Who’s Got The Cheapest iPhone Plan?

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Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on November 1st, 2011. It was recently erroneously published with a date in August 2012. The information contained in this report was accurate as of original publication, but it is now outdated.

If you’re thinking about getting an iPhone, you now have a choice between three major national carriers: AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. But each offers different plans at different prices. Which company has the cheapest plan for you?

In short, it depends on how much data and texting you use. For someone who does a ton of Web surfing or video streaming on their phone and can’t keep their fingers from sending every communication through SMS, Sprint has the cheapest plan. It’s $80 a month, offers 450 voice minutes, and has unlimited texting and wireless data usage.

If you only send an occasional email or check the weather and think texting is for teenagers, AT&T and Verizon have better offerings. AT&T customers who use less than 200 MB of data, restrict themselves to 450 voice minutes, and never send text messages will pay just $55 a month. But with a 20-cent-per-text-message fee, if you send more than 100 texts per month (about three a day) or plan to make regular use of your wireless bandwidth, take a look at Verizon.

Verizon has a plan with 450 voice minutes, 2 GB of data, and 250 text messages per month for $75. That’ll let you send about 8 text messages per day and use 10 times the Internet bandwidth of AT&T’s cheapest plan without incurring any additional charges.

While it’s easy for anyone to judge how many text messages they send in a month, estimating the amount of bandwidth you’ll use is tricky. Some general guidelines…

  • 200 MB = 10,000 emails, or 1,150 Web pages, or 105 minutes of YouTube-type video streaming
  • 2 GB = 100,000 emails, or 11,500 Web pages, or 1,050 minutes of YouTube-type video streaming

Of course, there may be other factors you wish to consider when deciding which cell phone provider to choose. If you pick one that has spotty or poor coverage in your area, it might not matter to you that you’re paying less when your phone keeps dropping calls.

To find out who’s got the best coverage near you, do an informal survey. Ask your friends and neighbors who they get cell service from and how much they like it. Then invite a few of them over to your house and check out their phones’ signal meters. You might notice that one service or another is consistently low. That could be a good sign to stay away.

It should also be noted that residents in parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida will soon have a fourth alternative: C Spire. While the company has not yet finalized its iPhone plan pricing, their normal smart phone plans are amazing. One includes 500 minutes, unlimited text messaging, and unlimited data for only $50 a month.

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