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Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint unlimited plans comparison

The four major US carriers offer more than a dozen unlimited data plans. We compare them all and help you navigate the fine print.

Sarah Tew/CNET

On Friday, Sprint added a new tier to its unlimited data plans called Unlimited Premium that includes Amazon PrimeHulu, Tidal and a 50GB LTE mobile hotspot. The new plan will cost $90 a month and be the company's most expensive plan and yet for what's included one of the better values offered by any carrier.

This announcement falls on the heels of T-Mobile adding the Essentials unlimited data plan which, at $60 a month, is basically a cheaper version of the T-Mobile One plan without the free Netflix and international data. Both T-Mobile's Essentials plan and Sprint's Unlimited Premium plan are among the more than a dozen unlimited data plans offered by the four major US carriers. Keeping track of the ever-changing unlimited plans, prices and features can be exhausting. That's why we're here.

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.

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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 Sept. 4, 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.

Woman paying bills by phone

Not all unlimited data plans are equal.

Peter Cade/Getty Images

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.
  • All the carriers included streaming services to sweeten their unlimited plans. These plans range from a 6-month free trial of Apple Music by Verizon to Amazon Prime, Hulu and Tidal included in Sprint's Unlimited Plus plan.

Comparison of single line unlimited data plans with autopay discounts applied

Carrier Unlimited data monthly cost Data limit Video streaming -- up to Hotspot allowance Bundled streaming services included
Sprint Unlimited Basic $60 50GB/month 480p SD 500MB Hulu Limited Commercials
T-Mobile Essentials $60 50GB/month 480p SD 3G data speeds only none
Sprint Unlimited Plus $70 50GB/month 1080p HD 15GB Amazon Prime, Hulu Limited Commercials, Tidal Premium
T-Mobile One $70 50GB/month 480p SD 3G data speeds only Netflix Standard with 2 lines or more
AT&T Unlimited &More $70 22GB/month 480p SD none WatchTV (live TV)
Verizon "gounlimited" $75 none 480p SD 3G data speeds only Apple Music for 6 months
T-Mobile One Plus $80 50GB/month 1080p HD 10GB Netflix Standard with 2 lines or more
AT&T Unlimited &More Premium $80 22GB/month 1080p HD 15GB 1 premiun channel and WatchTV (live TV)
Verizon "beyondunlimited" $85 22GB/month 720p HD 15GB Apple Music for 6 months
Sprint Unlimited Premium $90 50GB/month 1080p HD 50GB Amazon Prime, Hulu Limited Commercials, Tidal Premium
Verizon "aboveunlimited" $95 75GB/month 720p HD 20GB Apple Music for 6 months

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&TSprint 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
T-Mobile Essentials $60 $30 $15 $15 $120
Sprint Unlimited Basic $60 $40 $20 $20 $140
T-Mobile One $70 $50 $20 $20 $160
AT&T Unlimited &More $70 $55 $20 $15 $160
Sprint Unlimited Plus $70 $50 $30 $30 $170
Verizon "gounlimited" $75 $55 $20 $10 $160
AT&T Unlimited &More Premium $80 $70 $20 $20 $190
T-Mobile One Plus $80 $60 $30 $30 $200
Verizon "beyondunlimited" $85 $75 $20 $20 $200
Sprint Unlimited Premium $90 $70 $50 $50 $260
Verizon "aboveunlimited" $95 $85 $30 $30 $240

Unlimited prepaid

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 roundup of the best prepaid wireless plans for 2018.

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 a Galaxy S9 with 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, Sprint Unlimited Premium 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.

netflix-app-7922-001.jpg

All carriers provide HD video streaming with their unlimited data plans.

Josh Miller/CNET

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. Sprint's Unlimited Premium plan gives you 50GB of hotspot LTE data. T-Mobile One and Verizon's gounlimited give you unlimited mobile hotspot streaming at 3G speeds. AT&T Unlimited &More gives you nothing.

  • Sprint Unlimited Premium -- 50GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
  • 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 Basic plan when you bring your own device or buy one outright.

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.

Here are links to each carrier's unlimited plans: Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon.

Best prepaid wireless plans for 2018: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Boost and more compared.

Unlocked phones vs. locked: Everything you need to know.