We compare the unlimited data plans offered by the four major US carriers.

As our phones get faster and have better screens and more processing power, it’s natural that they gobble up more cellular data. An unlimited data plan can be a great fit for our data-hungry devices. However, keeping track of the ever-changing unlimited plans, prices and features can be frustrating. But that’s why we’re here.

Last year, the “unlimited data” wars heated up between the four major carriers in the US. Each one tried to outdo the others in terms of price and how much data you actually got. Unlimited data is kind of like a bottomless cup of coffee at a diner: At some point you’ll be cut off.

Thursday, Verizon added yet another unlimited plan that will offer even more data for customers who need it — it’s still not truly unlimited. The plan is named “aboveunlimited” and has the largest data allowance of any carrier, with 75GB per month.

For most people, these large data plans should be more than enough. But to help 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 June 18, 2018.

Data limits and throttling

The unlimited plans from the big four carriers all come with unlimited talk, texting and data. But there’s a catch — when you hit a certain data limit, your data speeds are slowed down or your data needs are sent to the back of the line. These are the data limits for each carrier:

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:

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. But each carrier has a site to help you estimate how much it those charges will be: AT&TSprintand Verizon.
  • 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 One and Verizon “gounlimited” plans limit people to standard-definition video and only 3G hotspot support.
  • AT&T’s Unlimited Choice plan limits people 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 Data throttled after Video streaming Unlimited data monthly cost Single-line data plan cost for 2 years
Sprint Unlimited Freedom 23GB/month HD $60 $1,440
AT&T Unlimited Choice Enhanced 22GB/month SD $65 $1,560
T-Mobile One 50GB/month SD $70 $1,680
Verizon “gounlimited” 22GB/month SD $75 $1,800
T-Mobile One Plus 50GB/month HD $80 $1,920
AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced 22GB/month HD $80 $1,920
Verizon “beyondunlimited” 22GB/month HD $85 $2,040
Verizon “aboveunlimited” 75GB/month HD $95 $2,280

Limited time discounts on unlimited plans

Frequently, carriers have short-term discounts on unlimited plans. Currently, Sprint has its “Free Unlimited Data For A Year” plan for when you transfer from Verizon to Sprint and keep your existing phone. The deal runs through July 31, 2019 after which pricing reverts to Sprint’s Unlimited Freedom plan aka $60 per month for a single line.

Cost for additional lines

  • If you need additional lines of unlimited data, each of the big four has a range of prices:
  • AT&T Unlimited Choice Enhanced: $65 per month for the first line, $120 for two and $160 for four.
  • Sprint Unlimited Freedom: $60 per month for the first line, $90 for two lines and $130 for four lines. The four line price is good until June 30, 2019 after which the price increases to $160.
  • T-Mobile One: $70 per month for one line, $120 for two and $160 for four.
  • Verizon “gounlimited”: $75 per month for the first line, $130 for two and $160 for four.
  • AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced: $80 per month for the first line, $150 for two and $190 for four.
  • T-Mobile One Plus: $80 per month for the first line, $140 for two and $200 for four.
  • Verizon “beyondunlimited”: $85 per month for the first line, $160 for two and $200 for four.
  • Verizon “aboveunlimited”: $95 per month for the first line, $180 for two and $240 for four.
  • All multi-line unlimited plans have an autopay discount applied: $5 a month for Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon and $20 a month for AT&T.
  • AT&T’s prices also reflect an included multi-line discount: $10 for three lines or $20 for four lines or more.

COMPARISON OF MULTIPLE LINE MONTHLY COSTS WITH AUTOPAY DISCOUNT 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 $30 $0 ($30**) $130 ($160*)
AT&T Unlimited Choice Enhanced $65 $55 $20 $20 $160
T-Mobile One $70 $50 $21 $19 $160
Verizon “gounlimited” $75 $55 $20 $10 $160
AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced $80 $70 $20 $20 $190
T-Mobile One Plus $80 $60 $31 $29 $200
Verizon “beyondunlimited” $85 $75 $20 $20 $200
Verizon “aboveunlimited” $95 $85 $30 $30 $240

*Sprint prices include a $30 discount on the fourth line that’s good through June 30, 2019.

Unlimited prepaid

Both Verizon and T-Mobile offer prepaid plans with unlimited data. Verizon’s “prepaidunlimited” plan is $75 per month. The “prepaidunlimited” plan lacks tethering and mobile hotspot support, and only offers standard-definition video streaming.

The T-Mobile prepaid plan, aptly named One Prepaid, costs $75 a month: $5 a month more than its postpaid One plan. T-Mobile One Prepaid doesn’t include support for LTE hotspot data and limits video streaming to standard definition. You do get support for hotspot data at 3G speeds and you can buy a high-definition video day pass at $3 a pop.

HD video vs. SD video

Sprint includes 1080p high-definition video streaming in its plan. However, Verizon only includes 720p HD video in its “beyondunlimited” and “aboveunlimited” plans. T-Mobile One, AT&T Unlimited Choice Enhanced and Verizon “gounlimited” plans limit video streaming to 480p standard definition (think DVD quality).

netflix-app-7922-001.jpg
All carriers now provide HD video streaming with their unlimited data plans.

Josh Miller/CNET

Verizon’s “prepaidunlimited” and T-Mobile’s One Prepaid unlimited plans also limit video streaming to 480p standard definition.

For more money, you can upgrade plans to include 1080p high-definition video streaming.

Mobile hotspot data

If you use your phone as a mobile hotspot. 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. Some plans like Verizon’s “Go Unlimited” give you unlimited mobile hotspot streaming at 3G speeds.

  • Verizon “aboveunlimited” — 20GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
  • Verizon “beyondunlimited” — 15GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
  • AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced —  15GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
  • T-Mobile One Plus — 10GB per month of mobile hotspot LTE data
  • Sprint Unlimited Freedom — 10GB 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
  • AT&T Unlimited Choice Enhanced — no mobile hotspot data

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: cost of phone, extended warranties, taxes, surcharges and activation fees — the last three T-Mobile has folded into its pricing. It’s also worth considering network coverage and the quality of that coverage, too.

https://cnet.co/2MAr9Hc

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