It’s 2017, and data is something that should just be available, am I right? From checking email, instant messaging services, streaming video, online shopping—the Internet has kind-of revolutionized everything. So, why is it that companies still insist on putting data caps on your service instead of just giving you a no-catch best unlimited data plan?
The short answer: money. The more data you use, the more they charge, which means some fat cat somewhere is stuffing his pockets even more.
However, earlier in the year, there was a big stir-up within the unlimited data arena. Verizon said they’d never bring back unlimited data, and yet, here we are once again. Other companies try to nickel-and-dime their unlimited offerings (looking right at you AT&T). So how do you know which is the best deal?
Let’s take a look at all four major wireless carriers as if we were a family of four and see how their prices and data usage policies shape your decision on which carrier to go with. Of course, due to signal limitations, some carriers will be a better value depending on where you live, simply because they’ll actually work.
In order to compare just the plans, we’ll be neglecting to mention installment agreement costs, since we assume most people that switch companies also buy a new phone. These payments range between $30-40 a month, so don’t forget to add that cost onto your calculations.
Diving right into the biggest fish out there, we’ll start with Verizon Wireless. After swearing off unlimited data plans, and even releasing a commercial telling you that you didn’t need unlimited data, Verizon Wireless has relented. Introduced a few months ago, their new unlimited data plan probably has more appeal to those who are already Verizon customers, or those looking to switch due to better coverage.
For a family of four on Verizon, you’re looking at $190.00 a month, or $180 if you cash in on the auto-pay discount. Both amounts do not include taxes and fees, so that will also drive up the cost.
And now, the small print: after 22 GBs of data, per line, you’ll be moved to the back of every request queue. At least you won’t be throttled down to 2G speeds, but you’ll see noticeable slowdowns when the network is crowded. You’ll also get a hotspot worth 10 GBs of LTE, after which you’ll be throttled down to 3G (about 1.5 Mbps).
Each line does include HD streaming, but since Verizon was just caught throttling Netflix like a week ago, there’s probably a tiered approach coming soon. You also get the benefit of using your phone in Mexico and Canada, but there are conditions. You can only use 500 MBs of data after which you’ll be throttled down to
2G unusable; and if you use your phone more than 50% of the time in either country, after 60 days, Verizon can turn your services in these countries off entirely.
Check coverage here.
My goodness. AT&T’s unlimited plans almost require an MBA to decode. From being bundled with TV services, to invoice credits, this thing is a messy affair. Basically, only proceed if you also need TV service.
Starting with their first unlimited data plan, it’s $155 a month for a family of four, but the strings attached to this are pretty bad. Nothing will stream above 480p. Ever. You’ll also be throttled to a max speed of 3 Mbps (think DSL), and no hotspot. At least you’ll be able to use your phone in Mexico and Canada, unless you use more than 50% of any service (voice, text, data) in either country, then AT&T will remove the feature.
Moving on up, you can get their Unlimited Plus plan for $185 a month, which includes HD streaming. You won’t be throttled to 3 Mbps all the time, either, but you will be throttled if you use more than 22 GBs of data per line. You also get a 10 GB LTE hotspot, after which you’ll be throttled to
2G useless. Roaming in Mexico and Canada is included and follows the same rules as the basic plan.
Also, HBO is included with the pricier plan for some reason or another. With their tiered service, all I can think about is Net Neutrality and why we really need it. The cheaper plan includes a $25 month discount on DIRECTV NOW, while the more expensive plan gives you the option to use that $25 towards actual DIRECTV service.
Check coverage here.
T-Mobile is certainly no stranger to stirrings things up in the wireless industry, and their unlimited plans are actually a stand-up good deal. For a family of four, you’re in for $160 (if you turn on auto-pay that is), otherwise it’s $180 a month. The cool thing about that though, is that your fees and taxes are rolled into the price.
There aren’t too many catches here either. You only get throttled if you use more than 32 GBs of data per line. Hotspot is unlimited, but it only connects at 3G speeds, so it may not be the best for much of anything. You also get to use your phone in Mexico and Canada without limits.
If you want to kick up your data to HD streaming, it’ll run you $10 more a month. It used to be $5 a month, but that ended like 2 weeks ago. Sorry. Also, that means your phone bill is now between $200-220, depending on if you took that auto-pay credit or not.
Check coverage here.
Let’s be honest here: Sprint has been the butt of almost every network joke online, but they actually do offer some good value, so long as you live in a good-service area. We wouldn’t recommend it unless you live in — and never — leave the city.
If the coverage isn’t bad for you, then you’ll be paying $90 a month for a fully unlimited data plan, with up to 5 lines. What’s more is that the plan includes HD streaming and 5 GBs of LTE hotspot data; as usual, if you use your hotspot data, you’ll be throttled down to
2G unbearable. Sprint also has Mexico and Canada roaming, but they don’t advertise it much, so you’ll have to request that it be added to your plan.
There’s only one major drawback (besides signal strength): the savings are only effective until September of 2018. After which, the plan will run you $190 a month with all 5 lines, or $160 a month with only 4 lines; which still isn’t bad at all for a family of four.
You may also notice some throttling after you use more than 23 GBs of data.
Check coverage here.
So, which is the best unlimited data plan?
When we considered which U.S. carrier had the best unlimited data plan, it certainly came down to multiple factors, not just the price. That said however, everyone’s always out to get a good deal, and with all of the additional perks of T-Mobile, we’re going to award this title to T-Mobile. At least for now.
Since all fees are rolled into your final price, there’s no extra charges to deal with. Giving you basically unlimited everything also clears up all hassles with hotspot limits and roaming out of country until your services get shut off. And with their recent expansion of their LTE data, signal problems are becoming less and less common.
If T-Mobile doesn’t cover you very well, then your best bet is Verizon. You’ll pay about as much as AT&T, but you get more wireless for your money; and the installment agreements are only 24 months long, instead of 30 with AT&T.