Verizon made headlines recently when it announced a new unlimited data plan — a coveted option for those who don’t want to worry about overage fees for using extra data. In reaction, T-Mobile quickly updated its unlimited plan to match Verizon. Then, Sprint revamped its unlimited plan to do the same. And now AT&T has announced updates to its unlimited plan. But how do these new and improved unlimited data plans really compare?
Data limits and throttling
The big four carriers offer unlimited plans with unlimited talk, texting and data. That comes with a catch though — when you hit a certain data limit, your data speeds are slowed down or your data needs are sent to the back of the line. These are the data limits for each carrier:
Cost for a single line
Obviously, one of the reasons unlimited plans exist is to offer lots of data at a reasonable price — reasonable enough to beat overage charges. Here’s what a single line of unlimited data on each carrier costs:
A few notes on these plans:
- The plans for AT&T, Sprint and Verizon do not include taxes, surcharges or additional fees.
- All of the plans include a $5-per-month autopay discount.
- AT&T’s Unlimited Choice plan limits people to standard-definition video, data speeds capped at 3Mbps and has no hotspot data allowance.
- At the time of this writing, Sprint’s promotion expires March 31, 2018, and a single line will then cost $60 per month.
Comparison of single line of unlimited data on each carrier
|Carrier||Data throttled after||Unlimited data monthly cost||Single-line data plan cost for 2 years|
|Sprint||23GB/month||$50/month* through March 2018, then $60/month*||$1,320|
*includes $5/month autopay discount
Cost for additional lines
If you need additional lines of unlimited data, each of the big four has a range of prices:
- AT&T Choice: $60 per month for the first line, $55 per month for the second line and lines three through 10, $20 per month unless the device is a wearable, then it’s $10 per month
- AT&T Plus: $90 per month for the first line, $55 per month for second line and lines three through 10, $20 per month unless it’s for a wearable, then $10 per month
- Sprint: $50 per month for the first line, $40 per month for a second line, no additional monthly fee for lines three through five (so, a family of five pays $90 per month or $18 per line)
- T-Mobile: $100 per month for the first two lines, or $47 per month each for three lines, or $40 each for four lines
- Verizon: $80 per month for the first line, $70 per month each for two lines, $54 per month each for three lines and $45 per month each for four lines
Sprint’s current promotion reverts back to regular pricing after March 31, 2018 — $60 per month for the first line, $40 per month for a second line and $30 per month for lines three through five.
Comparison of additional line costs for each carrier
|Carrier||First line Cost||Second line cost||Third line cost||Fourth line cost||Total monthly cost for four lines|
|Sprint pre-March 31, 2018||$50/month*||$40/month||$0/month||$0/month||$90/month*|
|Sprint post-March 31, 2018||$60/month*||$40/month||$30/month||$30/month||$160/month*|
*includes $5/month autopay discount, a $10 monthly discount for AT&T
The carrier plans mentioned in this article up to now have been postpaid — you pay monthly after you use the service. Verizon has an prepaid plan with unlimited data for $80 per month, the same as its postpaid plan. But the prepaid plan lacks tethering, mobile hotspot support and only has standard-definition video streaming.
HD video vs. SD video
Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint all offer high-definition video streaming included in their plans — previously T-Mobile and Sprint limited video streaming to a lower resolution, but the carriers quickly altered data plans to include high-definition video streaming to match what Verizon offers.
AT&T Choice limits video streaming to standard definition (think DVD quality), but for $30 more a month you can get the Plus plan that includes high-definition video streaming. Verizon’s prepaid plan with unlimited data also limits video streaming to standard definition.
Mobile hotspot data
If you use your phone as a mobile hotspot, keep in mind there are limits on just how much data you can use.
- Verizon – 10GB per month of mobile hotspot data
- T-Mobile – 10GB per month of mobile hotspot data
- Sprint – 10GB per month of mobile hotspot data
- AT&T Plus – 10GB per month of mobile hotspot data
- AT&T Choice – no mobile hotspot data
The final word
It is truly wonderful to have options from all four major US carriers for unlimited data plans. This comparison of costs and features is just part of the bigger picture though. Keep in mind other factors that will hit your wallet: cost of phone, extended warranties, taxes, surcharges and activation fees — the last three T-Mobile has folded into its pricing. It’s also worth considering network coverage and the quality of that coverage, too.
Links to each carriers’ unlimited plans: Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon.
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First published Feb. 13, 3:14 p.m. PT.
Update, Mar. 9 at 1:56 p.m.: Adds T-Mobile’s new data cap of 30GB per month.
Update, Apr. 27 at 10:03 a.m.: Adds Verizon’s prepaid plan with unlimited data.