As our phones get faster and have better screens and more processing power, it’s natural that they will gobble up more cellular data. An unlimited data plan can be a great fit for our data hungry devices. However, keeping track of the ever changing unlimited plans, prices and features can be frustrating. But that’s why we’re here.
On Wednesday,. The more expensive plan is pretty much the same as the old plan, but you get 5GB more hotspot data a month and can only stream 720p high-definition video instead of 1080p high-definition video. Verizon also announced a $75 per month unlimited plan, but it has even more limits.
Luckily in the US all four major carriers offer unlimited data plans. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon each have two unlimited data plan options: an entry level plan that limits video streaming to standard definition and omits LTE hotspot use, and a more expensive option that competes with the unlimited data plan features that Sprint offer. But how do these unlimited data plans really compare?
Data limits and throttling
The unlimited plans from the big four carriers all come with unlimited talk, texting and data. But there’s a catch — 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.
- T-Mobile One limits people to standard-definition video and only 3G hotspot support
- AT&T’s Unlimited Choice plan limits people to standard-definition video, data speeds capped at 3Mbps and has no hotspot data allowance.
- Verizon’s “gounlimited” doesn’t have 4G LTE hotspot allowance, limits video streaming to standard-definition,
- 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||Video streaming||Unlimited data monthly cost||Single-line data plan cost for 2 years|
|AT&T Plus||22GB/month||1080p HD||$90/month*||$2,160|
|Verizon “beyondunlimited”||22GB/month||720p HD||$85/month*||$2,040|
|T-Mobile One Plus||30GB/month||1080p HD||$75/month*||$1,800|
|Verizon “gounlimited”||22GB/month||480p SD||$75/month*||$1,800|
|T-Mobile One||30GB/month||480p SD||$70/month*||$1,680|
|AT&T Choice||22GB/month||480p SD||$60/month*||$1,440|
|Sprint||23GB/month||1080p HD||$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 One: $70 per month for one line, $30 per month for the second line, $41 per month for the third line, and $19 per month for the fourth line
- T-Mobile One Plus: $75 per month for the first line, $35 per month for the second line, $46 per month for the third line, and $24 per month for the fourth line
- Verizon “gounlimited”: $75 per month for the first line, $55 per month for the second line, $20 per month for the third line and $10 per month for the fourth line
- Verizon “beyondunlimited”: $85 per month for the first line, $75 per month for the second line, $20 per month for the third line and $20 per month for the fourth line
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|
|T-Mobile One Plus||$75/month*||$35/month||$46/month||$24/month||$180/month*|
|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
Both Verizon and T-Mobile offer prepaid plans with unlimited data. Verizon’s “prepaidunlimited” plan $80 per month — $5 more a month that its “gounlimited” postpaid plan. The ‘prepaidunlimited” plan lacks tethering, mobile hotspot support and only offers standard-definition video streaming.
The T-Mobile prepaid plan, aptly named One Prepaid, costs exactly the same as its One Plus plan: $75 per month. T-Mobile One Prepaid doesn’t include support for LTE hotspot data and limits video streaming to standard definition. You do get support for hotspot data at 3G speeds and you can by a high definition video day pass at $3 a pop.
HD video vs. SD video
Sprint includes 1080p high-definition video streaming in its plan. However, Verizon only includes 720p HD video in its “beyondunlimited” plan. T-Mobile One and AT&T Choice limit video streaming to 480p standard definition (think DVD quality). For $5 more a month (T-Mobile One Plus) and $30 more a month (AT&T Plus) you can upgrade to plans that includes 1080p high-definition video streaming. Verizon’s “gounlimited” and “prepaidunlimited” plans and T-Mobile’s One Prepaid unlimited plan also limit video streaming to 480p standard definition.
Mobile hotspot data
If you use your phone as a mobile hotspot. All carriers offer hotspots with LTE data speeds, but not all carrier plans do. Also, keep in mind there are limits on just how much data you can use and some plans like Verizon’s “gounlimited” give you unlimited mobile hotspot streaming at 3G speeds.
- Verizon “beyondunlimited” – 15GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- Verizon “gounlimited” – hotspot access at 3G data speeds
- T-Mobile One – hotspot access only at 3G data speeds
- T-Mobile One Plus – 10GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- Sprint – 10GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- AT&T Plus – 10GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE 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.
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.
Update, Apr. 28 at 11:10 a.m.: Adds T-Mobile’s One Plus plan and updates details for T-Mobile’s One plan.
Update, Aug. 24 at 11:25 a.m.: Adds Verizon’s new pricing and names for unlimited plans.