The Best Prepaid Cell Phone Plans with Unlimited Data
These days, you use your smartphone for everything, and many of those activities require intensive data usage such as web browsing, video and music streaming, emails, and more. The best way to do all of this and not worry about hitting your data limit is to get a cell phone plan with unlimited data. What many people don't realize is you can now get a no contract, prepaid cell phone plan with unlimited data. Check out our comparison tool below to compare prepaid no contract cell phone plans that offer unlimited data.
No Contract Cell Phone Plans with Unlimited Data
While all of the plans above offer unlimited data, it's important to keep in mind that not all of them offer "truly" unlimited data. That is to say, some carriers throttle their data speeds after you hit a certain threshold of data usage. This means that after a certain point, data speeds will be slower for the rest of the month, even though you won't get billed any overage charges. Fortunately, Wirefly removes the guess work by outlining which plans throttle data speeds after a certain usage amount.
Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), which are the smaller wireless carriers that don’t own their wireless infrastructures, have been around for well over a decade, but in recent years have become far more popular among consumers.
These smaller carriers offer prepaid phone plans which have several advantages over contract plans. Consumers don’t need to go through a credit check to get a prepaid phone plan, so even those with bad credit can get a plan. Since there’s no contact, consumers can switch plans or carriers at any time without fees. Payments are easier since the consumer is prepaying and doesn't need to remember to make a payment on any due date. Even though the carrier may be smaller, consumers still have quality streaming to the point where they wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a prepaid or a contract phone plan.
With prepaid unlimited data plans, consumers have unlimited streaming and other data usage, without any concern about throttling or overage charges. Data is perhaps the single-most important part of a phone plan for many consumers, especially with apps, such as WhatsApp and Skype, that offer talking, texting, and video calling. These apps use data, and many people communicate primarily through them instead of using text messages or minutes.
How Does Prepaid Unlimited Data Work?
Prepaid phone plans are simple enough to understand. The consumer chooses a plan with a certain amount of minutes, text messages, and data based on his needs, and then prepays for those features in advance. An unlimited data plan provides unlimited data for a specific time period, typically one month.
The MetroPCS Unlimited Data Plan is an example of how unlimited data works on a prepaid plan. There’s a $10 upfront fee, and then it costs $50 per month for unlimited everything – minutes, text messages, and data usage. Now, this plan wouldn't quite be considered a prepaid plan, but it has similarities, as it doesn’t lock the consumer into a contract or have any overage fees. There are many excellent prepaid plans on the market, so it’s wise for consumers to stay open to those types of plans. When they go the prepaid route, consumers can get deals and retain the flexibility to switch plans at a moment’s notice. A long term prepaid data plan is Mint’s Large 12-month plan. This plan isn’t for unlimited data, but it provides 120 GB of data for the year and costs $399.
Who Needs an Unlimited Data Plan?
Not everyone is going to use enough data to make a prepaid unlimited data plan worth it. The average person goes through approximately 2 GB of data per month on each device, and at that level of data usage, an unlimited plan is excessive and likely a waste of money. If a person streams movies frequently or streams music throughout the day, a prepaid unlimited data plan is a smart choice.
Travelers can also benefit from prepaid unlimited data plans, because they can use their phones as Wi-Fi hotspots. With tethering, they can connect their laptops to their phones’ networks. This allows them to access emails and browse online even in areas that don’t have Wi-Fi networks. They can also avoid potentially unsafe public Wi-Fi networks, which is one area where hackers frequently steal information.
Purchasing a Prepaid Data Plan
The primary drawbacks of prepaid plans are that they require payment upfront, and the consumer needs to buy a phone if he doesn't have one that is compatible with the carrier. Consumers can solve the latter problem by finding carriers that can work with their current phones. If that’s not an option, prepaid carriers have plenty of phones available at reasonable prices, especially if consumers aren't looking for the latest, most technologically advanced phone on the market.
Among the most popular prepaid carriers are MetroPCS, Cricket, and Boost. One part of mobile data that has been experiencing a major boost in popularity is mobile hotspots. People are starting to recognize the danger of unsecured, public Wi-Fi networks and want to avoid those issues by using their own networks. There are quite a few affordable prepaid unlimited data plans available for this purpose, including the AT&T PREPAID plans. Cricket offers a prepaid mobile hotspot feature that starts at $10 per month, and any Cricket customer on a qualifying prepaid plan is eligible.
Of course, postpaid unlimited data plans are also popular and fulfill the needs of many consumers.
The big question people have whenever they hear the term “unlimited data” is what the carrier means by unlimited. Years ago, unlimited data actually meant that the consumer had unlimited data with no slowdowns. Things changed in 2010, which was a banner year for wireless carriers, as smartphone sales were through the roof. Carriers were also selling far more unlimited data plans than expected. As unbelievable as it sounds now, carriers didn't think this would be a big deal, as they didn't think consumers would go through that much data. They were in for a big surprise.
The carriers soon found out that consumers can use quite a bit of data. In response, they changed the data plans they offered. They set up separate plans with tiers of data, such as a 2 GB plan, a 5 GB plan, and a 10 GB plan. Going over that amount could result in overage charges.
While carriers still offer unlimited plans, there’s a difference between how unlimited plans used to work and how they do now. Once the consumer reaches a certain data usage threshold, his carrier deprioritizes him. This means that it prioritizes other people’s data usage over his, essentially slowing down his speeds. If he’s trying to watch a movie, it will take longer to load and will likely be in standard definition instead of high definition.
Anyone who was on one of the original unlimited data plans and has kept it to this day is grandfathered in, which means the carrier honors the terms of the original plan. For everyone else, it’s important to remember that unlimited data plans still have slowdowns.
Plenty of Options Available
While these two plans are the top choices, there are a substantial number of carriers offering prepaid unlimited data plans, with most of those plans falling in the $50 to $60 range. Consumers should shop around before making their decisions. They should also keep an eye out for new deals even after they choose a plan, in case something better comes along. After all, one of the biggest benefits of prepaid plans is being able to switch at any time.
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