When it comes to choosing an unlimited data plan for your new phone, whether you have an iPhone, Galaxy, another Android device, or even a flip phone, things can quickly get complicated. Unlike home Internet, where there are often only one or two options available, most of the United States can choose wireless plans from multiple competitors at different prices that offer similar performance or coverage.
For this roundup, I’m going to focus on the top three carriers – Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T – combing through the multiple unlimited postpaid plans available to find those that offer the most benefits and value for you. single lines and for families of four.
Know your region
Before getting into the plans, to get the best deal you need to make sure you have the coverage you need. It is therefore very difficult for us to give a general recommendation from a carrier. T-Mobile’s service in New York City can be great, but if you’re in rural Iowa, Verizon is more reliable.
While your mileage may vary, the good news is that these networks are constantly growing and improving, especially as the top three players rush to cover the United States with 5G. It’s entirely possible that ten years ago you left a network complaining about its scarcity of service, but now it has grown stronger because of this rush to acquire customers.
If you know of any friends or family in your area who already use the carrier you are considering, ask for their experience. You can also go to an operator’s store and see if they have any free ways to try the service before switching, such as.
Know your offers and discounts
Another thing to keep in mind: discounts. All carriers offer additional discounts that you may be entitled to, depending on your employer, military status, student status, or age.
First responders, military personnel, veterans, nurses and teachers can get discounts on all major carriers.for students, while T-Mobile’s Work Perk could cut a Magenta Max plan by $ 10 per month, with AT&T offering a similar program for its Unlimited Elite plan it calls Signature.
If you’re 55 or older, you may also be eligible for a discounted plan:offers discounted plans nationwide for as little as $ 55 per month for two lines, and and offer similar options, but only for Florida residents.
Now on to the choices.
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Those looking to save the most on unlimited service from major carriers may be better off with T-Mobile’s Essentials. Unlimited calls, texts and data are included with all of the operator’s basic unlimited plans. In this price-driven comparison, T-Mobile’s option costs $ 60 for a single line, $ 5 a month cheaper than AT & T’s Unlimited Starter, and $ 10 less than Verizon’s Start Unlimited.
As well as being $ 5 cheaper than AT & T’s option, T-Mobile’s Essentials includes an unlimited mobile hotspot (albeit at slower “3G speeds”), giving you a bit more flexibility. . The three operators offer 5G access with their basic packages. We have to note that Verizon’s Start Unlimited doesn’t support its faster forms of 5G, but you’re unlikely to miss out on taking advantage of those speeds so early in the 5G lifecycle. You can always re-evaluate your options next year after Verizon starts activating its new version of wireless technology.
The savings in T-Mobile’s plan also become more pronounced the more lines you add. Two lines of Essentials cost $ 90 per month, while a similar offering from AT&T or Verizon costs $ 120 per month. Three lines will also run at $ 90 at T-Mobile thanks to a promotion, compared to $ 135 per month at AT&T or Verizon. The four-line option costs $ 105 at T-Mobile, compared to $ 140 at other operators.
These prices come with a few caveats: unlike T-Mobile’s Magenta or Magenta Max plans, taxes and charges are not included in any of these prices, making the actual total a bit higher. All offers also require setting up AutoPay and paperless billing.
Sarah Tew / CNET
AT & T’s plan is more expensive than T-Mobile Essentials but cheaper for a line compared to Verizon’s Start Unlimited. Like T-Mobile’s plan, this option also includes access to all of the operator’s 5G networks. Verizon’s cheapest plan limits you to its slower form of 5G.
Verizon’s basic unlimited plan is the most expensive of the bunch. That said, depending on your employee discount, this might be a good option. A teacher’s discount, for example, would drop the price of one line to $ 60 per month (a monthly savings of $ 10), while four lines would cost $ 120 per month (a monthly discount of $ 20).
Sarah Tew / CNET
If you’re looking for freebies with your wireless service, Verizon offers one of the more aggressive plans with its Play More plan ($ 80 per month for one line, $ 45 per month if you have four lines).
Verizon’s Play More Unlimited includes unlimited calling, texting and data and 15GB of faster 5G and 4G LTE hotspot data. Some perks include a free Disney Bundle (Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, and Hulu) and Discovery Plus membership for 12 months and either Apple Arcade or Google Play Pass for 12 months.
All in all, the benefits add up quickly if you use any of these services. The Disney Bundle normally costs $ 14 per month and Discovery $ 5. Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass each cost $ 5.
That’s potentially $ 24 per month in services. Verizon offers these benefits as part of its Play More and Get More plans, but for most people, the Play More choice is the better choice. Get More offers an additional $ 10 per month ($ 90 per month for a single line, $ 220 per month for four lines) and adds an additional 15 GB of broadband access point data, 50% off on a connected device ( as a monthly tablet or smartwatch plan) and 600 GB of cloud storage from Verizon. Get More also includes an Apple Music subscription, normally $ 10 per month.
Something to note: These benefits are often limited to one per account, so a single line on a family plan would be eligible to open a Disney Plus account and have it covered by the carrier.
Verizon also allows you to mix and match shots when you have multiple lines.
If you have four people on your family membership, only one needs to have Play More to enjoy the benefits for the whole family. The rest can be on the cheaper Start Unlimited, which would fetch four lines at $ 150 per month, compared to $ 180 per month if all four lines had Play More. And after a year, you need to assess whether the Play More plan is still delivering enough benefits when Apple Music, Discovery Plus, Apple Arcade, and Google Play Pass subscriptions run out.
Angela Lang / CNET
T-Mobile is second for the benefits. Perks include unlimited international data (albeit at slow “2G speeds”) when traveling to over 210 countries, one hour of Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi, weekly T-Mobile giveaways on Tuesdays, and bundling Netflix’s $ 9 per month basic plan. (which is limited to watching on one screen at a time and without HD). It also now offers a free year of Apple TV Plus and a free year of the $ 5 per month Essentials package from Paramount Plus.
Its more expensive Magenta Max plan upgrades the Netflix subscription to the more popular Standard plan of $ 14 per month (which allows HD streaming to two screens at a time) and adds faster international data and a Unlimited Gogo Wi-Fi on flights. Unlike its Essentials plan mentioned above, T-Mobile also includes taxes and fees in the pricing of its Magenta and Magenta Max plans.
Learn more about unlimited data plans and benefits
AT & T’s unlimited plans don’t offer many benefits. If you want HBO Max, you’ll need the carrier’s unlimited Elite offer ($ 85 for one line, $ 50 per month if you have four lines), but like with Verizon, you can mix the plans on your account. so only one line has the Elite and the rest are on more affordable options like Starter.
As with Verizon and the Disney Bundle and Discovery Plus, T-Mobile’s offering from Netflix, Paramount Plus, and Apple TV Plus – and AT&T’s offering from HBO Max – is limited to one subscription per account, not one per account. every row you have.
Why be unlimited?
If you’re on T-Mobile, all of your plans are unlimited. AT&T and Verizon, however, still offer tiered data plans.
While everyone’s wireless needs are different, for the most part, we think unlimited plans make the most sense, especially when it comes to choosing a new plan.
For one line, a 5GB shared data plan at Verizon costs $ 55 for one line, or $ 130 for four lines. This plan offers unlimited calling and texting, but after using 5GB of data – and 5GB shared across all of your lines, not 5GB for each line – your speed will slow significantly until the end of your billing cycle. . If you want faster data in the meantime, you have to pay absurd $ 15 per gigabyte.
Verizon’s basic unlimited plan, called Start Unlimited, costs $ 70 per month for one line or $ 140 for four lines.
AT & T’s option is hardly better. It has a 4GB per line plan that costs $ 50 per month for one line ($ 160 for four lines). Each row here gets 4GB of data, but if you go over that threshold in a month, you’re paying $ 10 for every 2GB.
The company’s basic unlimited plan, called Unlimited Starter, costs $ 65 per month for one line or $ 140 for four lines.
If you have one or two lines and don’t use a lot of data, one of these plans or the old plan you currently have may be right for you. For the most part, however, we really think Unlimited is the best bet when choosing a new plan.
We will continue to update this article as new unlimited plans and better offers emerge. In the meantime, if you know of a better wireless plan deal or have your own favorites, drop them in the comments or send me a message on Twitter. @eliblumenthal.