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Like many people, Lisa White was frustrated with the high cost of cell phone service. So four years ago, she abandoned AT&T for a cell phone plan offered by Xfinity, her cable and internet provider.
For White, who works at a regional bank in California, it was a smart decision.
“I saw an ad for no-additional-cost cellular," says the Nevada City resident. "The plan does charge for data, but since I don't use much at all, I decided to try it. Basically, I now get my cellular service for free, instead of the $100 a month I was paying for AT&T.”
The main reason is lower monthly fees. At all three cable companies, one phone line with unlimited data costs $45 a month. At T-Mobile, the cheapest of the big carrier options, it's $65 a month.
At Xfinity, a four-line plan with unlimited data costs $120 a month. At AT&T, it's $180.
"Plans from Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile are generally much less expensive than comparable plans from the major mobile brands," says Kristen Hanich, senior analyst at the market research firm Parks Associates.
Why? Lower costs. Much like Cricket, Ting, and other alternative service providers, the cable companies lease excess wireless capacity from a major carrier. But instead of relying heavily on the cell towers in those networks, they use the WiFi hotspots in their own internet service networks whenever possible to provide calling, texting, and mobile app use.
"Since their services are WiFi first, and use WiFi networks preferentially, Comcast and Spectrum are able to save on data traffic fees," Hanich explains. And those savings are then passed on to customers.
So if you already subscribe to internet service from Spectrum or Xfinity or any service offered by Altice's Optimum and Suddenlink brands, and you live in an area where cell service is offered, too, adding a phone plan to the bundle can be a great way to trim costs.
And if money's tight, this could be a way to afford both cellular service and a wired broadband connection in your house.
The cable companies also offer more flexibility than you get with a traditional cell-phone family plan. For example, you can sign up for a 1GB plan for one phone, a 3GB plan for another, and unlimited plans for the three data hogs in your home and save even more money.
Like the plans from traditional carriers, cable companies offer 5G service where available and even some special deals on new phones. At Spectrum, for instance, you can get up to $300 off a Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G with an eligible trade-in. The company also allows customers to connect phones they already own to the service.
But be prepared to make a few concessions. As with Cricket and Ting, your service may get slowed before that of a cell carrier's own customers when network traffic is high. And it's not uncommon for Altice, Spectrum, or Xfinity to reduce you to 2G or 3G speeds when you reach data caps, including a 20GB threshold for unlimited plans. (At T-Mobile and Verizon, it's 50GB.)
And make sure you factor in all the fees, taxes, and other charges listed in the fine print on the offer before making a final move. They're generally not included in the advertised rates.
Here's a closer look at what Altice, Spectrum, and Xfinity have to offer.
Altice offers unlimited talk, text, and data plans and by-the-gig plans using T-Mobile’s network. To enroll, you must also have an account with one of the France-based conglomerate's two U.S. brands (Optimum or Suddenlink). Without an account, Altice Mobile service costs an additional $10 a month. You have to agree to automatic monthly payments, too.
The unlimited data plan costs $45 a month per phone. So a family of four would pay $180.
A by-the-gig plan will run you $14 a month for 1GB of data and $22 a month for 3GB. And Altice lets you mix and match the levels of service for up to five lines, so you can save extra here by choosing a 1 or 3GB plan for family members who don't need a big pool of data.
Once a line has gone through the allotted data, you can even purchase more. But when the data cap is reached—including a 20GB ceiling on each unlimited line—Altice reserves the right to slow speeds from 4G LTE (and 5G where available) to a pokey 2G.
You should also note that international talk and text from the U.S. and talk, text, and data use abroad are not included in Altice's plans. But tethering—using your phone as a WiFi hotspot to connect other devices—is available at 2G speeds and video streaming at SD quality.
Spectrum, which is owned by Charter Communications, offers unlimited plans and by-the-gig plans using Verizon's cellular network. To enroll, you must have an internet account with the company. Payments will be charged automatically to a credit or debit card.
The service offers two unlimited talk, text, and data plans. The first one costs $45 a month per phone (and Spectrum actually includes taxes and government fees in its advertised prices).
When you reach 20GB of data on one line, the company reserves the right to slow speeds for downloads to 1Mbps and for uploads to 512Kbps, which puts them somewhere between 2G and 3G.
The unlimited-plus plan costs $55 a month per phone. With that one, you don't get throttled until you reach a whopping 30GB of data on a line.
Here again, you can mix and match the levels of service to suit the needs of those in your family (up to a maximum of 10 lines). For those who nibble data, you can pay $14 a month for 1GB and $14 more for each additional GB.
After you use 5GB of data, your speeds may be reduced to 2G for the rest of the bill cycle. If you routinely use that much data, you probably want one of the unlimited options.
With each plan, you get free calls to Mexico and Canada (up to 33.3 hours a month) and free international texting to over 200 countries. Video is delivered at DVD quality.
Xfinity, which is owned by Comcast, offers an unlimited plan and by-the-gig plans using Verizon's network. To enroll, you must have an internet account with the company. Autopay is required, too.
The unlimited plan costs $45 a month for one phone. As you add more lines, the rate decreases to $40 (as in $80 for two lines), $33.33 ($100 for three), $30 ($120 for four), and ultimately $24 ($240 for 10).
When you reach 20GB of data on one line, the company reserves the right to slow speeds, noting only that it will leave them high enough for you to "watch video and stream music."
For an extra $20 a line, you can also purchase Xfinity's HD Pass, which keeps your speeds from getting throttled during peak-traffic times.
The by-the-gig plans cost $15 a month for 1GB, $30 a month for 3GB, and $60 a month for 10GB. If you exceed those allotments, you’ll be charged $15 for each additional GB and partial GB.
Xfinity offers the same plan flexibilty as Altice and Spectrum, so feel free to choose different data allotments for each phone.
For $10 a month per line, you get unlimited calls to Mexico and Canada. International call and text roaming is available in 200 countries for additional charges.
When you create a mobile hotspot on a by-the-gig plan, your data will flow at 4G speeds. While tethering on the unlimited plan, it flows at 3G speeds.