AT&T vs Verizon: Which shared data plan should you get?

AT&T is launching shared data plans in August and Verizon has had them for some time now. Both carriers follow a similar scheme: a base price plus an additional cost per iPhone and iPad added to the plan. Both Verizon and AT&T also include unlimited voice and text.

So what's the difference? Will any of them actually save you money? If so, which one will save you the most money?

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.

Comparison of total costs for plans

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 two, three, and four smartphones.

So, for two phones, AT&T and Verizon's prices are exactly the same. However, for three and four phones with 6 or 10 GB, AT&T is $5-$20 cheaper per month. That's a difference in $60-$240 per year!

This chart does not include tablets, so make sure you add an additional $10 for each tablet you anticipate adding to your plan.

LTE availability

In addition to price, you must also consider where each carrier offers coverage and if you're within that area. Here's a side by side comparison of Verizon's and AT&T's coverage maps (left is Verizon, right is AT&T). The iPhone 4S does not support LTE, but we're pretty certain that the iPhone 5 will support LTE, so LTE coverage is definitely something to consider.

at&t vs verizon coverage maps

Clearly, Verizon has much more LTE availability (green dots vs orange dots.)  If you live in an area where Verizon offers LTE and AT&T does not, your best bet is to probably go with Verizon, providing that their network is pretty solid in that area. If you're not sure, ask your family, friends, and coworkers who have LTE phones on Verizon's network.

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 HSPA data is much, much faster, but also less reliable than Verizon EVDO rev A data. Verizon voice is typically better than AT&T voice. If AT&T is solid in your area, that's the way to go. If not, or if you live somewhere that only gets EDGE 2G on AT&T (light blue on AT&T's map), Verizon is the way to go.

Most of you, however, will be in one of these last two categories: an LTE available area on both Verizon and AT&T, or, in a 3G, but not LTE available area on both Verizon and AT&T. For those of you in this category, I'm inclined to recommend AT&T, provided that the 3G network is stable in your area. Again, ask your friends, family, and coworkers for their experience.

You can get a closer look at AT&T's coverage map here (opens in new tab) and Verizon's map here (opens in new tab).

Making the choice

So which one are you going to choose? Personally, since I'm already an AT&T subscriber whose grandfathered into an unlimited data plan, I probably will not be making the switch to Verizon. However, if I was a new subscriber, I would be tempted to go Verizon since they have much more LTE coverage. What about you? Which carrier and plan will you choose? And will your answer be different when the iPhone 5 is released?

Former app and photography editor at iMore, Leanna has since moved on to other endeavors. Mother, wife, mathamagician, even though she no longer writes for iMore you can still follow her on Twitter @llofte.

  • The RATIONAL ANSWER is neither. Walk away from both carriers.
  • Until you realize the alternative is worse
  • Unfortunately, these are the only real 2 options where I live. They better at least cuddle and tell me I am pretty after they have their way with me.........
  • The next question is, what are we going to get our corporate discount applied to? Currently, AT&T applies it to 1st line voice, family text, and both data plans. My understanding is that Verizon will only discount the shared data from above.....
  • Not sure on AT&T, but Verizon is on the account level charges only (so the $70 for the 4gb plan). I get a better AT&T discount than I do Verizon, so I am considering switching. See what it looks like in the fall. I can upgrade now, but will be out of contract with Verizon on 11/1.... I actually think AT&T did this right. It is in addition too, not in place of. And Verizon telling me if I want to upgrade my phone at the discount price I have to move plans? Give up unlimited? Bold move. Not that I go over two gigs often, I like not needing to monitor.
  • I actually get the discount only on the main line and my data - not the family text or any of the other data plans. I USED to get it on the other data plans when they were unlimited, but not since they switched to the 3GB or 200MB. I don't think I ever got it on unlimited family text. Chris
  • I don't think VZW will let you buy the iPhone 5 (or any LTE) phone and not have LTE service so if this is the case, I will not be upgrading to the iPhone 5, I will keep my 4S and unlimited data. I don't understand, you pay for a data plan then you pay for a phone plan? Is that supposed to make the consumer feel like you're paying less? Or am I just understanding it wrong?
  • Both carries now include unlimited voice and text in their shared plans. This is basically AT&T's new "family plan". Before, you'd have to get a family plan, then add data for each phone on the plan. Now it's all bundled together and sorted by data, not minutes. I don't know what you mean by Verizon not let allowing you to not have LTE. I don't think there's a difference in price. If you have an LTE phone, you get LTE coverage for the same price as the person on a non LTE smartphone. So an iPhone 4 on Verizon would have the same priced plan as an iPhone 5 on Verizon.
  • Wait a second, these have unlimited voice?!? I thought it was just unlimited texting???
  • Yes. I said so in the very first paragraph.
  • Yes I know lol I just had read elsewhere it was unlt. text only. Makes the deal a bit sweeter.
  • The old att family plan unlimited cost $120 plus $50 per additional line, $20 per unlimited texting per plus data. For someone with the current 3gb plan at $30 that's a total of $270. The same. 6gb of data this way is $160. A huge improvement
  • is there a reason why you chose to price out ATT plans to 20 GB but not VZW? VZW also offers plan up to 20GB to share.
  • Yeah, because Verizon doesn't publicly advertise those plans and I didn't know about them. This is where I got the information
  • At 20gb, verizon is cheaper. Verizon does go up to 20gb, they just don't advertise it. 20gb on verizon is 150 a month. On AT&T, 20gb is 200 a month.
  • They both suck. But I would go with Verizon just for the awesome reception. I travil a lot and always have reception in the craziest out in the middle of nowhere places when my AT&T freinds have nothing.
  • There's always exceptions to both carriers. Atchison, KS is a huge Verizon dead zone for example It pays to pick after looking at ones common destinations.
  • @Leanna, that AT&T map is a bit old, here is a newer and more up to date one:
  • Looking at the second table on the 1GB plan it looks as if VZW is not exactly the same as ATT as you implied. (not that anyone using 4 smartphones will use only 1GB of data)
  • I said that the plans were exactly the same for two phones. I didn't say anything about three or four phones at the lower data plans. I didn't really find it relevant to mention that if you have three or four phones sharing 1 GB on AT&T that it would be more expensive, because pretty much no one is going to choose that plan... and the few that may be considering that plan can read the chart. Four phones only sharing 1GB? That's crazy talk! :P
  • Don't use the maps to make a decision, the AT&T one is substantially of of date. There's missing cities from months ago
  • Yeah, these are the maps from this past Spring. Even if they were from today, you wouldn't want to use my tiny little version of the map, anyway. That's why I didn't make it a priority to update. I included the links the to the actual maps online which let you zoom in really close to get an idea of the kind of coverage you can expect. EVERYONE should look at the maps on the official websites. I will update the maps photo tonight.
  • I gave you a nice photo linked above of the AT&T map.
  • aaand 1 day later...
  • These plans are more expensive, but when you consider that it's unlimited voice and text as well as the fact that mobile hotspot is included (previously $15 per phone) it's reasonable. The question is whether either (or both) of these carriers on these shared plans will still pull the nonsense of charging extra for FaceTime over cellular as the iOS 6 betas have suggested.
  • Well what if I don't want to share?! It's just me on my plan...
    I have 420 minutes a month now...I 'might' use 40 of those in a good month and I already have unlimited text and data for $75 a month on Verizon...luckily I don't upgrade until June 2013...but if this is what I have to look forward to then I need to start saving so I can buy my next iPhone at retail cuz.... Pffft to this plan!
  • Why would you need to pay full price for your next iPhone ?
    You can still keep your old plan , even if you decide to do a 2 year commitment for the discounted price :)
  • I wouldn't want either. Let see, 159.99 Unlimited everything, except 2000 voice minutes, for 3 phones, and by the way, in the area that I live I get great coverage and data speeds, and all from Sprint. Let the 2 greedy companies fight for the worse plans, while Sprint, still has the best plans (ie, TMobile isn't bad) and Sprint implements thier new network with better 3G and LTE. I am a very patient person.
  • You are lucky with Sprint, seems everywhere I travel their service is quite subpar. Everyone I talk to isn't all that satisfied with them either.
  • The only issue I have with AT&T is making phone home, in my office, at the mall, at work, at the gas station, at the pool, at the airport, at the grocery store, on the street corner, in my car, outside my car and at Chipotle. Yep, that about covers it.
  • Two quick questions :
    Is the $10 per iPad for 3G/4G use ? So no charge if I tether my iPad to my iPhone for Internet ?!
    What happens if you want to have two smart phone lines plus a regular line , do they just add a $10 a month for that line ?!
  • I am a Verizon subscriber, so my answer is based off of their policies. Verizon charges $30 a month for each "feature" phone (that gets the line unlimited calling and texts plus they can still use the data from the monthly pool) and $40 a month for smart phones. I think the $9.99 add a line is officially dead.
  • the question i have is doesn't lte require you to have some form of "sim card" type functionality which you need to insert into your phone?
    I have sprint and am only switching to att once the new iphone hits because i would like a sim card phone
  • Verizon has up to the 20gb plan as well it's just not advertise you have to ask for the higher plans.
  • 2 years with iPhone on AT&T and 1 year (so far) on VZW. Tough decision. On data, AT&T slightly faster. On voice, VZW clear winner... and I mean by a long shot. If you travel a lot, especially by car, VZW coverage clear winner. AT&T (GSM) is winner on data access while on a voice call... which is becoming more of an issue with SIRI and my dependance on apps. And the not too often talked about issue of "call handling", which is significantly better on GSM networks (AT&T). Example; if you are on a phone call and a second call comes in... if you want to disconnect from first caller and switch?... good luck. Easy to do on AT&T, but on Verizon iPhone it is like you drop into the abyss... your heart pounds, and then the phone rings. This is plain weird. It annoys me almost as much as the AT&T dropped calls problem. The choice is NOT easy. If the iPhone 5 / LTE fixes the issue of simultaneous voice/date, then Verizon gets the nod (but this call handling issue... ahhhh!!)
  • A main reason I'm sticking with Verizon is that, at least in my area, its cell towers have emergency generators. During a big 1-day power failure we had recently, AT&T signals were lost, but Verizon's worked fine.
  • The map is a bit misleading. AT&T is calling out their LTE areas while Verizon is lumping LTE with 4G. I am an AT&T customer and I get 4G (not LTE) in a lot of areas where 3G is available (basically HSDPA) which usually yields about 3 - 5 Mbps using Ookla's apps, while LTE although sporadic, has yielded download speeds of around 18Mbps consistently and up to 24Mbps on occasion. For new users I think the Verizon plan looks lucrative until they realize the true thirst they have for wireless data. On the iPhone 4 simply turning on iCloud when I first got the phone cost me about $40 in overages because somehow I enabled the syncing of about 10 GB of media I had on the phone while on a 2GB plan. I am grandfathered in on one of my other devices with the unlimited data plan and I am now on LTE and that's probably a good enough reason to keep me from abandonning AT&T especially since the cost differencial is insignificant for the serious data plans.