Who wears it best? The new 'unlimited' wireless plans of T-Mobile vs Sprint vs AT&T vs Verizon

Who's best? The new wireless plans of T-Mobile vs Sprint vs AT&T vs Verizon
Love it or leave it, free market capitalism is capable of some great feats, like slowly lowering the average revenue per wireless customer, resulting in a price war between carriers. The antique two-year cell phone contract is all but dead, since its last bastion Sprint is ditching them for good for new customers, too.

Leasing or monthly installment plans is what you will likely be getting as a wireless customer in these great United States from now on, and the price war will only be heating up in the fall with the launch of the iPhone 7. We've already been tipped that AT&T is readying some unique deals and promos next month to combat the advent of T-Mobile, US Cellular, and other crowd favorites, but these aren't sitting still, too.

T-Mobile just announced one single plan for all, while AT&T did away with the overage charges and the others retooled their existing plans. So, what's the state of the carrier offerings for us users with the new plans? Let's check them out.

Plans2 GB4 GB8 GB16 GB24 GB40 GB50 GB80 GB100 GB
Monthly Cost$35$50$70$90$110$135$225$360$450

Device access fee: $20/month, comes with unlimited calling and texts
Bonus: +2 GB extra per line with each plan above 4 GB, these don't roll over for the next month
Data rollover: Yes, for the next monthly billing cycle only
Extra data: $15/GB
Overages: No, 128 Kbps speed throttling with plans above 8 GB and Safety Mode activated. For the first three plans Safety Mode can be added at $5/month
Unlimited data: No, unless grandfathered
Perks: free NFL Mobile sports, go90 video and Slacker Radio music streaming

You can move between the above tiers each subsequent month at will, and Verizon also offers other shared data buckets, too, like 30 GB or 60 GB. 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 the Note 7 is yours for $36/month in the span of two years, or $864 outright.

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Mobile Share1GB3GB6GB10GB16GB25GB30GB40GB50GB60GB80GB100GB

Device access fee: $20/month, all come with unlimited calling and texts
Data rollover: Yes, for one billing period only
Extra data: $15/GB
Overages: No, 128 Kbps speed throttling after high-speed data limit is reached
Unlimited data: Yes, $100/month when bundled with a DirecTV subscription, abuse switch after 22 GB
Perks: Free Wi-Fi hotspots, 50 GB cloud storage, sponsored services that don't count towards your data cap

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 10 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. For Galaxy Note 7 on Next 30, that would be $29.34 a month, or $880 outright.

T-MobileOne*Line 1Line 2Line 3Line 4
Monthly cost$70$50$20$20
*T-MobileOne will be active from September 6th

Device access fee: Included in above prices
High-res streaming: $25/month for high-res BingeOn streaming
Overages: No, throttling at 128 Kbps after a 26 GB high-speed data limit is reached
Unlimited data: Yes, every line in T-MobileOne, abuse switch after 26 GB
Extras: Free BingeOn video, Music Freedom and MLB at Bat streaming

All plans include unlimited calling and texting, including to Mexico and Canada, plus you can use your 4G LTE data allotment there, too. Plans include T-Mobile's BingeOn unlimited video streaming of Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu and others, plus the Music Freedom streaming service free of charge, though at SD resolution. 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, the Galaxy Note 7 is $32.5/month for two years, and $70 upfront, or you can get it outright for $850.

Plans*1 GB3 GB6 GB12 GB24 GB40 GBUnlimitedUnl. Line 2
* Plans 6 GB - 40 GB can be shared on up to 10 lines.

Device access fee: $20/month for new phones, comes with unlimited calling and texts 
High-res streaming: $20/month per line. Mobile optimized video streams at up to 480p resolution, music at up to 500kbps, gaming at up to 2mbps. Premium resolution: video streams at up to 1080p+, music at up to 1.5mbps, gaming at up to 8mbps.
Data rollover: No, on prepaid only
Overages: No, throttling at 64kbps after the high-speed data limit is reached
Unlimited data: Yes, $60/month on a single line, $40 for second line, lines 3-10 are $30/month, abuse switch after 23GB
Perks: 12 months of Amazon Prime included with 40 GB plan, Nascar Mobile sports, Sprint TV video streaming, and free international data (at 2G speeds)

Sprint's 6 GB and up plans can be shared on up to 10 devices each, with the exception of the unlimited plan, which is $60 for a single line, then another $40 for the second line, and lines 3-10 are $30/month each. Sprint gives you free texting to more than 180 countries, and free data use when roaming abroad, albeit capped at 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. The Note 7, for example, is $35.43 on 24 installments, or $850 if bought outright.


It turns out that when it comes to premium phones at least, you can expect to give your carrier at least $80 a month for two years if you don't pay the handset outtright, and that's for the lowest usable data tiers. Generally, Sprint's and T-Mobile's offerings stand out as more affordable, if their 4G coverage is strong in your area. When it comes to "unlimited data," the two smaller carriers are roughly equal for a family of four, while for one or two unlimited lines, Sprint is the better pick in terms of pricing.

Out 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 compatible 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 - the "unlimited" plans throttle at 22-26 GB of data if you abuse them or the network is too busy, so the average family might choose to save about ten bucks a line and get the 25 GB tier of the big two. Thus, the choice very often boils down to network coverage, speed and reliability. Here, Verizon is still in the lead, though not by the wide margin it used to enjoy.

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