Starting Aug. 10, phones. However, keeping track of the ever-changing unlimited plans, prices and features can be exhausting. That's why we're here.. At $60 a month, it's basically a cheaper version of the T-Mobile One plan but skips the free Netflix and international data. T-Mobile Essentials is one of over a dozen unlimited plans that the four major US carriers offer to feed our data-hungry
For over a year, the unlimited data wars between AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint have been heated to say the least. Each one tries to outdo the others in terms of price and how much data you actually get. On the one hand, unlimited data is like a bottomless cup of coffee at a diner: At some point you'll be cut off. On the other hand, many people don't actually need all that data -- or coffee for that matter.
For most people, these large data plans should be more than enough. But to make sense of what you actually get, we compared the unlimited plans from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon and all the fine print that came with them.
Editors' note: This article was originally published on Feb. 13, 2017. Since that time, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all announced multiple changes to their unlimited data plans. The information below reflects the prices and features of unlimited plans as of Aug. 9, 2018.
Data limits, prioritization and throttling
The unlimited plans from the big four carriers all come with unlimited talk, texting and data -- oh, if only things were that straightforward. But there's a catch -- when you hit a certain data limit, your 4G LTE data speeds can be slowed temporarily or for the remainder of the billing cycle. Some carriers like Verizon send your data needs to the back of the line. Here's how each carrier handles prioritization and throttling when you cross your data limit:
Verizon: "We may prioritize your data behind other Verizon customers during network congestion."
T-Mobile: "On all T-Mobile plans, during congestion, the small fraction of customers using more than 50GB per month may notice reduced speeds until next bill cycle due to prioritization."
AT&T: "On AT&T Unlimited &More Premium, after 22GB of data usage on a line in a bill cycle, for the remainder of the cycle a customer may temporarily experience reduced speeds on that line during times of network congestion. On AT&T Unlimited &More, for all data usage, customer may temporarily experience reduced speeds on these line(s) during times of network congestion."
Sprint: "Customers who use more than 50GB of data during a billing cycle will be 'deprioritized' during times & places where the Sprint network is constrained."
Cost for a single line
Obviously, one of the reasons unlimited plans exist is to offer lots of data at a reasonable price -- reasonable enough to beat overage charges. Here's what a single line of unlimited data on each carrier costs. Sprint's Unlimited Plus at $70 per month and T-Mobile's One Plus at $80 per month are two of the best values giving you hotspot data and 1080p HD video streaming -- the higher price of the T-Mobile plan includes taxes, fees and surcharges.
- Sprint Unlimited Basic: $60 per month
- T-Mobile Essentials: $60 per month
- Sprint Unlimited Plus: $70 per month
- T-Mobile One: $70 per month
- AT&T Unlimited &More: $70 per month
- Verizon "gounlimited": $75 per month
- T-Mobile One Plus: $80 per month
- AT&T Unlimited &More Premium: $80 per month
- Verizon "beyondunlimited": $85 per month
- Verizon "aboveunlimited": $95 per month
A few notes on these plans:
- The plans for AT&T, Sprint and Verizon do not include taxes, surcharges or additional fees. These vary wildly depending on where you live.
- All of the plans include an autopay discount: $5 a month for Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon and $10 a month for AT&T.
- T-Mobile Essentials, T-Mobile One, Sprint Unlimited Basic and Verizon gounlimited plans limit you to standard-definition video and only 3G hotspot support.
- AT&T's Unlimited &More plan limits you to standard-definition video with streaming speeds capped at 1.5 Mbps and doesn't include hotspot data.
Comparison of single line unlimited data plans with autopay discounts applied
|Carrier||Unlimited data monthly cost||Data limit||Video streaming (up to)||Hotspot allowance||Single-line data plan cost for 2 years|
|Sprint Unlimited Freedom||$60||50GB/month||480p SD||500MB||$1,440|
|T-Mobile Essentials||$60||50GB/month||480p SD||3G data speeds only||$1,440|
|Sprint Unlimited Plus||$70||50GB/month||1080p HD||15GB||$1,680|
|T-Mobile One||$70||50GB/month||480p SD||3G data speeds only||$1,680|
|AT&T Unlimited &More||$70||22GB/month||480p SD||none||$1,680|
|Verizon gounlimited||$75||none||480p SD||3G data speeds only||$1,800|
|T-Mobile One Plus||$80||50GB/month||1080p HD||10GB||$1,920|
|AT&T Unlimited &More Premium||$80||22GB/month||1080p HD||15GB||$1,920|
|Verizon beyondunlimited||$85||22GB/month||720p HD||15GB||$2,040|
|Verizon aboveunlimited||$95||75GB/month||720p HD||20GB||$2,280|
Taxes, fees and surcharges
T-Mobile has done away with the taxes, fees and surcharges that phone plans normally have -- kind of. The carrier simplified pricing for its customers by folding those additional costs into the price of its plans. So a $60 per month plan on T-Mobile actually costs $60. Obviously, if you're financing your phone your bill will also include that cost.
AT&T, Sprint and Verizon data plan prices do not include taxes, surcharges or additional fees. Trying to estimate how much these will cost you is a study in patience because these additional costs vary quite a bit depending on where you live. To help this, each carrier has a site to help you estimate how much it those charges will be: AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.
Cost for additional lines
If you need additional lines of unlimited data, each of the big four has a range of prices. Below are the monthly prices for one, two, three and four line bundles.
Comparison of additional lines of unlimited data with autopay discounts applied
|Carrier||First line Cost||Second line cost||Third line cost||Fourth line cost||Total monthly cost for four lines|
|Sprint Unlimited Freedom||$60||$40||$20||$20||$140|
|AT&T Unlimited &More||$70||$55||$20||$15||$160|
|Sprint Unlimited Plus||$70||$50||$30||$30||$170|
|AT&T Unlimited &More Premium||$80||$70||$20||$20||$190|
|T-Mobile One Plus||$80||$60||$30||$30||$200|
All four carriers offer prepaid plans with unlimited data. For a more detailed comparison of prepaid plans from both major and regional carriers read our.
Comparison prepaid unlimited data plans with autopay discount applied
|Carrier||Data limit||Video streaming (up to)||Hotspot allowance||Monthly cost|
|AT&T Unlimited||22GB per month||480p SD||none||$55|
|Sprint Forward Unlimited||23GB per month||1080p HD||10GB||$60|
|T-Mobile One Prepaid||10GB per month||480p SD||Up to data allotment||$70|
|Verizon prepaidunlimited||None||480p SD||3G data speeds only||$75|
|AT&T Unlimited Plus||22GB per month||1080p HD||10GB||$75|
HD video vs. SD video
Here's where things get tricky. Despite all these plans being unlimited, the carriers cheapest plans limit the videos you stream to 480p standard definition -- think DVD quality. That means if you're on T-Mobile Essentials, T-Mobile One, Sprint Unlimited Basic, AT&T Unlimited &More or Verizon gounlimited that streaming videos will not in HD. It would be such a bummer to have awith its gorgeous 2,960x1,440-pixel screen and only to be able to watch videos at less than one-tenth the resolution.
But if you pay more, and are on AT&T Unlimited &More Premium, Sprint Unlimited Plus and T-Mobile One Plus the carriers let you use the unlimited data you bought to stream video at 1080p HD resolution. Verizon's higher cost beyondunlimited and aboveunlimited plans let you stream at HD, but it's only 720p.
Mobile hotspot data
All carriers offer hotspots with LTE data speeds, but not all plans do. Also, keep in mind there are limits on how much data you can use. T-Mobile One and Verizon's gounlimited give you unlimited mobile hotspot streaming at 3G speeds. AT&T Unlimited &More gives you nothing.
- Verizon aboveunlimited -- 20GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- Verizon beyondunlimited -- 15GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- AT&T Unlimited &More Premium -- 15GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- Sprint Unlimited Plus -- 15GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- T-Mobile One Plus -- 10GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- Sprint Unlimited Basic -- 500MB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
- Verizon gounlimited -- hotspot access at 3G data speeds
- T-Mobile One -- hotspot access only at 3G data speeds
- T-Mobile Essentials -- hotspot access only at 3G data speeds
- AT&T Unlimited &More -- no mobile hotspot data
Unlimited plan savings
I recommend checking carrier websites from time to time for deals and discounts on unlimited data plans. For example, Sprint currently offers a $20 discount per month, per line on its unlimited plans when you bring your own device or buy one outright. This is a limited time offer and there's no word on when exactly it expires.
Carriers also offer discounts for members of the military, veterans and their families.
The final word
It is truly wonderful to have unlimited data options from all four major US carriers. This comparison of costs and features is just part of the bigger picture though. Keep in mind other factors that will hit your wallet: the cost of the phone, extended warranties, taxes, surcharges and activation fees -- the last three of which T-Mobile has folded into its pricing. It's also worth considering network coverage and the quality of that coverage, too.
But before you do anything, take a look at how much cellular data you're currently using. There's no need to be on an unlimited plan, if you don't use lots of data.
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