It’s an interesting moment for wireless carriers. For the first time in years, unlimited data plans are available on all four major U.S. carriers (T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T), and provide shoppers with a lot of choice. Lead by T-Mobile, many of the new plans include new perks, like international roaming or access to streaming content gratis.
But that newfound freedom comes with a bevy of gotchas. For instance, an unlimited plan might get greatly throttled tethering speeds or downgraded streaming video when trying to watch Netflix. As always, carriers are happy to upsell customers plans with slightly better features, but every plan has its own unique pitfalls.
We’ve included info on all four major carriers and prices for individual plans and family plans up to five people (lines). The best unlimited data plans are:
The Best Overall
T-Mobile One Unlimited Plan
Starting at $70/month
T-Mobile ended those dreaded two-year contracts in 2013 and has lead the U.S. market in pricing and new initiatives ever since—often by calling out other carriers by name. Dubbing itself, the “uncarrier,” the company ran its mouth a lot, but over time it proved its words weren’t just lip service. In the last few years, its investments in its network have finally paid off, winning speed and availability awards from OpenSignal and other companies who monitor service quality.
Cost per Line (Taxes/Fees included): 1 Line: $70 | 2 Lines: $120 | 3 Lines: $140 | 4 Lines: $160 (currently $140) | 5 Lines: $180 (Currently $160)
WIRED: T-Mobile is the only carrier that includes all taxes and fees in its pricing ($5-$20 savings per month). It doesn’t throttle your data speeds until you’ve used 50GB of LTE data (a lot). If you have two or more lines, it offers a free subscription to Netflix (for some reason). Other perks we like include no roaming charges for texting and data (3G) in 140+ countries and no roaming in Canada and Mexico (5GB limit). Those age 55+ can also subscribe for only $35 per line.
TIRED: The standard plan only includes 3G speeds if you use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. All plans will cost $5 more unless you enroll in AutoPay. You must pay a $10 One Plus monthly fee per line to get HD streaming, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi on flights with Gogo, voicemail to text, caller ID, and 10GB of 4G LTE hotspot data. The $25 One Plus International upgrade offers the perks of Plus along with unlimited Wi-Fi hotspot data, unlimited international calls to many countries, and complete access in Mexico and Canada. (Details here.)
Will Your Phone Work? T-Mobile has a Phone Compatibility Test that lets you search to see if your phone will work on its network. Most unlocked phones should work, especially those that also work on AT&T, but see our section below for our favorite devices and more info on how to liberate a phone from your current carrier.
The Best Deal
Sprint Unlimited Freedom
Starting at $60/month
Sprint has long held the reputation of being the lamest wireless carrier, but times are changing. Japanese company SoftBank now owns nearly 85 percent of the company. That’s important because SoftBank sees Sprint as a long-term investment. Sprint’s network still isn’t the most robust, but it’s improving and its unlimited plans are the best deal in wireless right now.
Cost per Line (You’ll also have to pay taxes/fees): 1 Line: $60 | 2 Lines: $100 | 3 Lines: $130 ($100 for a year) | 4 Lines: $160 ($100 for a year) | 5 Lines: $190 ($100 for one year)
WIRED: Sprint’s Unlimited Plan costs $10 less than T-Mobile’s cheapest plan, but it has almost almost every perk of T-Mobile’s premium One Plus plan that runs $80 per month. Sprint offers a free subscription to Hulu, 1080p HD video streaming, a 6-month Tidal music trial, 10GB of Wi-Fi hotspot data per line so you can tether your laptop, and global roaming in 185+ countries.
TIRED: Taxes and fees, which will run you as much as 20 percent of your bill, are not included in Sprint’s prices (T-Mobile includes them). All plans will cost $5 more unless you enroll in AutoPay. Sprint may slow your data speed down after 23GB of use per month.
Will Your Phone Work? Check Sprint’s List of Eligible Phones to start. Like Verizon, Sprint is a CDMA carrier, which means many devices won’t work on it. Unlocked phones that work on Verizon are probably also compatible with Sprint. See our device suggestions below.
How AT&T Stacks Up
AT&T Unlimited Choice Enhanced
Starting at $65/month
AT&T and Verizon are still the heavyweights in wireless, but unless you live in an area where only AT&T works well, its unlimited data plans offer demonstrably fewer perks than T-Mobile and Sprint. AT&T also still pushes Mobile Flex data-sharing plans, which aren’t much cheaper and give you less for your money.
Cost per Line (You’ll also have to pay taxes/fees): 1 Line: $65 | 2 Lines: $120 | 3 Lines: $140 | 4 Lines: $160 | 5 Lines: $190
WIRED: AT&T offers subscribers free access to HBO through the DirecTV Now streaming app and $15/mo off a subscription to DirecTV Now or satellite service. AT&T offers unlimited texting in 120+ countries and “unlimited” roaming in Mexico and Canada. (You cannot use the Mexico and Canada perk for more than 50 percent of your data in during a two-month period.)
TIRED: Taxes and fees are not included in AT&T’s pricing. If you do not enroll in AutoPay, AT&T will add $10 for a single line and $20 for multiline accounts to the price. Unless you opt for the $15-$30 extra Unlimited Choice Plus plan (throttled after 22GB), AT&T may slow down your data at any time if the network is congested. You’ll need that upgrade to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot or stream HD video (1080p). If you travel internationally, AT&T requires you purchase an insanely expensive $60 1GB data package.
Will Your Phone Work? AT&T has a Device Compatibility Tool you can use to check your current phone(s). Most unlocked GSM phones tend to work on AT&T. T-Mobile devices will as well, as long as they are paid off. We’ve included some device suggestions below.
How Verizon Compares
Starting at $75/month
Verizon still has the best service in some rural areas, but T-Mobile and others are giving it a run for its money. Verizon also now has two confusingly-named unlimited data plans: GoUnlimited and BeyondUnlimited because, well, words have no meaning. We’ll detail the standard GoUnlimited plan.
Cost per Line (You’ll also have to pay taxes/fees): 1 Line: $75 | 2 Lines: $130 | 3 Lines: $150 | 4 Lines: $160 | 5 Lines: $200
WIRED: Verizon does include very slow 600kbps mobile hotspot service. As long as you don’t use it much, you can get unlimited service in Mexico and Canada as well, up to 512MB per day. Like AT&T, you cannot use this perk for more than 50 percent of your data in during a 60-day period.
TIRED: Verizon will charge an extra $5 per line if you do not use AutoPay. Verizon may throttle your speeds at any time unless you pay $10-$15 more per line for BeyondUnlimited service, which prioritizes your data for the first 22GB per month. It also adds HD video streaming and 15GB of LTE hotspot data so you can tether your laptop. Beware if you’re traveling beyond Mexico and Canada. (Read more fine print.)
Buy an Unlocked Phone (or Unlock Yours)
Replacing your phones is one of the most daunting aspects of switching wireless networks. If you bought your phone from your wireless carrier (most people do), it was probably sold to you as a “locked” device, or one that only works on a single wireless carrier. We recommend you buy devices unlocked online, but don’t fret just yet.
As long as you’ve fully paid for your phone, your wireless carrier is obligated to unlock it for you. Just take it in or ask them their procedures on how to unlock a device (read more on FCC.gov).
If you did buy your phone unlocked, know that while some major phones will work on all four major carriers, most devices will work on either AT&T and T-Mobile, which are known as GSM carriers, or Sprint and Verizon, which use a technology called CDMA. Sometimes a device will partially (or mostly) work with a carrier, so it’s worth giving it a shot! Try WillMyPhoneWork.net if you’re unsure of a device’s compatibility.
Great Unlocked Phones for Every Carrier
If you need to buy a new phone (or a couple for your posse), we have suggestions. For starters, check our list of the Best Cheap Phones for some our favorite devices that cost between $200 and $500.
Moto X4 Works on Every Carrier: I’m a big fan of this phone and it’s price. It’s available on Amazon, Motorola.com, Walmart, and Jet.com. The Moto Z2 also works well. Motorola phones aren’t perfect, but tend to be more affordable and compatible.
Amazon has a good selection of Unlocked phones, including the new Samsung Galaxy S9. Don’t buy any iPhone older than a 6S, but if you find a good deal, even Certified Refurbished, go for it. Amazon and Apple.com have a decent selection of iPhones.
Protip: Use the phone’s model number, and put it into WillMyPhoneWork.net to make sure it’ll work on your carrier. Again, chances are highest that an unlocked phone won’t work on Sprint, followed by Verizon.
Don’t be afraid of Amazon Prime Exclusive phones, either. They no longer have lockscreen ads. The LG G6 and LG G6+ have last year’s tech in them, but they’re still speedy and a bargain next to the competition.
How to Check Network Quality in Your Area
If you live in a rural area, before you switch to a new wireless network, do some research. Don’t trust the people at the Best Buy or store in the mall. See if neighbors, friends, or relatives nearby use other carriers. You can ask some local friends on Facebook, too.
If you own a cabin or travel for work, check those addresses, too. Chances are high that all four wireless carriers will work just fine, but it’s smart to check before switching.
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