As our phones get faster and have better screens and more processing power, it’s natural that they 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.
Last year, the “unlimited data” wars heated up between the four major carriers in the US. Each one tried to outdo the others in terms of price and how much data you actually got. Unlimited data is kind of like a bottomless cup of coffee at a diner: At some point you’ll be cut off.
Last week,— it’s still not truly unlimited. The plan is named “aboveunlimited” and has the largest data allowance of any carrier, with 75GB per month.
Thursday,by adding its new WatchTV service that bundles 30 or more live channels to each. The new entry level unlimited plan is now $70 per month — $5 more per month than the previous one.
For most people, these large data plans should be more than enough. But to help make sense of what you actually get, we compared the unlimited plans from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon and all the fine print that came with them.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published on Feb. 13, 2017. Since that time, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all announced multiple changes to their unlimited data plans. The information below reflects the prices and features of unlimited plans as of June 21, 2018.
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 4G LTE 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. These vary wildly depending on where you live.
- All of the plans include an autopay discount: $5 a month for Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon and $10 a month for AT&T.
- T-Mobile One and Verizon “gounlimited” plans limit people to standard-definition video and only 3G hotspot support.
- AT&T’s Unlimited &More plan limits people to standard-definition video with streaming speeds capped at 1.5 Mbps and doesn’t include hotspot data.
Comparison of single line unlimited data plans with autopay discounts applied
|Carrier||Data throttled after||Video streaming||Unlimited data monthly cost||Single-line data plan cost for 2 years||Hotspot allowance|
|Sprint Unlimited Freedom||23GB/month||HD||$60||$1,440||10GB|
|T-Mobile One||50GB/month||SD||$70||$1,680||3G data speeds only|
|AT&T Unlimited &More||22GB/month||SD||$70||$1,680||none|
|Verizon “gounlimited”||22GB/month||SD||$75||$1,800||3G data speeds only|
|T-Mobile One Plus||50GB/month||HD||$80||$1,920||10GB|
|AT&T Unlimited &More Premium||22GB/month||HD||$80||$1,920||15GB|
Taxes, fees and surcharges
T-Mobile has done away with the taxes, fees and surcharges that phone plans normally have — kind of. The carrier simplified pricing for its customers by folding those additional costs into the price of its plans. So a $70 a month plan on T-Mobile actually costs $70. Obviously, if you’re financing your phone your bill will also include that cost.
AT&T, Sprint and Verizon data plan prices do not include taxes, surcharges or additional fees. Trying to estimate how much these will cost you is a study in patience because these additional costs vary quite a bit depending on where you live. To help this, each carrier has a site to help you estimate how much it those charges will be: AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.
Limited time discounts on unlimited plans
Frequently, carriers have short-term discounts on unlimited plans. Currently, Sprint has its “Free Unlimited Data For A Year” plan for when you transfer from Verizon to Sprint and keep your existing phone. The deal runs through July 31, 2019 after which pricing reverts to Sprint’s Unlimited Freedom plan aka $60 per month for a single line.
Cost for additional lines
If you need additional lines of unlimited data, each of the big four has a range of prices:
- Sprint Unlimited Freedom: $60 per month for the first line, $90 for two lines and $130 for four lines. The four line price is good until June 30, 2019 after which the price increases to $160.
- AT&T Unlimited &More: $70 per month for the first line, $120 for two and $160 for four.
- T-Mobile One: $70 per month for one line, $120 for two and $160 for four.
- Verizon “gounlimited”: $75 per month for the first line, $130 for two and $160 for four.
- AT&T Unlimited &More Premium: $80 per month for the first line, $150 for two and $190 for four.
- T-Mobile One Plus: $80 per month for the first line, $140 for two and $200 for four.
- Verizon “beyondunlimited”: $85 per month for the first line, $160 for two and $200 for four.
- Verizon “aboveunlimited”: $95 per month for the first line, $180 for two and $240 for four.
- All multi-line unlimited plans have an autopay discount applied: $5 a month for Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon and $20 a month for AT&T.
- AT&T’s prices also reflect an included multi-line discount: $10 for three lines or $20 for four lines or more.
Comparison of multiple line monthly costs with autopay discount applied
|Carrier||First line Cost||Second line cost||Third line cost||Fourth line cost||Total monthly cost for four lines|
|Sprint Unlimited Freedom||$60||$40||$30||$0 ($30*)||$130 ($160*)|
|AT&T Unlimited &More||$70||$55||$20||$15||$160|
|AT&T Unlimited &More Premium||$80||$70||$20||$20||$190|
|T-Mobile One Plus||$80||$60||$31||$29||$200|
*Sprint prices include a $30 discount on the fourth line that’s good through June 30, 2019.
Both Verizon and T-Mobile offer prepaid plans with unlimited data. Verizon’s “prepaidunlimited” plan is $75 per month. The “prepaidunlimited” plan lacks tethering and mobile hotspot support, and only offers standard-definition video streaming.
The T-Mobile prepaid plan, aptly named One Prepaid, costs $75 a month: $5 a month more than its postpaid One plan. 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 buy 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. Verizon includes 720p HD video in its “beyondunlimited” and “aboveunlimited” plans but not its entry level plan. T-Mobile One, AT&T Unlimited &More and Verizon “gounlimited” plans limit video streaming to 480p standard definition (think DVD quality). That means the WatchTV service you get on AT&T’s Unlimited &More plan only streams shows at standard definition.
Verizon’s “prepaidunlimited” and T-Mobile’s One Prepaid unlimited plans also limit video streaming to 480p standard definition.
For more money, you can upgrade plans to include 1080p high-definition video streaming.
Mobile hotspot data
If you use your phone as a mobile hotspot. All carriers offer hotspots with LTE data speeds, but not all plans do. Also, keep in mind there are limits on how much data you can use. Some plans like Verizon’s “gounlimited” give you unlimited mobile hotspot streaming at 3G speeds.
- Verizon “aboveunlimited” — 20GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- Verizon “beyondunlimited” — 15GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- AT&T Unlimited &More Premium — 15GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- T-Mobile One Plus — 10GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- Sprint Unlimited Freedom — 10GB 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
- AT&T Unlimited &More — no mobile hotspot data
The final word
It is truly wonderful to have unlimited data options from all four major US carriers. 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.