Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint: data plans and phone payments compared

Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint: data plans and phone payments compared
It's dead, Jim. The two-year cell phone contract, that is. AT&T hammered the last nail in the staple carrier plan when it announced that it will no longer lock new customer into binding contracts earlier this month, and took the battle of who offers the greatest individual or family pricing to a brave new level. 

After consistently losing customers to the outrageous deals and contract-less business practices of the "Uncarrier" T-Mobile and others, AT&T finally decided to jump in, and overhauled its entire portfolio of pricing tiers and payment schemes, just like Verizon and Sprint did before it to ward off the emerging T-Mobile threat. 

Because of these seismic shifts in carrier pricing schemes, we are now facing a whole different ballgame when it comes to monthly outlays for our cell phones and their contract... or are we? Check out the gist of current individual and shared offerings from each of the four major carriers for easier comparison:


Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint: data plans and phone payments compared

Plans1 GB3 GB6 GB12 GB18 GB
Monthly Cost$30$45$60$80$100

Device access fee: $20/month, comes with unlimited calling and texts
Data rollover: No
Overages: $15/GB
Unlimited data: No, unless grandfathered
Extras: free NFL Mobile sports, go90 video and Slacker Radio music streaming
Early upgrades: For the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus only, after a year of payments and a trade-in

You can move between the above tiers each subsequent month at will, and Verizon also offers bigger shared data buckets, of 20-100 GB, ranging in price from $120-$750 per month. The carrier showers you with some nice perks, like the ability to stream the Super Bowl to its phones exclusively via the NFL Mobile app. 

You can either buy your phone at full retail pricing, or pay for it on even installments over 24 months, for example:

  • A 64 GB iPhone 6s costs $750 outright, or you can split it in 24 payments of $31 and change each. If you choose the 3 GB plan, and paying your phone on installments, you will be paying: $31 (iPhone 6s 64 GB) + $45 (3 GB data) + $20 (access fee with unlimited talk and texts) = $96/month for two years, then your monthly outlay will drop to $65.

  • A 64 GB Galaxy Note 5 costs $792 outright, and $33 on monthly installments, so you will be paying: $33 (Note 5 64 GB) + $45 (3 GB data) + $20 (access fee with unlimited talk and texts) = $98/month for two years.


Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint: data plans and phone payments compared

 Plans   300 MB    2 GB    5 GB    15 GB    20 GB   25 GB   30 GB   40 GB    50 GB  
     Monthly Cost   $20$30$50$100$140$175$225$300$375

Device access fee: $25/month for data plans of 5 GB or less, $15/month for plans bigger than 5 GB, comes with unlimited calling and texts
Data rollover: Yes, for one billing period only
Overages: $15/GB ($20/GB for the 300MB plan)
Unlimited data: Yes, $100/month when bundled with a DirecTV subscription, abuse switch after 22 GB
Extras: Free Wi-Fi hotspots, 50 GB cloud storage, sponsored services that don't count towards your data cap
Early upgrades: Yes, with AT&T Next after 12, 18 or 24 months. A $15 upgrade fee is applied, and the rest of the installments are waived when you trade-in your phone or an equivalent in good condition.

Here you can move between shared data buckets each billing period, too, which, however, would kill your rollover data from the previous month. All plans include unlimited texting to more than 120 countries, while plans of 15 GB or higher get unlimited Talk & Text to Mexico and Canada, too. You can either buy your phone at full retail pricing, or pay for it on even installments over 20, 24, or 30 months with AT&T Next. There's also an option involving a 30% down payment and 28 installments for the rest.

  • A 64 GB iPhone 6s costs $750 outright, or you can split it with AT&T Next 18 plan in 24 payments of $31 and change each. If you choose the 2 GB plan, you will be paying: $31 (iPhone 6s 64 GB) + $30 (2 GB data) + $25 (access fee with unlimited talk and texts) = $86/month for two years, then your monthly outlay will drop to $55, provided you didn't use your upgrade option and didn't change plans.

  • A 64 GB Galaxy Note 5 costs $815 outright, and $34 on 24 monthly installments with Next 18, so you will be paying: $34 (Note 5 64 GB) + $30 (2 GB data) + $25 (access fee with unlimited talk and texts) = $89/month for two years.


Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint: data plans and phone payments compared

Plans2 GB6 GB10 GBUnlimited
Monthly cost$50$65$80$95

Device access fee: Included in above prices
Data rollover: Yes, up to 20 GB for the plans of 6 GB and 10 GB, to be used in a year
Overages: No, throttling at 128kbps after the high-speed data limit is reached
Unlimited data: Yes, $95/month, abuse switch after 23 GB
Extras: Free BingeOn video, Music Freedom and MLB at Bat streaming for plans larger than 2 GB
Early upgrades: Yes, via T-Mobile JUMP! and JUMP! On Demand

T-Mobile JUMP! upgrade program is $10 monthly, and includes premium device insurance and security - you can upgrade after half of your phone is paid off in installments, then you trade it in, with no extra upgrade fees. JUMP! On Demand lets you upgrade up to three times a year with a simple trade-in of your current phone. Unlike JUMP!, JUMP! On Demand doesn't come with an additional monthly charge, but can be used only for a few premium handsets, and stretches over an 18-month period during which you have to use the upgrade option, or pay the remaining six months of phone value installments in a lump sum at the end. It has to be activated at a T-Mobile store or over the phone at present, and here premium handset protection is optional, costing extra $8 a month.

All plans include unlimited calling and texting, including to Mexico and Canada, plus you can use your 4G LTE data allotment there, too. Plans other than the basic 2 GB one include T-Mobile's BingeOn unlimited video streaming of Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu and others, plus the Music Freedom streaming service free of charge. You can either buy your phone at full retail pricing, or pay for it on even installments over 24 months with down payments on some phones, for example:

  • A 64 GB iPhone 6s costs $750 outright, or you can pay $99 upfront and split the rest in 24 payments of $27 and change each. If you choose the 2 GB plan, and pay your phone on installments, you will be paying: $27 (iPhone 6s 64 GB) + $50 (2 GB data with unlimited talk and texts) = $77/month for two years. With JUMP!, that price would jump to $87/month.

  • A 64 GB Galaxy Note 5 costs $780 outright, or you can pay $99 upfront and split the rest in 24 payments of $28 and change each, so you will be paying: $28 (Note 5 64 GB) + $50 (2 GB data with unlimited talk and texts) = $78/month for two years. If you opt for the JUMP! upgrade program with it, your monthly payment will be $88/month. But if you're on the lookout for such a premium handset, we'd recommend that you contact T-Mobile for availability, eligibility and prices with JUMP! On Demand.


Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint: data plans and phone payments compared

Plans*1 GB2 GB4 GB8 GB10 GB40 GB60 GBUnlimited
Cost$20$30$50$70$100$120$225$70
* Plans can be shared on up to 10 lines. Does not apply to 10 GB, 40 GB, and Unlimited. More info below.

Device access fee: $20/month for data plans of 4 GB or less, $15/month for plans bigger than 4 GB, comes with unlimited calling and texts
Data rollover: No
Overages: No, throttling at 64kbps after the high-speed data limit is reached
Unlimited data: Yes, $70/month on a single line, $60 for additional lines, abuse switch after 23GB
Extras: Nascar Mobile sports, Sprint TV video streaming, and free international data (at 2G speeds)
Early upgrades: Yes, with extra $10/month per line for 12 months, and a trade-in of your old phone afterwards. Dedicated iPhone Forever program with payments beginning at $26.39/month and no early upgrade fee - trade-in your current iPhone after 12 months, and get the new one.

Most of Sprint's plans can be shared on up to 10 devices each, with the exception of the unlimited one, which is for a single line, and the 10 GB and 40 GB ones, which can host a family up to 4 lines, and are a direct answer to T-Mobile's such offers. Sprint gives you free texting to more than 180 countries, and free data use when roaming abroad, albeit capped at near useless 2G speeds. You can either buy your phone at full retail pricing, lease it, or pay for it on Easy Pay installments over 24 months with a down payment of $100 for some, for example:

  • A 64 GB iPhone 6s costs $750 outright, or you can split it in 24 payments of $27, plus $100 down payment. If you choose the 2 GB plan, and pay your phone on installments, you will be paying: $27 (iPhone 6s 64 GB) + $30 (2 GB data) + $20 (access fee with unlimited talk and texts) = $77/month for two years, then your monthly outlay will drop to $50, provided you didn't go for an upgrade and didn't change plans. Price with Early Upgrade option would be $87/month.

  • A 64 GB Galaxy Note 5 costs $839 outright, and $31 on 24 monthly installments after a $100 down payment, so you will be paying: $31 (Note 5 64 GB) + $30 (2 GB data) + $20 (access fee with unlimited talk and texts) = $81/month for two years. Price with Early Upgrade option would be $91/month.

Takeaways


It turns out that with the new trend away from subsidies, when it comes to premium phones at least, you can expect to give your carrier roughly $70-$90 a month for two years if you don't pay it outright. Generally, T-Mobile's offerings stand out as a bit more affordable, if you can live with somewhat spotty indoor coverage. Sprint's pricing, coverage and network reliability combo is a tad perplexing, which the carrier is taking measures to address

Of the big two, AT&T is your better weapon of choice if you will be traveling abroad, as well as for zippy HSPA+ data speeds outside of the LTE coverage map. Verizon towers with great 4G LTE coverage and reliability, as well as simplified pricing, but it offers a fairly limited number of phones to choose from, and falling back on its 3G data speeds in areas outside the LTE blanket can be frustrating. Still, the monthly charge between the carriers' offerings doesn't differ all that much as you can see above, and the choice very often boils down to network coverage, speed and reliability. Here, Verizon is still in the lead, but not by the wide margin it used to enjoy. Also, AT&T allows for more flexibility when it comes to early upgrades.

All in all, with the new "contractless" offerings, you will be paying at least $40-$50/month even for the beginner data buckets, and that's just for the cell service, barring all device expenses. When we add the phone payments, the carriers have seemingly managed to keep you paying almost the same amount per month as with the two-year contracts, but at least it's now easier to upgrade earlier.

The ultimate beauty of this post-subsidy world, however, is that you have to pay very little upfront, and won't be balled and chained for two years with termination fees – you can switch to a plan that suits you better as soon as you'd like. How does all of that sound to you? Do you prefer the new model to the old one?

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45 Comments

1. snatchlax17

Posts: 52; Member since: Dec 07, 2010

Sprint has an abuse switch at 23GB too. From their website: "Unlimited customers who use more than 23GB of data during a billing cycle will be de-prioritized during times and places where the Sprint network is constrained. See sprint.com/networkmanagement for details."

34. tuminatr

Posts: 1092; Member since: Feb 23, 2009

only on congested cell towers, so not always

2. joeytaylor

Posts: 957; Member since: Feb 28, 2015

You can make a down payment on Verizon as well....and I'm sure you can do the same with AT&T

4. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

True you can. But it won't change the payment amount per month until the last payment which could be smaller. Verizon won't allow you to make additional payments when you are on the installment plan which is another reason I left. T allows you to make additional payments at anytime you want too, to pay off a device quick. Also with unlimited upgrades only requiring you pay 50% and trade in the other phone in mint condition. Last year I jumped 2 times. Never an issue.

5. joeytaylor

Posts: 957; Member since: Feb 28, 2015

You can pay off your device at Verizon as well

15. eN16HTMAR3

Posts: 253; Member since: Oct 08, 2013

You can make a 20%, 40% or 60% down payment to Verizon which lowers down the retail cost of the phone and make the monthly payment less. You can also make payments towards the device whenever as well as pay it off. Unfortunately, I know a lot about this hence I work for Big Red.

22. BRYLYNT

Posts: 89; Member since: Nov 09, 2013

You cannont make extra payments toward your device only pay it off.

23. bbqctx

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 27, 2016

This is partially incorrect. At the time of my purchases I was able to pay down my phone from 649.99 to 300. After I did my payment are 12.50$(looking at my bill right now) for my phone. I wanted to do another 150$ two months later, but I was told my payments wont readjust after the agreement is made. I would just be paying off the number of months I have left. So yes Verizon will lower the payments, but only at time of purchase.

3. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

My plan beats them all. I have Jump on 2 lines and Jump on demand on 2 lines. I got the promo where I get 4 lines for the price of 3. I don't pay extra from data. I pay 150 for 4 lines and they all have 10GB of data. I also have rollover.

6. Arch_Fiend

Posts: 3938; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

I switched to tmo, got an iphone 6s plus, everything is all good so far. 4G LTE is almost twice as fast on tmo than att and the cell sigle is slightly better so i'm pretty happy with the switch. Oh and the bill a $100 cheaper than it would be on att.

7. Mreveryphone

Posts: 1791; Member since: Apr 22, 2014

So glad that I'm grandfathered in on the $20 a month unlimited data with T-Mobile. I still haven't used Jump, I'm on the first Jump where I think I have to pay at least 50% of the device off to jump... I usually buy all my phones outright and sell on Craigs and put that money towards the next big thing! Att's looks to be a complete rip, as well as Verizons...

27. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

If you are on Jump one, there is no monetary attachment to jump, just limits you to 2 times a year. Jump 2, is the 50% pay off of orginal equipment costs, and if you put down payments lowers the amount of months you will be paying. You can always pay early to hit that 50% They also do the new jump lease which imo is far superior to other peoples offers.

8. PJH_S4

Posts: 17; Member since: Jan 22, 2016

Comparing pricing plans is of course very difficult and often is up to the need of the person involved and where they live and work. However in this example Verizon and At&T are about same, keeping in mind that Verizon has 3 GB here vs the others having 2 GB. If you average the VzW 1 GB and 3 GB prices 2 GB would fall in line with AT&T. T-Mobile and Sprint are about the same. So in this example you are paying a 13% premium to have the big guys ($88/$78=1.13). For some I'm sure this matters, but most people are really saving in the 10-20% range with Sprint and T-Mobile.

9. youlookfoolish

Posts: 192; Member since: Dec 14, 2012

Big omission not mentioning AT&T can put 30% down with NEXT and make the monthly significantly cheaper with a much faster 12 month trade in. AT&T is $68 for a 64gb iPhone 6s with 2gb and a 12 month trade. AT&T is cheaper, and no matter what T-Mobile advertises has far more expansive coverage. It is absolutely not a contest.

11. Acdc1a

Posts: 465; Member since: Jan 21, 2016

2 paid off phones...2GB at T-Mobile is $80, 2GB at AT&T is $80 but you have to share that 2GB. A single line is $50 at T-Mobile vs. $55 at AT&T. Stop putting monthly phone payments in. You probably shop for cars on monthly payment too don't you?

10. eman99

Posts: 409; Member since: Aug 03, 2010

Sounds like nonsense especially for a family of 4 plus all the data we use and if thats not enough pay gor wifi comes out way to much! Just buy unlocked, secound hand, root, jailbreak, free hot spot and pay just for your cell service

28. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

TMO can detect hotspot usage, and will send you letters and even deny data to users who break it. I see it every month.

12. SupermanayrB

Posts: 1188; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

I went from the Note 3 to the Note 4 in 10 months on VZW then, in true Verizon fashion, they changed the early upgrade to 24 months. I they might as well bring back contacts.

13. HR_19

Posts: 103; Member since: Aug 09, 2014

What really bothers me about all this, being someone who actually sells cell phones in a retail environment, is that people don't understand that just because you're not in a "two-year contact," doesn't mean you're off the hook. On the old contact plans, you could leave and pay an early termination fee. Now, if you leave, you pay the phone off. You're still stuck for two years unless you want to pay a big chunk of money. To be clear, I like the extra flexibility, and even though monthly plans are comparable to the old days, you pay nothing down and the plans usually offer more, therefore better value for your money. But when it comes to the contacts vs "no contact," just picture James Franco going, "same same, but different, but still same."

29. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

No contract is great, you pay the phone and you are good to go. It is obvious you pay off the phone, since you actually haven't bought it yet. This was equivalent to paying off a contract since they subsidized the device.

14. JunitoNH

Posts: 1946; Member since: Feb 15, 2012

If you pay in full for the device, there is no need to perform a credit check. I know back in the day, that was the reason for lots of rejections at Verizon.

16. eN16HTMAR3

Posts: 253; Member since: Oct 08, 2013

Still need a credit check for anything other than Prepaid. Doesn't matter if you own the device or not sadly. You get more bang for your buck on Verizon Prepaid anyway. Hence 3GB of 4G data for $60.00 vs the Verizon plan being $65.00

18. JunitoNH

Posts: 1946; Member since: Feb 15, 2012

ok thx you, I left them three months ago. Just curious, if no contracts, and you can go from one carrier to another without incurring an ETF. What would be the purpose of doing one?

31. Xelief

Posts: 62; Member since: Aug 17, 2015

You still need a credit check because you're still getting the service BEFORE you pay for it and can incur a balance. In fact, some people manage to carry balances over MANY bill cycles. This is why you're credit still comes into play.

17. KingKurogiii

Posts: 5713; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

Verizon offers free Hotspot on More Everything Plans and newer...

19. ThePython

Posts: 902; Member since: May 08, 2013

Carriers: CIVIL WAR Coming this year. Rated PG-13

20. uncman100

Posts: 10; Member since: Mar 19, 2010

Wow. Some of the comments and information on here is incorrect. I've worked for VZW for years. Just as a FYI, you can not make extra payments towards your device payment agreement with VZW at anytime. You can only pay the device off in full if you wish to do so before your 24month agreement is up. When you do the VZW device payment program instead of buying your device under the 2yr contract price(which is still available for current customers). A lot of it is based on your credit rating. Some require a down payment some don't. You have the option to put down any amount of down payment up to 75% of the cost of the device. Also prepaid is not necessarily better then postpaid. Prepaid usually makes since for one specific individual. Of course there is no prepaid family plans with VZW. Also your coverage is limited with prepaid vs postpaid. Of course with postpaid you get more coverage. Hopefully this helps. This is an industry that forever changes. Unfortunately I only know specifics to the VZW side.

21. Justlooking

Posts: 84; Member since: Aug 27, 2014

I switched from Verizon to Tmobile two years ago and have not looked back. I have true unlimited data and 7gb lte hotspot a month on two lines and then i have two other smarthphones that get 1gb of lte and pay 160$ Verizon was about 200$. I'm saving about 480$ a year and in Los Angeles my speeds are almost twice as what i used to have with verizon. I don't travel so i could care less about coverage while roaming in the middle of nowhere.

24. benzb

Posts: 79; Member since: Jan 19, 2012

T-Mobile works great in LA. If you live in LA and font travel much, T-Mobile is on par with VZW. I even think T-Mobile is better than AT&T in LA. If you travel or live anywhere else, AT&T and VZW will give you better coverage on s national level.

32. Xelief

Posts: 62; Member since: Aug 17, 2015

It's an unfounded statement that AT&T and Verizon give you better coverage literally everywhere but LA. This may have been true YEARS ago, but certainly not today. T-Mobile's network has improved by leaps and bounds and gives good coverage in pretty much any major city. This does not mean that they have caught up to AT&T and Verizon yet though.

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