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Which unlimited plan should you buy: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon?

With Verizon bringing back an unlimited data plan, the big four networks in the United States (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) all carry an unlimited data plan now. That's important for power users as well as anyone who uses their mobile broadband internet as their sole way to stay in touch or for entertainment. The cost of data overages means that unlimited data is a must for many of us.

But just because everyone offers unlimited data doesn't mean that all plans are equal. Pricing is important as are "extras" like tethering and the hidden data cap that pushes you back to slower 3G speeds when you reach it. And of course, zero-rating means we have to pay attention to what unlimited means when it comes to the quality of streaming media as well as the source.

We took a look at what each carrier has to offer so we can decide who delivers the very best unlimited data package. Let's start with a look at the details for each carrier.

AT&T

Unlimited Plus

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data
  • 10 GB mobile hotspot (tethering)
  • Unlimited talk and text to Canada and Mexico
  • Advanced messaging between compatible phones on the AT&T network
  • Unlimited talk, text, and data in Canada and Mexico with free Roam North America Feature (if more than 50% of use is outside the U.S. the plan can be terminated)
  • Unlimited music and video streaming with optional Stream Saver for less data use
  • $25 monthly credit for DirecTV services
  • One line of service on an AT&T Unlimited Plus plan is $90
  • Two lines of service for $145
  • Up to eight additional lines (includes any phone, LTE tablets, LTE hotspots and connected cars) for $20 per line
  • Add a wearable for $10 per month

Unlimited Choice

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data
  • Data speeds capped at 3Mbps
  • Standard definition video streaming
  • One line of service on an AT&T Unlimited Choice plan is $60
  • Two lines of service for $115
  • Up to eight additional lines (includes any phone, LTE tablets, LTE hotspots and connected cars) for $20 per line
  • Add a wearable for $10 per month

Everything you need to know about AT&T's unlimited plans

Sprint Unlimited Freedom plan

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data (with certain restrictions)
  • Unlimited data for streaming video up to 1080p
  • Unlimited data for gaming up to 8Mbps
  • Unlimited data for streaming music up to 1.5Mbps
  • 10GB high-speed mobile hotspot with VPN and P2P support
  • Add a tablet with unlimited data for $25 per month
  • One line of service is $50
  • Two lines of service is $90
  • Three lines of service is $90
  • Four lines of service is $90

Everything you neeed to know about Sprint's Unlimited Freedom Plan

T-Mobile

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data with 200MB of roaming data
  • Unlimited talk, text, and data in Canada and Mexico
  • One hour of free Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi and unlimited texting on enabled flights
  • Unlimited data and texting in over 140 locations at 2x speed (264kbps) (limited time offer)
  • 10GB 3G mobile hotspot use
  • One line of service on a T-Mobile ONE plan is $70 (including taxes and fees)
  • Two lines of service for $100 (including taxes and fees)
  • Three lines of service for $140 (including taxes and fees)
  • Four lines is $160 and each additional line adds $20 to the total (including taxes and fees)

T-Mobile's One plan has some limitations. Streaming video is compressed and delivered at 480p and tethering is limited to 3G speeds. You can add One Plus to any plan for an extra $10 per month per line and enable 1080p HD video streaming and 10GB of high-speed 4G LTE tethering. The One Plus International offers unlimited 4G LTE tethering for an extra $25/mo per line.

Everything you need to know about T-Mobile's unlimited plans

Verizon

Verizon used to have a single unlimited plan, but it has since expanded that to two, offering various levels of value depending on customer need.

Go Unlimited

Go Unlimited is the cheaper of the unlimited plans, aimed at users that don't necessarily need the fastest performance at all times or high-quality video streaming.

  • One line: $75/month
  • Two lines: $65 per line/month
  • Three lines: $50 per line/month
  • Four or more lines lines: $40 per line/month

Paper-free billing and $5/mo AutoPay discounts apply.

The Go Unlimited plan offers unlimited LTE data, but you're subject to reduced speeds (throttling) when the network is congested. Verizon may choose to throttle at any time of the billing cycle, which is unlike most other unlimited plans that only do so after a certain amount of data is used.

On Go Unlimited, all video streaming is capped at 480p on phones and 720p on tablets. And while the Go Unlimited plans offer unlimited mobile hotspot (tethering), the speed is capped at 600kbps, which is likely too slow for most people do anything other than browse the web — slowly.

Beyond Unlimited

Beyond Unlimited is basically Verizon's original unlimited plan with some slight tweaks.

  • One line: $85/month
  • Two lines: $80 per line/month
  • Three lines: $60 per line/month
  • Four or more lines: $50 per line/month

Paper-free billing and $5/mo AutoPay discounts apply.

The Beyond Unlimited plan offers unlimited LTE data, but you're subject to reduced speeds (throttling) at times of network congestion if you exceed 22GB in a billing cycle (customers that sign up on a two-year contract get 25GB per month before throttling).

Video streaming is capped at 720p on phones and 1080p on tablets. Mobile hotspot use is unlimited, with 15GB of LTE data in each billing cycle. Laptops or other devices used through the hotspot have a 1080p hard cap for streaming video.

Everything you need to know about Verizon's unlimited plan

The best unlimited data plan

The best plan is the one that works where you need it to work, not the one that's the cheapest. And we can't tell you which that one is because it's different for each of us. Paying more than you need to for phone service is a bad idea, but so is paying for service that doesn't work.

Generally, if you live outside of a metropolitan area that means Verizon. A look at live, user generated coverage maps from Open Signal shows there are significant gaps in T-Mobile's coverage outside of metro areas. You will pay more for Verizon service when compared to T-Mobile (especially once taxes and fees are applied) but chances are Verizon will have the best coverage if you're in a rural area. There are exceptions, so be sure to investigate before you give any company your money.

If you're part of the 90% of the U.S. population who lives in a large town or city, your choices are expanded. T-Mobile is a great choice, as even with the One Plus add-on fee of $10 per month you'll still save money because they include taxes and fees in the cost.

Sprint's pricing offers an incredible value, but there are some very valid concerns about their network footprint. These can't be ignored when talking about "the best", though. Sprint has taken great strides to improve their coverage, and if Sprint works everywhere you need it to work, you should definitely take a look at what they have to offer.

Of course, none of this includes any customer-loyalty offerings or legacy plans you might be using. In those cases, you might want to stick with the carrier you have now instead of switching because of new pricing or new promotions.

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All this makes it very difficult to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation about which plan is the best. If you need nationwide coverage in places that might be a little out of the way, Verizon is a better value than AT&T and generally has a better network according to independent studies from sources like Root Metrics. If you stay on the beaten path, T-Mobile offers the better deal.

We can't tell you which carrier will be the best for you. But we can tell you what to look for and where to start. Talk to your friends and see what service they are using and how well it's working, and call each company to see exactly what they have to offer. Most carriers have plans they don't advertise and one may fit your needs better than the default unlimited plans.

We just want you to enjoy the service you're paying for!

Your turn

What carrier do you subscribe to, and are you thinking of switching to either T-Mobile or Verizon? Let us know in the comments!

Updated August 2017: This article was updated with the latest data from T-Mobile and Verizon.

I'm an RHCE and Electrical Engineer who loves gadgets of all kinds. You'll find my writings across Mobile Nations and you can hit me on Twitter if you want to say hey.

25 Comments
  • All I can say is that we have been on T-Mobile for 10 years and have no intention of switching. For me its not just the pricing... its the customer service that plays big time into the equation. In that regard, T-Mobile has been exemplary ... absolutely 5 stars! They have stepped up when a phone needs to be changed out; they have stepped up when they had to go into their archives to dig up the records on a separate line I had years ago for exactly 9 months before I went back onto our family plan; when my wife was out of town on a business trip and her phone stopped working they overnighted a phone to the hotel she was at... no questions asked.... you name it. For me that is worth more than paying a few dollars more a month... or what ever it is. The question is: when the chips are down does your carrier come through for you when you really need them? For me the answer is a resounding "yes". By-the-way, I am in no way affiliated with T-Mobile or any of its companies. I'm just a regular guy that pays his monthly mobile bill and hopes for the best in terms of service and value.
  • This change made me happy as TMo customer. Glad to see it's still the best deal around. I'll definitely be switching HD on this Friday. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've been reading that you'll have to manually enable that feature each month. I'd hope they change that to where it's simply included by default. It's not a complete deal breaker though.
  • #Tmobile4Life Sent from the iMore App
  • Yeah but does T-mobile work in the suburbs now?? When I had T-mobile it was beautiful in the city, but 35 miles away it was a completely different story. I want to give T-mobile another chance but if this problem still persists I can guess I'm better off righting AT&T for a while longer.
  • We are something like 25 miles due north of downtown Atlanta and our coverage is great. Granted, a few years ago it was somewhat sketchy... but T-Mobile has built out a number of cell towers around the suburbs and we have no issues in any regard. Getting 4 dots on LTE when we are not on Wi-Fi. I have done a great deal of traveling over the years and I haven't had any issues with T-Mobile in that regard as well. You just need to call them and they will give you an honest evaluation of the coverage in your specific area.
  • How quickly we forget. I had an "unlimited" data plan on AT&T, and Verizon had them at the same time, then all of a sudden unlimited doesn't REALLY mean unlimited and you got throttled after 2gb per month. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice (or 3, 4 times) shame on me. Also, pay real close attention to those new "big limits" because some carriers apply those "per line" and others treat it as a "pool limit."
  • Did you have "unlimited high speed" data or simply "unlimited data"? If they made no promises on speed, you weren't treated unfairly. You assumed something that was never stated.
  • It was "unlimited data" and was not limited (pun intended) to high speed data. It was a real battle between the carriers and customers.
  • Don't you dare defend those a-holes. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've got the Verizon unlimited plan and I'm happy. Would be even more happy if my corporate discount applied. I'd like to try T Mobile but I don't know ANYONE with T Mobile around here. I'd assume that means something, lol. Verizon works everywhere I go. Its simply the best provider in my area.
  • I jumped from the grandfathered unlimited data on Verizon to their new one. I'm very happy. I was able to upgrade to a 7plus on a payment plan and my bill is still $30 cheaper than it was when I had 450 minutes and unlimited tethering which costs a extra $30. The 10gb is okay with me as I don't really use it often. It's just nice to have it available when I do need it(MacBook,iPad Air 2). Verizon has excellent customer service and coverage where I am(Bay Area) plus their app is beautiful and simple to use while having all the pertinent account info available at a glance.
  • You have incorrect information for Verizon. the Verizon unlimited plan is $110 plus $20 per line for access. You knock off $10 if you do autopay and paper-free billing so essentially it's $100 for the Unlimited data plan. The $45 would be for 4 lines - $100 plus $20 per line for access equals $180 divided by 4 = $45. If you have 5 lines then its $100 plus $20 times 5 Lines so this would equal $200 or $40 per line. You can have up to 10 lines on a multi-line unlimited plan so it would cost $100 plus $20 times 10 lines ($200) would equal $300 or $30 per line.
  • You have incorrect information for Verizon. the Verizon unlimited plan is $110 plus $20 per line for access. You knock off $10 if you do autopay and paper-free billing so essentially it's $100 for the Unlimited data plan. The $45 would be for 4 lines - $100 plus $20 per line for access equals $180 divided by 4 = $45. If you have 5 lines then its $100 plus $20 times 5 Lines so this would equal $200 or $40 per line. You can have up to 10 lines on a multi-line unlimited plan so it would cost $100 plus $20 times 10 lines ($200) would equal $300 or $30 per line.
  • i use cricket and its been great. It also only cost $65 per month
  • I'm still on an older Verizon grandfathered plan. It might be time to jump to T-Mobile Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm sticking with T-Mobile it fits my needs. Not switching to no other carrier Sent from the iMore App
  • Yet still I'll have to stay with VZW. TMo does not provide coverage in rural areas of NC (aka the country) and AT&T isn't much better. Sprint still scores lowest in customer service and still drops calls. My friends are always calling me back! SMH! I don't like the fact that VZW will not allow the company discount for the unlimited. I have 4 lines and pay $72 for the 4 lines and 16GB. Unlimited would cost $110. So I'll stay with what I have for now. Keep fighting mobile providers! Eventually one of you will get it right.
  • What about the new Sprint Unlimited HD plan announced today? $90 for 4 lines with Auto Pay and 10GB Hotspot per line? It may be for new customers only! We'll see. I would save $60 a month for 12 months then go to $160 after the introductory period which would be $10 more than I am paying on the old non-mobile optimized streaming (good) plan! OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (BUSINESS WIRE), February 16, 2017 - Starting Friday, customers who switch to Sprint (NYSE: S) will get the nation’s best price for Unlimited, which includes HD-quality streaming video and 10GB of mobile hotspot per month. At $22.50 per line for four lines1, that’s 50 percent less than Verizon’s newly announced plan. Customers save even more compared to AT&T’s current unlimited plans, which require a DirectTV or U-verse contract. This Smart News Release features multimedia. View the full release here: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170216005762/en/ How it Works Customers sign up for Unlimited Talk, Text and Data with Sprint AutoPay and get the first line for $50/month.
    Get two lines for $90/month.
    Need 3 or 4 lines? We’ll include those as well for $90/month.
    A family of four pays just $22.50 a line per month.
    Automatically get a free upgrade to HD-quality video plus 10GB mobile hotspot per line.
    Go to sprint.com/unlimited, visit your local Sprint store, or call 1-800-SPRINT-1 for more information. 1Savings until March 31, 2018; then $60/mo. for line 1, $40.mo for line 2 and $30/mo. lines 3-4. HD video streams at up to 1080p, music at up to 1.5Mbps, gaming streams at up to 8Mbps. Data deprioritization during congestion. Pricing shown with $5/mo./line AutoPay discount applied within two invoices. Requires eBill and new account activation. Taxes, surcharges and restrictions apply.
  • T-Mobile's plan is amazing! Been with them since they were Omnipoint with some breaks in between was with sprint then att (for Iphone) and then I came home to TMobile and the savings have never stopped. In regards to the HD video you only have to turn it on once on the new TMobile One Plan and it's on for good unless you change it. Binge on is amazing and makes car rides so much easier especially when you are using your phone as a hotspot so that the kids can watch Netflix and it doesn't count against your data. The customer service is top of the line but I have found that if you have real issues then you're better off contacting them through twitter@tmobilesupport and you get a response in minutes. With wifi becoming a norm I have signal everywhere I go. I live in North Jersey and for me the coverage is rock solid. I remember when a friend of mine was with TMobile and I had att (back in 2014) and his data speeds were faster than mine and I was thinking to myself "Thats not the way it's suppose to be" In the end the best bang for my buck is TMobile because they address issues all around. The funny thing is even if you're not a TMobile customer you still benefit from the changes that they have made in the Mobile phone industry Sent from the iMore App
  • Tmobile..lol Ok..sure they're the best, keep telling yourself that. I'll stick with verizon's better coverage, cheaper plan.
  • Keep smoking whatever you're smoking
  • Yea when I'm in the city tmobile would either get no service or edge. This was a year ago and I live in a big city. Tmobile just sucks when I am. I still use At&t as I get service almost everywhere I go. I was able to have a good comparison one year. I went on a family trip and I had 1 Tmobile iphone, 1 Version iPhone (work phone) and my person iPhone At&t. Bottom line t-mobile was the worse service middle of no wheres there was no service. Verizon and at&t were really on par with each other. When there was no verizon service I had at&t and when there was no at&t I had verizon. Every once in a while there was no service for anybody. Verizon and at&t are #1 they on par with each other IMO. t-mobile is a big carrier fighting it out but without the big back bone,
  • I stay with Verizon only because they are the only one providing consistent coverage in my area which consists of mostly rural with only small towns. TMo and Sprint are virtually non existent and At&t is sketchy at best. Heck, right before LTE hit the scene, At&t lost 3G in the area in the area for several weeks! We are known to burn some data so unilimited is the only way to go for us and we actually have so many lines it is cheaper than the majority of their limited packages.
  • FWIW: Verizon just sent this out to customers: "Your Go Unlimited Plan just got better. Now you can use your domestic talk, text and data in Mexico and Canada and enjoy unlimited calling from the U.S. to both countries - at no additional charge. Enjoy your extra benefit. Thanks for being with Verizon. 4G World device req'd for roaming."