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, Sprint, and now T-Mobile. 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 and T-Mobile 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 vs T-Mobile shared plans
All four carriers use different rules for calculating the price of their plans, so instead of making things confusing and spelling out all the little details for each plan, we're going to jump to what really matters -- the bottom line.
Unfortunately, the above chart isn't quite enough to compare the four carriers because it leaves out a few details. The information for Verizon and AT&T is actually fairly complete, but some things need to be clarified for T-Mobile and Sprint.
First of all, notice that T-Mobile plans are not "share everything" plans like Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. So the 500MB plans more closely compare with Verizon and AT&T's 1 GB plans and the 2 GB plans are similar to 4GB on Verizon and AT&T. I say 'similar', because they're not identical -- each line on T-Mobile has its own pool of data.
Another important detail about T-Mobile's plans is that they all technically include unlimited data. The 500MB and 2GB plans are the data caps for high-speed 4G data. If you pass those limits, you will not be charged extra, but you'll be throttled to 3G or 2G speeds.
All Sprint plans include unlimited text and mobile to any mobile minutes. This means you can call any cell phone, even one not on Sprint's network, without dipping into your pool of minutes. The plans included in the first chart include 1500 minutes of non-mobile phone calls. Sprint does offer 3000 and unlimited minutes plans, but they're pretty pricey (see above).
In addition to the above shared plans for AT&T that include unlimited minutes and text, you can also choose from these individual plans if you only want one phone line and don't care about unlimited minutes or text.
Cost to add an iPad on Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint
As of right now, LTE iPads are not yet available on T-Mobile. Verizon and AT&T let you add an iPad (or other tablet) to your shared plan for just $10 per month. Sprint does not offer an add-on plan. For more details on iPad pricing, check out our iPad carrier comparison.
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.
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 or T-Mobile, 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, Sprint, and T-Mobile to learn how satisfied they are with their carrier's network.
Simultaneous voice and data
AT&T and T-Mobile are the only ones who can provide simultaneous voice and data for the iPhone 5 (Apple chose to prioritize battery life over including a second radio as a work around). So if simultaneous voice and data is something you value, you'll have to scratch Verizon and Sprint off your list.
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 T-Mobile 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 to be able to switch SIM cards and use local LTE when you travel, AT&T and T-Mobile are your choices. 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.
(Note: There are almost no LTE roaming agreements between carriers, so if you don't plan on switching SIM cards, it makes no difference which iPhone you get -- you'll roam on 3G.)
Making the choice
So which carrier are you going to choose? And why? Anyone planning to switch to a different carrier when your contract is up? Sound off in the comments below!