Comparing Prepaid Cell Plans - A Public Spreadsheet (Fi, Cricket, Republic, T-Mobile)

I've been having fun publishing spreadsheets - they give people the ability to stick their own numbers in when they disagree with my assumptions.  With the emergence of Google Fi, I wanted to explore for myself the new(ish) breed of prepaid cell phone plans that have become the logical plan choice for, well, just about anyone.  I guess that's not true if your employer covers your plan, but for the rest of it, it's pretty much a no-brainer both financially and from having the freedom to change carriers.  I figured I'd share the results.  (Note:  This is not intended to be comprehensive -- the idea is that you can adapt the spreadsheet pretty easily to compare any other providers I left out.  That's why it's a public spreadsheet.  Just copy it and go.)

(Most recently updated October 2017)

So, below is a little interactive chart that compares four carriers:

Google Fi - Google's "pay us and we will get your phone on the best possible network" plan, currently invitation only.  (Disclosure:  I'm on sabbatical as a visiting scientist at Google this year, but the opinions expressed here are strictly my own, and are based only on what's on the Fi page.  I don't know anything more about it than you do.).  Base cost is $20/month + $10 for data, and you pay only for what you use in 100MB chunks.  You do have to pay taxes on top of it.  Big limitation:  Only certain, very modern smartphones are supported, such as the Nexus 6.  If you use that link, you get $20 credit after your first month.

Cricket - Now owned by AT&T, an MVNO that resells slightly limited AT&T service, prepaid.  Plans (if you auto-pay) are $30, 35, and 45/month for 1, 4, and 8GB, and $55/month for unlimited.  A note here:  If you have more than 3 phones, Cricket becomes an even better deal.   A cool feature:  Cricket's prices include all taxes and fees.  (Disclosure:  My wife is using Cricket now.  If you go with Cricket, consider using my referral link to get $25 back from them.  If you use that link, I also get $25.)

Republic - Radically cheap base plans for people who can use WiFi most of the time.  But the $15/GB starts to add up if you use a lot of data.  Limitations:   There may be issues with coverage and bandwidth -- I haven't tried it personally.  I would tread carefully here unless really trying to optimize the bill for parsimonious data use.  Updated - I've removed this one from the graph.  After thinking about it more, I think it's a different kind of offering (it's not BYOP, and it does wifi offload without optimized hardware).  I'm leaving the data in the spreadsheet, so you can go view it on your own.

T-Mobile Prepaid - A big carrier trying to differentiate themselves from the soul-sucking masses of other big carriers by offering reasonable prepaid plans.  They're more expensive than the rest until you start using more than 13GB/month, but also offer a bunch of specials for multiple phones and options if you have many data-only devices.
Take-home:  I suspect Google Fi has slightly better coverage than some of the other options.  In the low-bandwidth use regime, it looks like the strongest competitor -- if you use under 1.4GB/month, you'll save money, if you have a phone that works with it.  Republic wireless (in the spreadsheet) is cheaper if you buy one one of their phones, but I'm nervous there.

In the middle-bandwidth regime, the various plans on Cricket look like the best options.  That's where I've personally chosen to go, mostly because I don't have a Nexus 6 or other device that can do Fi (I use about 1.2GB/month and would probably be better off on Fi, but it's not worth it to upgrade yet.  My Nexus 5 is still working well, so I'll probably get a Nexus 5x once it's out when my phone gets old enough that the battery life gets too poor.)

(2017 update -- I now have a Pixel, and I've switched to Fi.  I'm very happy with it because of the International roaming.  My monthly bill has hovered about $1-2 more per month than it would be on Cricket.)

Surprisingly, T-Mobile reigns supreme for the bandwidth heavy.  If you live on the road, tether aggressively, or use your phone as your home data connection, you'll win with their unlimited plan.

A caveat:  If you've got kids who use your plans, the above numbers may change.  In particular, some plans will charge you for more data use (Fi, Republic) and others will slow you down to 3G speeds once you exceed your cap (Cricket, T-Mobile).  There's no right answer here -- for myself, I'd prefer to pay for speed, but if I were paying for a teenager's plan, I'd want the cap. :)

Don't like my underlying numbers or want to see where it all came from?  Here's the spreadsheet as a viewable web page, and here's the underlying Google Docs spreadsheet.

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