AT&T vs Verizon vs Sprint: Which iPhone 5 carrier should you choose?

AT&T vs Verizon vs Sprint: Which iPhone 5 should you get?

If you're in the U.S. it's probably not so easy deciding which carrier is best for your iPhone 5 needs, AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint. Price is always a huge factor to consider when choosing a carrier, but coverage should be just as, if not more, important when making a decision. Since the iPhone 5 supports LTE cellular technology, you're going to want to take a close look at which carriers offer the best LTE coverage in your area. Then there's the matter of simultaneous voice and data -- AT&T can do it over HSPA data, but Sprint and Verizon need Wi-Fi. And don't forget international roaming.

First, let's take a look at prices.

AT&T vs Verizon vs Sprint shared plans

Verizon and AT&T are the easiest carriers to compare because the offer very similar plans. Their "share everything" plans include unlimited minutes and the price is determined how much data you want. Sprint has has a different approach to their shared plans and includes unlimited data so that price is determined by minutes. Let's first take a look at Verizon and AT&T.

Verizon shared data versus AT&T shared data

Here's a pricing comparison chart for Verizon and AT&T. Both carriers charge a base fee, labeled as the "monthly price", then charge an additional price for each smartphone included in the plan. For Verizon, the smartphone fee is a straightforward $40 per phone, but AT&T has a tiered pricing that decreases as the amount of data goes up. Both AT&T and Verizon charge $10 for each tablet added to the plan.

Now, although the above chart gives an accurate depiction of the prices on each carrier, the first thing you have to do is add up the appropriate numbers to figure out what your family's plan would cost. But let's just do that for you! Here's a chart that compares the prices on Verizon and AT&T for one, two, three, and four smartphones.

Keep in mind that if you want to add a tablet to any of the above plans, you must add an additional $10.

Sprint shared plans

As previously mentioned, Sprint takes a different approach to their pricing scheme and includes unlimited data for all plans. The price of your plan is determined by the number of minutes you use. It's very important to note that all Sprint plans include unlimited mobile to any mobile minutes. Meaning that if you're calling another cell phone, whether that cell phone is on AT&T, Verizon, T-mobile, or any other mobile carrier, your minutes will not be accounted against your allotted amount. Only calls to landline phones count against your minute usage.

To summarize, Sprint's cheapest shared plan is $150 for two phones and includes 1500 minutes and unlimited minutes. For the same price, Verizon and AT&T offer unlimited minutes and 4 GB of data. But when you jump up to four phones, Sprint's 1500 minute plan is $210, but Verizon only includes 1 GB of data for that price, and AT&T doesn't offer anything at that price for four phones (1 GB will run you $220).

So the bottom line is that when deciding if Sprint is a good option for your family, you need to decide which is more important: unlimited minutes or unlimited data. If you family eats up minutes, then you may want to cross Sprint off your list, but if your family uses a lot of data, then Sprint may be the way to go -- providing they offer good coverage in your area (what good is unlimited data if you can't use it?)

AT&T vs Sprint individual plans

You may have noticed that Sprint's chart did not include options for just one phone. That's because for individuals, you are restricted to 450, 900, or unlimited minutes. AT&T offers similar individual plans as well; however, Verizon has combined all options for any number of phones in their "Share Everything" plans shown above.

Sprint's plans are very straightforward. They all include unlimited data and text giving you only three options. On the other hand, AT&T's plans do not include unlimited data or text. Both data and text must be added on as additional services. Unlimited texting is $20 and for data, 300 MB is $20, 3 GB is $30, and 5 GB (with personal hotspot) is $50. The following chart breaks it down for you.

It's important to note that all of Verizon's plans include personal hotspot at no additional cost, but AT&T's do not.

LTE availability

In addition to price, you must also consider where each carrier offers coverage and if you're within that area. When it comes to coverage, the first thing you want to consider is LTE availability.

Clearly, the above maps are not a good enough indication of LTE coverage in your area. So make sure you look at each of carriers' maps very closely as they all offer an interactive tool that lets you zoom into your specific area and learn exactly which areas of your city get coverage.

If LTE is not available to you on either network, the next thing to look at is 3G (or "4G" -- ugh!) coverage. In general, AT&T's HSPA data is much, much faster, but also less reliable than Verizon and Sprint's CDMA networks -- and Verizon is typically faster than Sprint. Because of 3G/4G data speeds, I am inclined to recommend AT&T over Verizon and Sprint providing that they offer solid coverage in your area.

It really does come down to who offers the best coverage. If price is deal breaker for you, you may have to compromise on coverage and stability and choose Sprint, but if you're willing to pay extra for a better network, take a close hard look at the coverage that AT&T and Verizon offer. Don't only look at maps, either. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers who use AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint to learn how satisfied they are with their carrier's network.

Simultaneous voice and data

AT&T is the only one who offers simultaneous voice and data. This feature will not be available on Verizon and Sprint. So if simultaneous voice and data is something you value, AT&T is your only option.

International traveling

Since AT&T is GSM carrier and Sprint and Verizon are CDMA carries, Apple chose to make two different models of the iPhone 5: GSM+LTE for AT&T and CDMA+LTE for Verizon and Sprint. For people who don't travel internationally, this fact is irrelevant, but if you're a frequent traveler, it may play a very important role on which carrier you choose. To make a long story short, if you regularly travel within North America (US and Canada) and want LTE when you travel, AT&T is your only option. If you travel to the rest of the world, then you want Verizon or Sprint. If you travel between Canada and the rest of the world, well, you're out of luck -- you can't have both, unfortunately. If this is something that you need to consider, hit the link above for more details.

Making the choice

So which carrier are you going to choose? Personally, I'm torn between Verizon and AT&T. I'm already an AT&T subscriber who's grandfathered into an unlimited data plan, but Verizon's share everything plan is very tempting to get for my husband and me. I am not a huge data user since I am almost always around WiFi, so I'm not too concerned about losing my unlimited data plan. Where I live, AT&T's LTE is not yet available, whereas Verizon's LTE network is fairly stable. I currently have an iPad on Verizon's network, so I could save money getting a shared plan and adding my iPad for just $10 a month (I'm currently paying $30). However, this would come at the expense of early termination fees with AT&T, and that's a hard pill to swallow. UPDATE: I've decided to go with Verizon.

Enough about my predicament, what carrier do you plan on going with? Will you be ditching one carrier for another or sticking with the one you already have? Sound off in the comments below!

Leanna Lofte

App and Photography Editor at iMore. Mother, wife, and math instructor. Follow her on Twitter @llofte and send her apps to consider for review at iosapps@imore.com

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There are 65 comments. Add yours.

MAGNUS says:

We have both Verizone and ATT LTE in Dallas. I'm torn between sticking with Grandfather on ATT or paying the early term fee and switching to Big Red. At first I did not want to lose my Unlimited but seeing as my wife uses less than 1gb a month, that could leave me with 5gb for and still stay within our current price point. And/or add tethering without jailbreaking. Oh what to do?!

dehrlich01 says:

Any word on voice+data for Verizon with this new LTE chip??

dloveprod says:

I'm sticking with at&t, lte is coming to detroit by the end of the year, I get a student discount through them, Verizon offers nothing for students.

VincentPerez44 says:

thats not true. Verizon gave me a student discount when i enrolled in college and i was givien a free verizon tablet also. i was on a 2gb monthly plan and they upgraded it to 4gb free of charge aslong as i was in college. once i graduate i get to keep the tablet but my plan will go back to 2gb

Quis89 says:

Since when was sprints data hspa? And you neglected the fact that sprint is unlimited to all cell phones. So the 1500 is only landlines.

iJohan says:

Yes they do but those plans dont include data for smartphones so that plan isn't compatible with the iPhones. The only plans that can be used for iPhones (or any other smartphone under Sprint) are the unlimited data plans that start at $149.99 for 2 smartphones.

Leanna Lofte says:

But the name of the plan is "Everything Data". If not for smartphones, what is the data for? (Serious, I'm confused(

designingsean says:

I think the confusion comes from the original poster not being clear about what they were talking about being unlimited. Data is unlimited, but so are call minutes to any other cell phone, regardless of carrier. The only thing you get charged minutes for is calls to landlines.

Which means 1500 minutes shared ends up being a TON of minutes, way more than most people will ever use in a month.

Leanna Lofte says:

OHHHHHH! I didn't realize this. I will clarify -- thank you!

Joebin says:

Thanks for the great info Leanna. I just commented on the iPhone 5 giveaway post that I'm no longer under contract with AT&T. I've been years-long not happy with their coverage in my area (North OC, CA) and leaning towards going with Verizon.

rbiro says:

Assuming an equal LTE coverage footprint, are there known speed differences among AT&T, Verizon & Sprint (for LTE not 3G/Edge/CDMA)?
Is there already a single model of LTE Android phone that is available from all three carriers for an Oranges to Oranges comparison?

nikkisharif says:

In Cleveland on Verizon's GS3 I get 39 down & 14 up, my friend gets 33 down & 13 up on his AT&T GS3, and we don't have Sprint LTE here but another friend of mine currently working in Houston gets 25 down & 13 up on her Sprint GS3

Inten5e says:

So many inaccuracies in this article...

tdaniels1981 says:

...plz don't make statements without backing them up. What are these inaccuracies?

Inten5e says:

-Sprint's HSPA data is one.
-Sprint is unlimited to all cell phones
-Sprint having faster 3g than verizon. Take a look at there facebook page at all the happy customers with the mythical fast 3g
-The whole 3g coverage discussion is silly. Buying an LTE phone (one of the biggest features of the new phone) and worrying about 3g coverage backwards, one should be looking at future rollouts of LTE in their area. If you are basing your purchase on 3g networks stick with the 4S.

Leanna Lofte says:

I fixed the Sprint data mistakes. I apologize.

Sprint does offer non-unlimited plans. That's why I listed them. http://shop.sprint.com/mysprint/shop/plan/plan_wall.jsp?tabId=pt_shared_tab&flow=AAL&planFamilyType=null

lungho says:

"-Spring having faster 3g than verizon. Take a look at there facebook page at all the happy customers with the mythical fast 3g"

Oh how one is so quickly to criticize. I had no idea "Spring" was a mobile phone carrier.

Inten5e says:

LOL and like a blind fool you would have taken what was written as fact. Don't act like you did something helpful. Simply verifying each point made in the article would have brought you to the same result, you were just too lazy to do it.

Inten5e says:

Iungho,
A typo is seriously the best argument you have? Ha

tdaniels1981 says:

Asking u to be more specific isn't making an argument. It's called communicating well, and asking for more information. Me lazy? I'm not the one that made a blanket statement withOUT listing your grievances, as if the rest of us were supposed to just believe YOU. So, you were doing everyone else a favor by not being specific? ....smh

Inten5e says:

I contributed a lot more than your lazy statement asking for what was wrong. My post was more for the author to recheck her statements as people previously had already mention what was wrong. Just because you can't read a comment section properly and comprehend the information already provided, you wanted it spoon fed to you. Yes, you are lazy and ignorant. Next time someone is kind enough to hold your hand and educate you, say thanks instead being an ungrateful moron with replies like "Now that's better".

tdaniels1981 says:

'ignorant'? 'moron'? Wow! You've just lost the argument by getting personal like that. I'm gonna be the ADULT and politely bow out of this conversation. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day :) ....smh

GIJosep says:

He actually wrote "Sprint"... Unless it was edited afterwards. If so, disregard. Haha

RC46 says:

Well for one

" In general, AT&T and Sprint's HSPA data is much, much faster, but also less reliable than Verizon EVDO rev A data. Verizon voice is typically better than AT&T or Sprint voice. Because of 3G/4G data speeds, I am inclined to recommend AT&T and Sprint over Verizon providing that they offer solid coverage in your area."

I think she is confusing Sprint with T-Mobile, seeing as how Sprint use EVDO Rev A and not HSPA+

DaMacGuy says:

Yup. Sprint and Verizon use EVDO for 3G data - much slower than HSPA or HSPA+ on AT&T. T-Mobile is HSPA but doesn't have 3G with iPhone at all - incompatible frequencies; but they're trying to remedy that.

jwsnj3rd says:

If I can keep my current unlimited plan that ive had for 3 or 4 yrs I'm sticking with Verizon

PilotPhil81 says:

Verizon all the way. I get service on my iPhone in the middle of nowhere, but my co-workers are always losing their AT&T so called 4g when they leave the city limits.

Big Dookie says:

This may be a dumb question, but now that we'll have an iPhone with LTE, is there an extra cost associated with using it or is LTE included in the shared data plans? I remember when Sprint first started rolling out 4G that you had to pay an extra $10 a month or something to use it, but I haven't really followed it since then. Is LTE included in your normal data plan now?

KCMike says:

I'd go with AT&T just because I'm already there.

Vanti says:

Why was sprint included? Im not quite sure but i do believe that none of the imore MAIN staff have sprint. Sprint should not even be considered at this time just because they have an iphone does not make it great. If you have a Bentley but can only afford to put regular in it you do it an injustice.... If you have an iphone and have sprint.... you do it an injustice with the inferior network

progressiskey says:

I may be a sucker for the underdog, but Sprint has worked hard to get where they're at (not dead). They offer the best overall deal and are hard at work upgrading their LTE/3G network. They haven't promised glitch-free service in the short term and have apologized/followed up with my complaints. They have put all their chips in on the iPhone/4GLTE and I can't hate them for sticking it to the other two networks. If their projected plan in Chicago works out as it looks, its going to be a great thing.

Dev from tipb says:

If I can keep my grandfathered unlimited, I am sticking with AT&T.

Otherwise, it is off to Verizon.

liveinvictory says:

Leanna, great post. I've been contemplating this very decision for the last several weeks and doing the same research. This would've saved me some time. One thing you missed. Although Big Red doesn't advertise the plans anymore, it is still possible to get an individual plan at least through the retail stores. The reps are discouraged from selling it to you, but if you ask for it specifically, they'll give it to you. If you are shopping by yourself and use more data than talk and text (like me), this is a much better plan the the bundled plans available through VZ right now!

jmalloch says:

A better option then the network provided maps is RootMetrics http://www.rootmetrics.com, which compares real world network performance. They have an app that will add any data testing that you do to the map, so others can see actual data performance. I turn it on when I drive around to collect data in my area. It's kind of fun to see how your network changes with time of day and other activity.

iRy757 says:

Verizon! I use MyWi on mine because our house router doesn't reach my PS3, so I use a bunch of data. Hence why I'm preordering and buying at retail price so I can keep it!

c_hack says:

I'm switching to Sprint from Verizon. The Vzw Family Share plan for 5 phones is $45/month more on Vzw, and doesn't come with unlimited. By switching to Sprint, I'll save $45/month AND get unlimited data. Sprint all the way!

Inten5e says:

You will regret this. Sprints' network is terrible and the lack of LTE coverage is beyond abysmal

pa7tip says:

Thats a pretty bold statement. Do you know where this person lives? Maybe they are in one of the few markets that has Sprint LTE or will get it soon. Or perhaps they spend a large amount of time on wifi and can wait for LTE to launch where they live. You are correct, Sprint does not have the best network right now but they will be competetive soon enough so if the price of the Sprint plan makes more sense for this person's budget I dont see why they would regret it.

jlake02 says:

I'm staying with AT&T but *only* because they didn't shaft us grandfathered unlimited folks like Verizon did. We get to keep unlimited (*cheer*) and the pre-throttle limit is now 5 gigs and not 3.

Verizon, on the other hand, has pretty much screwed over their unlimited folks as far as I can tell, so I see no reason to move over. Yes, Verizon has more LTE currently up but that will change pretty quickly.

ThaKrazyOne says:

The way I see it is that it depends on where you live, and what kind of data user you are. Everyone here so far is judging by the LTE and not much in voice. Also, don't just go by numbers, go by area as well. As stated in other posts, not everyone will have LTE availability at launch, but will in the near future. Some might not see LTE until 2013. My opinion, and the version I would get is the AT&T version of the iPhone 5. I use PrePaid service from H2O, which uses AT&T's service. Plus, the GSM radio can drop back and forth to any available network available from LTE, HSPA+, UTMS 3G, EDGE 2G and if needed, GPRS. Being in LA I can take full advantage of LTE. If I leave the area say to the San Joaquin Valley where there is no LTE, I can still use 3G and maybe HSPA+ if available in the valley or the Grapevine Pass. Case in point, make sure you choose on your using habits. Don't let the numbers hinder your judgement, choose from experience, and get feedback from others. And if you travel, check availability in those markets. Peer Pressure is a mother, we all know that. But buying into the wrong version is a two year ass whoopin' to your bank account, and maybe your ego.

dandbj13 says:

I will be holding my nose and switching back to Sprint from AT&T.

Gus2259 says:

Last week in a Sam's Club I'll checked out some of the phone packages that they offer from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. The Salesperson there proceeded to step all over himself with his information. While extolling the virtues of Verizon's family share plan he said the data package he was proposing offered 2 GB of data. He then said that according to Verizon's research nobody went over that 2 GB of data with their unlimited plans. If that be the case then why are they so worried about getting rid of unlimited plans.
Regardless I feel that Verizon and AT&T screwing the customers over. They get your service with unlimited data and then change the deal. I don't know about AT&T but Verizon said I can keep my unlimited data plan so long as I don't upgrade my phone. Upgrade according to them means changing phones at all regardless of type.

Gus2259 says:

Thanks for putting together this article Leanna. I found it very useful.

A follow-up article for some of us might include just how much data is 1 GB and also does that include uploads. For example if I were uploading photos to Photostream using cell data, would that not held against my gigabyte of data.

Leanna Lofte says:

Uploads absolutely count against your data usage. Think of it like this, if you need to be connected to a cell network to do it, then it counts against your data usage. If you can perform the task while in airplane mode, then it doesn't count against your data usage.

mewantone says:

Whatever you do, stay away from Sprint. Coverage terrible! Speed terrible! Tech support terrible! Their reps suggestion to bad coverage and speed? Find a wifi hotspot or pay for wifi in your hotel! Wow! Thats why I cancelled Sprint, now with Verizon and I pay less, Oh yeah, dont forget Sprint's required "Data experience" or whatever its called $10 per phone fee. Don't know if this was added to Sprint's totals in the article.

vchewjr says:

you have to remember that Sprint has Free Mobile to Mobile to any Carrier. so the 1500 min only apply to land lines.

Dev from tipb says:

I took my wife's Verizon Galaxy S3 around my frequently visited areas yesterday, and now I am a bit torn about staying with AT&T. In my area, Verizon's LTE coverage blows AT&T's away. The problem is, we live *just* inside one of the LTE dead zones, and Verizon's 3G data is much worse than AT&T's in these spots. So...much, MUCH better performance 1/4 mile away from my neighborhood, and everywhere I travel, or better performance when I'm running around my neighborhood. Decisions, decisions....

jlb21 says:

It's really a no brainer for me. I am on unlimited on Verizon with my iPhone 4. Both my wife and daughter are on "dumb" phones for now. At some point we may add an iphone for my wife but we want to hold off on the additional $30/mo-ish fee. Of course we are also considering taking our landline down to just a basic plan where it would be a minimal cost.....But i digress.

I did check the coverage map and it does seem my home is within a primary LTE coverage area for VZW (and clearly downtown boston is). So that benefit would be retained if I were to upgrade.

So my decision point is not just based on your formulae above. I also have to weight ALL of that with the option of buying the 5 at retail to retain unlimited. For us, that prob makes no sense at all right now.

So I sit tight for now. Don't forget, the franchise Verizon stores (as opposed to the corporate ones), might get in returns and can sell them to you "used", mimicking buying it after-market and thus being able to retain your unlimited. They won't likely offer this up to you as an option. I have a good relationship with the managers of my local franchise store. Clearly they won't be able to sell to you at the subsidized price, but they could likely sell a used phone to you at less than full retail.

2oh1 says:

Am I missing the part comparing Verizon individual plans? Or does Verizon not offer them? I'm on an individual plan with AT&T and debating switching. Can't wait to get an iPhone 5!

jlb21 says:

You are right. you do NOT have to go onto a VZW data share plan. You can still put individual lines a tiered data plan, IIRC. And even if I got a new iPhone I could choose to put it on a tiered plan rather than the datashare plan. Or if my wife went to a smartphone, that line could go on its own tiered data plan allowing me to keep the unlimited on my line.

johnolesen says:

Not sure if posted before, but that Sprint 1500 minute / 3000 minute plans include unlimited ANY MOBILE. Meaning not just sprint to sprint, but to ATT, VZW, Cricket, Boost, MetroPCS, TMobile, US Cellular...whatever. Those minutes are only for landline calls-to which i respond: "whats a landline?"

martinez_13 says:

At&t is the way to go Sprint service is no good

bkgohardNY says:

when you add the ipad to your Verizon plan and pay just 10 instead of 30gb, Do you have to share the 2 GB between the iPad and phone or does the iPad have a seperate 2GB of data??

Iphonemamaof5 says:

Im not sure bout the Sprint figures. I have had sprint for the past four years. I have five smartphone lines, mine and four sons, with unlimited data. My phone bill runs $262 a month including taxes etc. My AT&T friend has four iphones in her family and pays close to $400 a month.

Global Phenom says:

I don't know how reliable this info is, but I had a conversation with a verizon sales rep via chat and directly asked, and confirmed their answer about simultaneous data/voice calls.

Me: "I have been researching online, and am trying to understand if simultaneous voice and data will be available with the iPhone 5 on Verizon."
Verizon Rep: "When you order the iPhone 5 you will have the share everything plan. With this plan you have your unlimited talk and text with your choice of data package. You would be able to surf the web while talking on the phone."
Me: "So you will be able to talk on the phone and surf the web at the same time on an iPhone 5?"
Verizon Rep: "Yes, you would be able to do that."

Like I said, I am not fully confident about this, but at least I tried :)

Leanna Lofte says:

The Verizon rep was simply wrong :P

erikbock says:

I'm having some difficulty with the statement about using Verizon and Sprint for the rest of the world. GSM is the most deployed technology in the world not CDMA. Am I missing something here?

pauldebass says:

re international travel, isn't it just the opposite of what you stated? Verizon being CDMA would only work in the US, At&T being GSM would work in Europe. Does this still hold true for LTE? From what I read LTE at this point is only available in Germany w T-mobile and I believe England.

ashman63 says:

First off DO NOT choose Sprint. I was on my iphone and I had AT&T. I had full coverage and my friend who had sprint only had one to two bars. I have AT&T. I am staying with them because Verizon's 3g is a lot slower then AT&T's. Also I live in a very small town and their is LTE about 5 miles from where I live for AT&T.

vickigeist says:

Currently Sprint has a known issue in about ten cities with the iphone5 unable to access the cellular data network. So, if you are off wireless, much of the time your phone may not work for data transfer. This does not affect all phones, is affecting a number of phones. The majority of front end sprint reps - in the retail sites, when you call customer service - are unaware of this issue. Only after speaking with a sprint engineer in the specific department handling the issue, did I receive the information that my phone would not work and could not be fixed until sprint and apple resolve the issue and so far, they don't know what is causing the issue. I've spent weeks trying to get this resolved - have switched out hardware and reset phone several times and almost 20 hours total on the phone with different reps - most unaware of this "known" issue. Until sprint resolves this iphone 5 issue - go with a different carrier. I'll add, you can have full bars of coverage showing and still not access. And if you do get online, your mbps speeds of download point 42 (.42) and uploade of point 7 (.7). Don't get a brick.

berrynifty says:

I just had to cancel Sprint for the reasons you stated. No service on my iphone5. I am now on AT&T and feel as if I have stepped into a new world. Fantastic signal on my phone!

berrynifty says:

After 16 years I have switched from Sprint to AT&T. Often our incoming calls were going straigt to Voicemail, even though the phone was in our hand! We never had 4g or LTE, even no 3g lot of the time. My friends on AT&T in my area have no problems. Incidentally, my daughter 4 states away has the same trouble.