Find and compare the best cell phone plans in Chicago, IL 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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How to choose the best cell phone plan in Chicago, IL
Known as the Windy City, Chicago is among the largest cities in the United States, and a highlight of the Midwest region. Located right next to Lake Michigan, it’s famous for deep dish pizza and some truly iconic architecture, including the 110-story Willis Tower. The city’s residents love their hometown teams, including the Bears, the Bulls and the Cubs.
An interesting characteristic of Chicago is the way it blends those traditional values that are so important in the region with how it constantly pushes the boundaries when it comes to technological trends and innovations. The city is always on the cutting edge, and that’s true whether talking about its architecture or its technology. The residents have grown accustomed to the best when it comes to technology, and that certainly applies to cell service.
Considering the city has 2.7 million people who call it home and plenty of visitor traffic every year, the major wireless service providers have worked hard to develop excellent network infrastructure in the area. The results have been outstanding for everyone in Chicago, as the city boasts strong coverage throughout its borders, going from the South Side all the way up to the North Side.
Consumers can choose from the four major carriers and many smaller carriers, giving them plenty of options. There’s 4G LTE service all over, but there can be some coverage problems here and there. The tough spots are typically areas between buildings and on the outskirts of the city, south of I-80. Since Chicago also has a high population density, there can be the occasional problem with network availability.
Nowadays, the different cell phone plans available are abundant. You don't really have to search for a plan that will keep you connected to family and friends while not destroying your budget. However, it is still important to understand just exactly what you need and how much it will cost before choosing a cell phone plan. You may think that one plan is the best, but you may be paying more for the same features than you would if you chose a similar carrier. When you do come across a cell phone plan that you are happy with, you'll want to compare it to other plans before making the switch. You can save both time and money by viewing many different cell phone carriers and features right here at Wirefly. We'll help you find the plan that is best for you and your wallet.
Cell phone coverage in Chicago, IL is good
No matter how good the features or price on a cell phone plan look, it makes no sense to purchase that plan if it doesn't work in Chicago, IL, or where you live or work. To that end, most of the country has become a hub of very fast and robust LTE coverage on all major carriers and MVNOs in the past few years. While AT&T and Verizon have had broad coverage and fast LTE networks in Chicago, IL, carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint had often lagged behind in terms of coverage, LTE technology, and overall speed. This is not the case any longer.
Now, all four major carriers have the city and its entire suburban area covered with fast LTE technology. In fact, all four carriers score within just a few points of each other in tests of speed, quality of calls, text message reliability and delivery rates, and depth of coverage, in Chicago, IL. This means that you now have more options to choose from, more features to benefit from, and more price points available than ever before. There is no need to compromise on any one metric, and you can really find the best plan for your needs.
Chicago Delivers Outstanding Coverage and Reception
Perfect coverage is impossible, but all the major carriers have made sure that they can offer strong coverage in large cities and metro areas. It’s usually in those smaller areas on the fringes that coverage can falter a bit. AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint have strong 4G LTE coverage in Chicago, which means consumers can choose any of the four or one of the many non-traditional, smaller carriers that operate on the networks of the major carriers.
Chicago has several major areas and neighborhoods. These include South Side, North Side, Lincoln Park, Harlem, Brooklyn and River North. Each of the major carriers has 4G LTE service in all these areas, and since the smaller carriers will be using those networks, that means that they can offer the same.
Types of wireless service plans in Chicago
Typically, many of the people in Chicago, IL prefer a cell phone plan where they receive the right amount of minutes, receive text messages and use data on the go. Choosing a wireless service depends on the quality of coverage for each of these factors.
This is particularly true for people whose cell phone is their primary or only communication device. Having a wireless plan that suits their needs becomes much more important. Using the Wirefly service, users can look up plan details for multiple carriers to see how much they can actually save compared to their current wireless plan.
Basically, three categories exist for wireless plans: family plans, individual plans, and no contract plans.
Family plans give customers a phone line for each family member. With some carriers, devices and plan offerings are provided based on individual need although each line is part of one plan. Family plans come with a higher price tag, obviously, but it is still the best deal for a person who has more than one line. Comparing the total cost per phone is much cheaper than single plan pricing. With some family plans, calls, text messages and data are shared, which means the plan will need to cover everyone's individual needs.
An individual plan is a one line, one rate cell phone plan that does not include other devices or phones. People who are not married or do not have children should choose this type of cell phone plan.
No contract plans, also known as pay-as-you-go, prepaid or month-to-month provide flexible pricing and payment options. This type of cell phone plan has evolved from its original prepaid cell phone card days. Typically, prepaid phones can be picked up from any department store in Chicago, IL. These phones do not require activation; they are ready for immediate use.
Although customers who get the no contract plan only pays for what they want to use, there are usually additional fees for this type of convenience. Additionally, prices for cell phones under this type of plan might be much higher than a family or individual plan unless a simple style is chosen.
Prepaid plans are attractive to people who do not want the obligation of a contract. A person must sign up for cell phone service with a specific carrier for at least one or two years. Monthly payments are made, but there is also an early termination fee if the customer cancels before the term of the agreement ends.
Public Wi-Fi in Chicago
Chicago is great when it comes to technology, and it’s also one of the country’s most mobile-friendly cities. There are many public places where free Wi-Fi is available.
When it comes to Wi-Fi hotspots in Chicago, there are both the major airports, Chicago O’Hare International and Midway International. Many hotels, including the Virgin Hotel and the Hard Rock Hotel have public Wi-Fi. All the public libraries include public Wi-Fi, as do many areas focused on art or culture, such as the Museum of Science and Industry and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The options for cell phone plans in Chicago have never been better
Competition is a good thing, and now that it's come to the U.S. wireless industry, customers stand to win big time when they switch carriers or plans. In Chicago, IL, good coverage means good options at all four major carriers. MVNOs, which use these same networks, also offer several ways to cut down on monthly costs while increasing data limits.
Altogether, recent developments in Chicago, IL make it easier for customers to get good coverage, fast data, reliable calls, and an affordable price that matches both their monthly budget and the exact features they need on a daily basis. As always, however, it's important to read the fine print, take advantage of promotional offers, and ensure that a carrier's real-world coverage matches its coverage map and in-store promises when making the big switch.
When a consumer is searching for their next cell phone plan in Chicago, they have three main factors to consider to make the best choice. The first is how often they typically use their phone, and most importantly, how often they use their data when they’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network. The second is the amount that they’re willing to spend on their cell service per month. The third is whether they’d like to get a new phone or stick with their current device.
When it comes to device usage, it’s a combination of how the consumer uses their phone and the amount of data they will use. In some cases, the cheapest plans will suffice and provide everything the consumer needs at a great value. However, there are also cases where the cheapest plans are insufficient.
Budget is the most important consideration in the minds of many consumers. When the consumer knows what they’re willing to pay, they can shop for plans in that price point alone, helping them sort through their options more quickly.
Many consumers enjoy purchasing the latest new devices when they get a new phone plan, but there are also those who would rather just stick with what they already have. The latter route can be a good way to save some cash.
The reality is that no single plan will be right for every consumer. What works very well for one person could be the wrong choice for someone else.
What's the best carrier in Chicago?
Anyone who has watched much TV in Chicago has undoubtedly seen one or more commercials about a carrier’s exciting new service that’s available for an incredibly low price. All these ads can make the process of choosing a carrier difficult. Tools that offer carrier and plan comparisons can simplify things for the consumer.
Chicago's local cell phone carriers
One carrier which is local to Chicago is U.S. Cellular, now the fifth-largest wireless network in the nation. It has 4.9 million customers spanning across 426 markets. The network started in 1983, when it was a Telephone and Data Systems subsidiary using analog technology. It has moved up in the world since then to EVDO/3G network speeds, and it’s setting up 4G LTE speeds.
Its headquarters are in the O’Hare area, specifically located in the U.S. Cellular Plaza Complex. It is known for treating its customers well, and it even won the Reader’s Choice award for customer service from PC Magazine in 2010. When Google began attempting to bring together the networks in 2016, it partnered with Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular.
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 Chicago, IL:
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 Chicago, IL and change very frequently, but they do often represent a significant savings each month.
Data is often the toughest decision consumers face when selecting a cell phone service plan. It’s not easy for someone to know exactly how much mobile data they will need or if unlimited data is a necessity, but fortunately, they can at least approximate what they will need. Obviously, consumers who often find themselves using internet services when they don’t have Wi-Fi will need to get a plan that offers enough data, without the provider throttling service to slow it down or charging the user costly overages. For consumers who enjoy streaming videos and those who have a family plan with a teenager that loves social media, it’s a good idea to get unlimited data to avoid any worrying.
Types of unlimited data plans in Chicago
There is unlimited data with throttling. This isn’t truly unlimited data – instead, the user gets high-speed data up to their plan limit. Once they reach the limit, their data gets throttled for the rest of the billing cycle, meaning it will be 2G, which is very slow. On the bright side, there won’t be any overage charges.
There is unlimited data with a reduction in the quality of video content. When the user streams videos, it will be in standard definition (SD) instead of high definition (HD).
Finally, there is actual unlimited data without any restrictions. The user gets high-speed data no matter how much they use, and videos stream in HD.
Many carriers advertise unlimited data plans on radio, TV and the internet, but these ads are usually referring to those plans that have throttling after a certain point.
The monthly fee for an unlimited data plan will depend on the carrier, but it tends to be between $50 and $100 for one line. If the user gets more lines, the per-line cost goes down while the overall cost goes up. The top deal to date has been five lines with unlimited data for $100.
Chicago Is Home to More than Four Carriers
Considering how popular the four major carriers of Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile are, it would be easy to assume that they are the only carriers in Chicago, but that’s far from the truth.
Consumers can choose from those major carriers and dozens of non-traditional, smaller carriers that have great plans of their own and provide incentives for switching over. And just because these carriers are smaller doesn’t mean they’re lacking in terms of coverage. These carriers have agreements with major carriers to use their networks, which means coverage tends to be similar. Since the smaller carriers are very motivated to bring in new business, they can often deliver solid plans at much lower prices than the major carriers.
To see what’s out there, consumers should evaluate both the major carriers and some lesser-known carriers in their search.
As mentioned, all four of the major carriers operate in Chicago, as well as quite a few smaller carriers. These smaller carriers include Boost Mobile, C-Spire, Cricket, FreedomPop, GreatCall, H2O Wireless, MetroPCS, Simple Mobile, Straight Talk and many more. Smaller carriers can operate on one major carrier’s network, or multiple major carriers’ networks. For example, Simple Mobile only operates on the T-Mobile network, but Straight Talk operates on each major carrier’s network.
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