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Choosing the right telecom provider is an important utility decision - so it’s important to choose wisely. If you’re looking for a cellular company that you’ll be able to stick with for the long run, pay attention to the following factors to make sure that you end up with a provider that’s going to be a great fit — whether for you or your family. 

What's a telecom provider?

A telecommunications provider (telecom) is a communications service provider, referring mostly to those selling cellular services to private subscribers — so think about the phone company that you pay a bill to at the end of each month for your cell phone.

What to know about choosing a telecom provider 

Some of the factors that you may want to bear in mind when weighing up your options include:

Prepaid vs bill pay

Some providers charge for their services via a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) model. Under this model, users pay for their service by prepaying for connection vouchers that enable them to remain on the network.

The opposite of this is bill pay. Under the bill pay model, subscribers receive a bill at the end of each month with an invoice to pay. Typically this is a fixed monthly fee. But sometimes users may accrue additional charges by using services not included in their package such as:

  • Phone calls that were not included in the package. For instance, those placing international calls may find that they incur extra charges
  • Using more data than was included in the package

If you’re shopping for your business then you may prefer to go with a bill pay model so that you can buy bulk subscriptions for all your subscribers. Bill pay is also more convenient for consumers because you don’t have to top up periodically to avoid losing connectivity. 

What’s a data cap?

When it comes to the type of cellular data that telecom providers offer, everything is not created equally. While 4G (LTE) is now the standard for reasonably fast connectivity — and can typically support download speeds of up to 100 Mbps — its successor, 5G, is now rolling out around the world.

Besides the type of network that providers offer, they also differ in terms of:

  • The bandwidth that they support. This is the total speed of data transfer across the network. During times of heavy load — or when users exceed their data allowance — providers may throttle the network which means reducing speeds. This is done in order to preserve network performance. 
  • How much data in total they allow users to access each month. This is sometimes known as a data cap. These vary very widely according to plans. Some providers offer ‘unlimited’ plans — although in practice these are rarely actually unlimited (read the fine print and you’ll likely find there’s a fair use clause). And others provide users with a certain number of gigabytes of cellular data per month. If users go over this then they may be throttled and/or charged extra.

MNOs vs MVNOs

Broadly speaking there are two types of providers that offer cellphone connectivity services:

Mobile network operators (MNOs) own and maintain their own infrastructure. That means the base stations and other components that make the network “run”

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). Unlike MNOs these don’t actually own the infrastructure they use to provide the network. Rather they lease it from them. 

What difference does this make to consumers? MVNOs can be cheaper because they don’t need to pass on the costs of maintaining the network. But MNOs can offer better service and customer support because, after all, they own the network that provides connectivity. 

How much do telecoms providers cost?

Prices between providers vary upon the packages offered. Some factors that will commonly affect these include:

  • Subscription periods. In telecoms plans, as in most subscription services, providers typically try to incentivize users to sign up for longer subscription periods by offering long-term discounts. Some will offer three years plans designed to appeal to those that really want to commit to a network for a lengthy period of time.
  • What’s included. In general the more data, minutes, and other services that are offered the more consumers can expect to pay for those plans.

From some of the plans we have reviewed:

  • Verizon Wireless offers a data plan for about $70/month
  • Tello offers a basic coverage plan for $19/mo for a pay-as-you-go service, so the prices do vary

Find The Best Plan For You

In order to find the very best telecom plan for you and your family pay attention to your usage patterns and make a list of the features that are important to you (international calling minutes? A high monthly data plan?). Then sign up for a provider that best fits your needs. If you’re really confident in your choice you can likely lock in discounts by signing up for long-term contracts.