AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint: Which iPhone 4S should you choose?

AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint: Which iPhone 4S should you choose?

Once you've decided you should get an iPhone 4S, in the US the question becomes -- AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint, which carrier should you choose? Back in January we compared the AT&T iPhone to the Verizon iPhone, and if you're already tied to one carrier and don't want to pay early termination fees, the decision may be easy; if not, the information can be daunting and overwhelming. TiPb is here to help!

To see a breakdown of prices and features, follow along after the break!

The best way to compare prices, is with a chart. So here you go:

Unlimited data on Sprint

One thing to point out is that Sprint's prices include unlimited messaging and data and that AT&T and Verizon do not offer any unlimited data plan to new users (if you've previously had unlimited data, you may be grandfathered in and can ignore this). Unlimited data is a huge advantage that Sprint has over the other two carriers.

The coverage question

However, how much you get on paper for your money should not be the sole determining factor towards your decision. What good is unlimited data if you are frequently in places that don't have good reception. TiPb always recommends that you do further research on the carriers specifically in your area. Ask your friends, family, and co-workers which carriers they have and how pleased they are with their service.

Pricing plans

Sprint is cheaper than AT&T and Verizon, but it's only about 4.8% cheaper than AT&T and about 9.1% cheaper than Verizon. It adds up, sure, but quality of service has some value as well, and it's up to you to determine how much that value is to you.

Please don't think I'm bashing Sprint, because I'm not. There are plenty of areas where Sprint blows AT&T away when it comes to reliable service, and there are also many places where all three carriers are equally just as good (or bad). The point I'm making is that you have to take many things into consideration when choosing a carrier.

CDMA/EV-DO vs. GSM/HSPA+

Another concern is simultaneous voice and data, a feature that is not compatible with Verizon's and Sprint's CDMA networks. You will need to be connected to Wi-Fi in order to access both voice and data at the same time with Verizon and Sprint. CDMA also has worse conference calling and other limitations.

Lastly, the Verizon and Sprint iPhone 4S will be no faster than the Verizon and Sprint iPhone 4 -- both use the same EV-DO data radio. However, the AT&T/GSM iPhone 4S will theoretically be up to twice as fast as the iPhone 4, supporting HSPA+ 14.4 mbps downloads. (Actually speeds in the real world can and will vary.)

For a complete rundown of the differences between AT&T's GSM and Verizon and Sprint's CDMA iPhone 4S functionality see:

Making the choice

We never claimed that choosing a carrier would be an easy decision, but we hope having the information in one place may help. If you have any questions, please ask us in the comments below or check out our Carrier Forums for help:

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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Should you get an iPhone 4S?

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There are 86 comments. Add yours.

Jbbarrette says:

I'm hoping my unlimited plan with AT&T carriers over still!

Ariel says:

Keep all of your reciepts

Disneydudeaustin says:

I am pre-ordering mine on Sprint tomorrow morning!

Moe says:

I actually never heard Verizon had any issues at all, My wife's iPhone on Verizon has worked Flawlessly.

Robert White says:

I concur. My wifes iPhone 4 has been pristine on Verizon. She has yet to drop a call & her data connection is routinely stronger than my Android phone. Think about it.

guest says:

I was going to switch to Sprint, but they only accept pre-orders for existing customers?! and there is no way I'm standing in line on the 14th.

Sfghouse says:

sprint hasn't had a iphone before, therefore there will be ALOT of trouble shooting as there was with verizon and at&t. Be aware that when or if it doesn't go out well, you're stuck in a 2 yr contract

Guest says:

Thats why I would wait but I see Sprint's website says the unlimited data promo ends on Oct 30..Makes me suspicious

Pittspgh says:

That might be for the 'Hot Spot Tetheriing" That I know they are changing from unlimited to 5GB.
But your normal data usage is still unlimited. There is a so called "5GB Soft Cap"

Pittspgh says:

http://community.sprint.com/baw/message/338594#338594
Hotspot being capped starting October 2nd. Really?
This is what is being capped. I can't find find out what this other promo is for Oct 30.

jdradvisors says:

Verizon.... I like to be able to makr phone call without being dropped (IE ATT)

Moe says:

i want to see how many people Sprint steal from AT and T. a CRS even admitted to me tonight her hands were tied and she thought it was silly they would not offer the upgrade to everyone

jbrandonf says:

A few maybe for this price conscious out there, but better service comes from at&t in the form of simultaneous voice and data, faster browsing speeds, and access to ATT's WiFi network.

ericg1840 says:

AT&T's unlimited messaging plans also include unlimited mobile to any mobile calling

Duckdive117 says:

I think all or most of sprints plans include this as well, im on the 149.99 family plan with 5 phones and we only use about 500 anytime minutes cause all calls to mobile phones are free.

Guest says:

For individuals, only the unlimited data everything 450 includes this

burnsaa says:

Wow no mention of the fact that AT&T will be the only one to support the HSDPA+ speeds that the iPhone 4s will be capable of.

Moe says:

True, but in NYC no one will even notice, i only get 2.0 MB/sec in Manhattan

.... says:

NEITHER! 4S = EPICFAIL!

TKFox007 says:

You forgot to mention that CDMA has better penetration through solid objects, the signal travels a lot further, has better call quality and less dropped calls than GSM.

Mclarz says:

Mostly wrong. Penetration is dependent on frequency/wavelength and signal strength, not GSM vs CDMA. Distance likewise depends on signal strength. Call quality is a draw. CDMA gets choppy or garbled while GSM gets static or scratchy. However, GSM does have more trouble with handoffs (changing cell towers) and thus drops more calls.

lilttlemike says:

Mostly wrong. Granted if you don't have a tower in the area, you won't have enough signal but let's assume both systems are close by. While 800 MHz has less facade attenuation than 1900 MHz, for most building construction it's only a few dB difference. The modulation scheme makes the big difference. CDMA is direct sequence spread spectrum (wideband) and therefore practically immune to selective fading / destructive interference from multipath like the more narrowband GSM. Indeed, CDMA can even combine multiple time delayed instances of it's signal from reflections (as seen in buildings) with the phone's Rake receiver to give an even higher signal-to-noise ratio than a "clean" non-multipath environment. And CDMA has a link budget to handle greater than 135 dB of path loss with receiver sensitivities around 13 dB better than GSM. That's why CDMA is vastly superior to GSM with in-building penetration. And in my opinion, it's superior to GSM in every other instance I can think of from soft-handoff and soft-limits to avoid dropped calls to its superior spectral efficiency to handle more calls per Hertz of bandwidth. While GSM still works for most purposes, it really is an old-school TDMA modulation technique and it's age wrinkles def show. And I think the CDMA codecs give better and smoother voice quality too -- more like landline quality (as most listening surveys show). If they have towers nearby, I'd def go with Sprint or Verizon.

Lalalauren131 says:

Omg, dude I just wanna know what phone plan I should use! You are hurting my mind! ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! a. a too many words.

diggity says:

Don't forget to mention that you can get unlimited mobile to any mobile on Verizon's 450 minute plan. Not sure if this is available on the other two carriers.

bvonscott says:

I have ATT 450 plan. If you opt for nationwide calling versus International its unlimited mobile to
mobile, which is pretty much everybody. I also have grandfathered unlimited data, and unlimited txt, and my bill with all taxes is $95 USD a month. Nice

Guest1 says:

With Sprint you get unlimited mobile to mobile too (and it doesn't matter which carrier the other person has). I know in the past Verizon mobile to mobile was only free for other Verizon users.

Guest says:

Thats important - on the Sprint Everything Data 450 Plan you get free mobile to any mobile. ATT also offers that if you buy their $20 unlimited texting...So on both those plans, most people could probably get away with the 450 (if you get free weekends, nights, and any cell phone)> I don't know about ATT or Verizon but I do know Sprint has an employee referral discount...If you do some internet research you will find the codes. I wish I worked for a company that gave discounts I keep reading so many people getting 15-20% discounts on their plans. I want that --it would enable me to get an iPhone and at least feel Im not paying all those fees andsurcharages. THe sprint referral would give me 500 instead of 450 minutes and also would save me ten dollars - so its like waiving the smartphone surcharge. (It was a 59.99+10 for a 500 talk instead of a 69.99+10 for a 450). But Sprints page says that unlimited data ends on Oct 30 - people better read the fine print. Im starting not to trust Sprint that much. Don't know what to do . Everyone complains about ATT yet I keep reading GSM is better and Id think you'd want to be able to talk and use data at same time

Moe says:

Yes and No, same phone, but each will be carrier specific are far as usage

Joe says:

WOW those are friggin EXPENSIVE!
To think I'm paying $45 for 6gb and 300 min...

Roni says:

So you price points for sprint r wrong.. family 1500 is 129.99 and unlimited is 189.99 that includes unlimited data and text... unlimited M2M any mobile
just though i would though that out there.

Ja2bk says:

He calculated in the $10 premium for data on 2 lines I believe

firewired says:

I have had it with AT&T and my frequently dropped called, long delay before outgoing calls dial. I am switching to Verizon and their better network.

Mark H says:

Does anyone know if the iphone 4S is capable of being modified or if there's an app that let's you switch the radio to 'roam only'? I'm with Sprint and at times it's better to manually switch my phone to roam vs. automatic. I'd like to continue this practice if I get the iphone.

Danny Michel says:

"Lastly, the Verizon and Sprint iPhone 4S will be no faster than the Verizon and Sprint iPhone 4 — both use the same EV-DO data radio. However, the AT&T/GSM iPhone 4S will theoretically be up to twice as fast as the iPhone 4, supporting HSPA+ 14.4 mbps downloads." means CDMA sucks

Rjjr72 says:

No that means the Att iPhone has faux 4g(hspaplus) and it still won't be twice the speeds it claiming. I will take solid service and quality over faster data and dropped calls anyway my friend.

jbrandonf says:

Have fun on your 3g. Btw, the definition of 4g was changed to include hspa+ and LTE because the original speed requirement for 4G was 100mb/s. So feel free to call it 4G.

Rjmjr72 says:

So the i4s is a 4g phone now .lol Att calls there hspa plus phones 4g right? Well faux 4g

Michael Beaver says:

Apple skirted around that fact, and I don't think they're calling HSPA+ 4G. They kind of made a joke about it at the conference.

Asuzena says:

/ Hi my good frnied! I would like to say that your article is amazing, wonderful composed and include virtually all the important facts. I would like to see more posts like this.

Peggy says:

Hi Andre, thank you for this rreopt. It answered questions that i had. Back training next week, your drills will be put to the test.I am looking forward to it now that i am armed with your rreopt

BeyondtheTech says:

What good is 14.4Mbps when AT&T is charging you for overages or throttles you when you hit 2GB, not to mention their network is a hit-or-miss regardless of signal indicator?! I've had full bars with "3G" all over it, and couldn't hit a damn web page or make or sustain many calls on AT&T. Personally, I think that whole signal bar firmware update was nothing more than a placebo effect.
Fullspeed but getting cut off at 2GB is like going on a rollercoaster ride at Disney. You wait a long time on line, and by the time you start to enjoy the ride, it's already over.
Even though I've got ""unlimited"" plans on AT&T, I'm choosing reliability over speed. I'm breaking out of AT&T and heading to Sprint. I'm not going to be a dick and jailbreak for MyWi or Netflix all day, but 1. I actually want to be able to make calls when I need to, and 2. I don't want to have to worry that if I watch a couple of movies over their network over the course of a month, I won't have to worry about overages or throttling.

jbrandonf says:

The signal bar is under Apple's control, so they deserve the blame for that. Also, they don't throttle you, you get an overage charge but not slowed speeds.
How much data are you using anyway? I use my phone primarily for browsing and it takes me a full month to use my 2 gig limit on Tmo.

BeyondtheTech says:

If you're grandfathered into an unlimited data plan, they will throttle you at their discretion. If you're in a tiered data plan, well, enjoy the overages when you want to enjoy a movie or do a decent amount of Skype and Tango. Personally, I don't want to have to think about either, so Sprint is where I'm going.
http://beyondthetech.com/2011/10/why-sprint-is-the-best-choice-for-the-i...

jbrandonf says:

I'm happy that Sprint has gotten their stuff together (or is in the process of doing so) but I'm curious to see how much longer they will continue to offer unlimited data, especially with the iPhone on their network.

Curtisclone says:

Great article! I've always wanted to compare these carriers...I've been with Verizon for almost 8 years. I pay about $150 with 700min, unlim text & data in my family share plan I have with my gf. We are both teachers so we get a 15% discount. This will really help me decide if I need to switch carriers/plans. Thanks!

jiden77 says:

After struggling for a year on AT&T with my first iPhone, the 3GS (which i loved) I finally switched to Verizon and got the 4...I never looked back! I haven't dropped a call once, as opposed to not being able to complete a call in my area of town on AT&T. I'll admit the data speeds where 'slightly' faster on AT&T, but the call quality and reliability on Verizon has been unsurpassed for me. Huge benefit since I work from home some of the time. My 2 cents.

Firewired says:

Nice to hear. I made the switch with my ore-order today for the same reason. I would have liked to keep my unlimited data, and higher data speeds, but I couldn't rationalize keeping the frequent dropped calls and long lags for outgoing calls. I just need the phone part above all else to be reliable.

jiden77 says:

Yeah, we were happy to get grandfathered into the unlimited plan. Our cellular data consumption stay's pretty low since my wife and I connect to WiFi at home and just about everywhere else when it is available. As for call reliability, it's like night and day! :-)

guest says:

If you get a unlocked iPhone. Your options would be at&t and t-mobile usa. Both use GSM network.

Arek Malhas says:

I spend more time traveling worldwide. Which carrier has the best world plan with the iPhone 4S??
Arek

Guest says:

Some points to consider. The Sprint 450 Everything Data plan includes FREE mobile to mobile minutes to ANY mobile number so most people can get away with this plan instead of going for 900 or unlimited minutes. (I believe ATT provides this also for people subscribing to their 20 dollar unlimited texting- so again that saves money if people make mostly calls to other domestic cell numbers) So to me the chart would be reworked as Sprint would really be 79.99... But they also have a lot of fees (don't know if its equal among all but reading 15% surcharge in fine print is scary)> Also don't know that unlimited data will continue..promo says ends Oct 30..Sprint has investor meeting today..and also fine print says they can change terms of contract at any time and also they can cancel you if you use too much data or talk time...so I have a feeling that if you use too much data, Sprint doesn't want you. They want pile who think they will use tons and really don't...so that it remains profitable. Otherwise how can Sprint provide unlimited data for $10 while Verizon and ATT charge over $100 for 12gb. It just won't add up. (Same with att, verizon folk who are grandfathered into unlimited data; those companies don't have to continue to honor that forever...just be aware) I don't know what Id choose- for low users, ATT could be a good choice with a low 54.99 entry point for iPhone (39.99 talk + 15 data + pay per text)...although I think ATT should reinstitute their $5-10 texting plans...That $20 turns me off. And I have no idea how to figure out if I get good Sprint coverage as Ive had Tmobile...Everyone I know has ATt but they always complain. My Tmob works great in my house and I go a few miles away to a friends and get zero bars.

Praful says:

Niiiice! Priced well too!What do I have to do to sitwch my current (BlackBerry) account over to it? I won a yearly subscription, so I don't think billing should be any issue.

Guest says:

Don't have a smartphone right now but just can't imagine people watching movies all day on the iPhone - I guess if you had a long train commute but otherwise, I don't see using all this data but I guess I have simple needs

Heidi says:

just got a fix, palese check in the halfcab123 forum thunderbolt section its a thread called latest and greatest, has alot of stuff i just posted it.

Badi says:

Hi Melinda,Thanks for the qoutsien. Unfortunately, Android devices don't currently support OnMyWay but stay tuned to the blog because if when it does, we'll post here!Best,Kenji

Rashaad Jones says:

At&t's version doesn't have CDMA integrated. Likewise Sprint and Verizon's iPhone's don't have AT&T's GSM bands but international bands. Don't think they have T-Mobile USA's either.

jbrandonf says:

What bands do international carriers use? I'm under the impression that they're the same.

lvavila says:

Really? Unless you just came from space and now you have to pick a carrier I'd agree. Otherwise, you are already on a carrier that have either served you well or not. The planet says AT&T stinks and Verizon is the way to go. But here in Phx AZ, AT&T have served me well, so here I stay. Easy

Evan Benford says:

Why do people keep omitting that Sprint gives you UNLIMITED calls to any cell phone on any US carrier...THATS HUGE. Its basically an unlimited plan for most people. That alone is like unlimited. Almost everyone i know has the 450 min plan b/c all cell calls are free. With Sprint i get 450 landline mins., unlimited data, unlimited text, nights that start at 7, and the peace of mind of never having to worry about fees and going over for $80. AT&T is $85 and Verizon is $90 and you lose all the benefits listed above. Most likely with AT&T and Verizon you'll most def need more than 450 mins for ALL calls which pushes you to the 900 min bracket at $105 and $110. Im still sitting pretty on Sprint for $80 with no worries. And with Sprints new strategy update and LTE they are rolling out theyre service quality will eventually catch up.

jbrandonf says:

Unlimited calls to any domestic mobile is awarded with the unlimited text plan that at&t offers too.

phirsch says:

If the receiver of the call is not Sprint they will be charged minutes.

jbrandonf says:

Yea but you're looking at a nice $325 early termination fee.

jbrandonf says:

I misunderstood. I'm pretty sure you can do that. ------------------------------

Guest says:

I just don't see myself watching movies on a cell phone screen. At least not on a regular basis. I Guess don't really know how much data I would use until I tried. Ive read articles though that said the average person uses about 400mb...so they were saying thats why ATT has a 200mb and a 2gb plan...so people pay for the 2gb but don't use it.

Jet Dlumc says:

Just for the record. I have a Sprint Family Plan, 1500 minutes, with 4 Android phones, unlimited data, etc. and it is $200/month. In my case Sprint is the far better deal.

techmom#IM says:

You forgot to mention some other differences. Sprint offers free texting in their plan. ATT has rollover minutes so any minutes you don't use you can use later - so there's some flexibility.

Dnbernar says:

What about costs for navigation services. I have sprint navigator included in my sprint plan for no additional charge. Other carriers add on for that, don't they? Verizon did when I had them.

bowglyboi says:

why the rest of the world uses GSM and they are way ahead of mobile technology? US sucks compared to the rest of the world because US is still stuck with CDMA. People who never get out of this country never realize that. GSM is a lot better than CDMA by far.

jbrandonf says:

So then Rashaad's post would be incorrect.

John H says:

It is my understanding that Sprint will not activate a Phone on their network that is not a Sprint phone i.e. if they don't have the esn of the phone in their system as being a Sprint labeled phone they will not activate it.

Stnick says:

You show the two popular totals (based on what?). I easily get away with AT&T's cheapest plan. 450 mins + 200g of data + pay per text = $55-60/mo.
Minutes rollover every mo, I am not 12 so I only need to text my 12 yr old 4 or 5 times a mo, and I am usually within network range so data over 3G is minimal. If I did want texting, AT&T offers a 1000 messages for 10/mo, that would bring the total to 65/mo. $10 cheaper than Verizon's cheapest plan.

FlyBoy says:

I am grandfathered with unlimited data on ATT. Will I have the mobile hot spot?

Arielle says:

minute plan prices are wrong for Verizon and Sprint

GunsNpixieDust says:

I have AT&T and have yet to drop a call, my loading, uploading, and web browsing speeds are always better than my friends and they have sprint and Verizon Iphones. Although Im a data hog, I only have the 2gb plan. Then again Im always using WiFi at my school and home so im never over. I guess it all depends on your coverage area, needs, and whether your always close to WiFi. Oh and im paying $105.00 which may be $25-$ 30 dollars more than sprint, but you really do get what you pay for speed wise so sprint could never even be an option for me.

auto electrician says:

I've been browsing on-line greater than three hours nowadays, but I never found any interesting article like yours. It's pretty worth sufficient for me. In my view, if all site owners and bloggers made excellent content as you did, the internet might be much more helpful than ever before.

Sutansutan says:

I also like news vdioes, and the reviews. What I'd like to see more of is how-to's, tips, etc. and some non-Apple news every now and then.

Vanderlei says:

If you had to ffiull a 2 year contract with Verizon before activating with Page Plus, you'd only be able to port out dated phones. I sure hope this is not the case.

Dio says:

My BB is a Curve 8330 with Sprint srecive and OS 4.3. So it meets the guidelines as a supported phone. There is no download link for my phone when I use BB App World. What gives? please advise. Thanks

Arnoldo Herder says:

Hey, I don't know this. Thanks for sharing this really good article!

Annett Akal says:

I was searching some time for this information. Thank you for sharing it.

iPhone user says:

iPhone is the best but if you had to go with the best provider for the use it would have to be with att. Verizon and sprint are limited when it comes to the use.