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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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