or U-Verse IPTV service. Otherwise, customers will be sharing data buckets with every line on their account. In 2016, AT&T introduced a no-overages policy that slows data to 2G speeds when a data bucket is exhausted. The company also has its 'Stream Saver' service in 2016, which reduces the quality of all streaming video and uses data more slowly as a result.
Verizon eliminated overages early in 2016 and, later in the year, introduced rollover data for its shared data buckets. The company's plans mirror AT&T's, though an unlimited data option is not available to new customers at all.
Smaller prepaid carriers, called MVNOs, typically use one of the four above networks and resell services to no-commitment customers. These plans cover California and change very frequently, but they do often represent a significant savings each month.
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