Choosing a Plan

Now that you’ve selected your wireless device, no matter how you’re going to use it, there is a plan that will meet your needs.

U.S. wireless providers offer their customers numerous options to help consumers make informed decisions when selecting their wireless services, and CTIA and the participating wireless carriers that cover 97 percent of wireless customers signed the Consumer Code for Wireless Service. The Code's signatories have adopted the 11 principles, disclosures and practices for wireless service, including voice, messaging and data services for postpaid or prepaid consumers.

To complement the Code, here are some things to consider:

1. What kind of payment plan best fits your needs?  There are two basic kinds of payments plans: prepaid and postpaid Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages for both: 


  • You will not incur overage charges, which helps if you want to stick to a specific budget for you or your kids. Once you run out of voice minutes, data usage or text messages, the phone will not work (except to call 911) until more are purchased. If you don't use the purchased minutes, data or messages within a certain period of time, you may lose them.
  • There is no contract so you may choose to move from provider to provider at any time. Yet you may pay more per minute/data/message than with a postpaid plan.
  • Some of the mobile device options may be limited, and may not include the “hottest” or “newest” devices.
  • You may not be able to port your phone number if you change providers or get a new device.


  • By signing a contract, much like a car lease or gym membership, you agree to stay with the wireless provider for a specified period of time. You may pay an activation fee for the contract, and if you choose to bring your own device to the provider’s network. In return, you may pay less per minute/data/message and may select from a number of subsidized devices.
  • If you choose to upgrade to a new device at some point during your contract, your wireless provider may charge a fee and/or the contract period may be extended.
  • If you choose to end the contract early, you may have to pay early termination fees and other penalties, which could be prorated based on the amount of time remaining in your contract. You may choose to unlock the device and take it to another provider, as long as the device is compatible with the other provider’s network. Your new provider will let you know if this is possible.
  • You may make political and nonprofit donations, as well as other third party purchases that appear on your monthly wireless bill.
  • You may port your phone number to your new provider.

2. When does my billing cycle begin and end? How many (and what type) of voice, data and text usage is allowed in this plan? Are there restrictions or prohibitions on usage? How much does it cost if I go over the allotted usage? Can the provider (or are there apps I can download) place restrictions on my plan so I don’t go over the usage? It’s important you know the dates of when your billing cycle ends and begins so that you may track your usage. Many providers offer 24/7 online, phone or via mobile device shortcut tools so you may check your usage at anytime. In addition, many providers offer free usage alerts before you reach your limits.

3. What are the terms of the contract? Is there a trial period? If you want to change plans (or devices) in the middle of the contract, are there any charges and will that extend the contract term length? If you choose to end the contract early, is there an ETF? Before you sign a contract, make sure you know the answers to these questions. Per the Consumer Code for Wireless Service, providers will disclose this information, but it’s important you understand and remember them.

4. What is my plan’s coverage area? What happens if I travel outside the coverage area (e.g., outside of continental U.S., Mexico, U.S. territories, Canada, etc)? Your wireless provider offers a coverage map in its stores and online, which includes any limitations or variations (e.g., roaming) in coverage. Before you travel, if you’re unsure about coverage, contact your wireless provider and it will help you determine the best course of action so you have wireless service.

5. Do you want to be able to pay for third party content, such as apps, nonprofit or political donations and other digital goods and services on your monthly wireless bill? Some consumers enjoy the benefit of purchasing items from credible third party sources that will appear later on their monthly wireless bill. If you would rather block these kinds of purchases from being made on your device, your wireless provider may assist you.  

6. Do you want to purchase device insurance, anti-virus software or other security protection offerings? If you are prone to losing things, or would like the peace-of-mind of these kinds of security options, many carriers and third party organizations may offer this kind of service for free or for a fee.

If you are a senior or have disabilities, is the comprehensive website to help you find the best wireless service (and device) for your needs.

Last updated: November 2013
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