What's the Difference in Unlimited Data Plans from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint & T-Mobile?

18 April 2017

The Best Unlimited Data Plan the major carriers compared

In less than two weeks, there's been plenty of action in the unlimited data carrier wars. Each of the major carriers has either introduced, altered, or upped its unlimited data game. Now that the dust's finally settled, let's see the truth behind all the marketing bravado and battle-cries. So how do Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile plans really compare? 

Before buying, it's also a great idea see how the major carriers' plans compare to ALL the other carriers' offerings or check out our best unlimited data plans guide.

What you'll pay

Sprint's the cheapest for single and multiple lines, even up to 5 lines  BUT its promotion pricing is set to expire on March 18, 2017. After that you're going to be paying quite a bit more -- $60 for 1 line, $100 for 2 lines, $130 for 3 lines, $160 for 4 lines, $190 for 5 lines. (And personally, it bugs me that this discount is only available to new customers--so sorry to the 59 million existing Sprint customers out-of-luck.)

Considering its pricing never expires, T-Mobile is actually a great deal. When compared to the other carriers, only T-Mobile's "All-in" pricing includes taxes and surcharges which can add up to an extra 18% (what the average American pays in fees and taxes)to the bill — which significantly narrows the price margin Sprint has over the Uncarrier. In addition, only T-Mobile waives activation fees when setting up a new line. Considering these one-time fees range from $25-$30/per line, a family of four is looking at a initial savings of $100.

Here are some other things to consider:

  • All carriers require auto pay and paperless billing to get advertised price.
  • All carriers offer switching credits (up to $650) for eligible phone trade-ins. 
Compare prices for 1 line of Unlimited data:
Compare prices for 2 lines of Unlimited data:
Compare prices for 4 lines of Unlimited data:
Here's a comparison of the plans' features:
Plan Features Verizon AT&T Plus AT&T Choice TMobile Plus Sprint
Data speeds 4G LTE 4G LTE 3G (3Mbps max) 4G LTE 4G LTE
De-prioritization threshold 22GB 22GB 22GB 30GB 23GB
Mobile hotspots 10GB 10GB no 10GB 10GB
HD video included yes yes no (480p) yes 1080p
Auto pay & paperless bill required yes yes yes yes yes
Excludes taxes & surcharges yes yes yes no yes
One time activation fees $30/line $25/line $25/line no $30/line
For new & existing customers both both both both new
Offers switching credits yes yes yes yes yes

The similarities:

All the carriers' Unlimited plans (with the exclusion of AT&T's Unlimited Choice) offer these features:

  • 4G LTE  high speed data with unlimited talk & text
  • 10GB of hotspots
  • video streaming in high definition (HD)
  • require auto pay & paperless bill to qualify for advertised rates
  • all carriers offer switching credits for eligible customers

The differences:

High speed data amounts

Here's the limit to unlimited data, the tiny asterisks we see next to promises of high speed data. Each carrier reserves the option to temporarily slow down data or "de-prioritize data"  during periods of high network congestion for customers who use a certain amount of data. After the network traffic has passed, users speeds should increase. With the exception of T-Mobile's 30GB threshold, the other three carriers set the de-prioritization limbo bar lower at 22GB (AT&T, Verizon) or 23GB (Sprint). 

If you're a gamer or stream copiously, you may appreciate the extra 7 or 8GB of T-Mobile's high speed data before getting hit with potential speed limits.

Here are some other things to consider:

  • Some carriers count the usage of the 10GB of hot spots towards the de-prioritization threshold so it's best to check with carrier.
  • All four carriers assign the data limit per line.
  • T-Mobile's Binge On content does count toward its 30GB threshold.
Video streaming

Since all the plans (except AT&T's Unlimited Choice plan) offer streaming in high definition, the big difference here is not streaming quality but quantity. Through T-Mobile's Binge On feature, when you use your phone as a mobile hotspot, you can stream — in standard definition--topnotch video content (Netflix, Hulu, HBO) without it counting against your 10GB limit. With this, an endless amount of video can be pushed to your family's and friends' devices that are tethered to your smartphone  think family road trips here. And this clearly is a very good reason to think twice about T-Mobile's unlimited data plan.

We've got some good info on the differences between HD and SD definition if you're interested.

Mobile hotspots

It's always nice to share the internet with those poor, unconnected devices around you. Send out the 4G love, I say. At first, the big carriers were going to make you pay for mobile hotspots until Verizon included it as part of its plan--and now all of the big guys offer 10GB of mobile hotspot data (except AT&T's Unlimited Choice plan). 

Once you exceed your 10GB of data, Verizon and T-Mobile will slow your hotspot data speeds will to 3G except for Sprint and AT&T who will drop it down to the snail speed of 2G. Ouch

Again, T-Mobile pretty much rocks this category because of the aforementioned Binge On feature. But in case you missed it, here's the awesomeness of Binge On in summary. Unlimited data subscribers when using their phones as mobile hotspots can stream quality content (at standard definition) without it counting against your 10GB limit. This means a serious amount of video can be pushed to those devices tethered to your phone. Now that's a 4G to communal love.

And now the moment you've all been waiting for...:

The BEST Unlimited Plan:

T-Mobile's Unlimited One Plus Plan

When compared to AT&T, Verizon and Sprint,T-Mobile delivers the most high speed data (before potential data de-prioritization), offers endless streaming with its generous mobile hotspot caveat (Binge On), and is reasonably priced--especially when you factor in its "All-In" pricing and activation fee waiver. It's simple; the best plan gives you what you need at the right price, and T-Mobile delivers.

The WORSE Unlimited Plan:

AT&T Unlimited Choice Plan

Compared to the other plans, it easily takes last place because of its slower 3Mbps speed, streams video in SD and lacks mobile hotspots. Consider it the younger child of AT&T's premium Unlimited Plus plan. It's got the looks and some of the features of the parent plan, but it's not quite there. Here's a look at the two plans in depth. 

We're not impressed by its low price either, especially when its subsidiary prepaid Cricket Wireless Unlimited plan offers a 60% faster service (8 Mbps) for less. Since both plans use the exact same network, the coverage is similar also. 

It's true. Not all Unlimited plans are created equal. To find the best plan that gives you what you want and the right price, it's always a good idea to compare. Happy Shopping!

Compare Carriers to Find the Perfect Cell Phone Plan

About T-Mobile...
iPhone SE

T-Mobile is one of the "Big Four" cell phone carriers in the United States, a key player in the wireless market. Founded in 1994, T-Mobile USA is helmed by outspoken CEO John Legere. 

  • Network: T-Mobile's 4G LTE network runs on LTE bands 4 and 12. These bands use the frequencies 1900, 1700 def and 700a. For phones using 2G or 3G network technology, the T-Mobile network will primarily use the 1900 MHz frequency.
  • Where to Buy: T-Mobile products can be purchased online or at one of the company's over 3,500 U.S. stores. 
  • Bring Your Own Phone to T-Mobile: Customers can bring along their unlocked, GSM-compatible phones for service on T-Mobile. Just make sure that the device supports T-Mobile's LTE bands and 3G frequencies; you can check here
  • Tethering: T-Mobile's unlimited ONE plan includes unlimited hotspot data at up to 3G speeds. Customers can add ONE Plus to get unlimited Smartphone Mobile HotSpot data at up to 4G LTE speeds.
  • Taxes & Fees: One of the biggest perks of T-Mobile is that all taxes and fees are included in the price of their plans. 

Fact: T-Mobile's unlimited plans have been incredibly popular, and arguably moved the entire wireless industry in the direction of all-you-can-use talk, text and data plans. Learn more about T-Mobile via our carrier review



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