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Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint unlimited plans compared - CNET

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.

Last week, 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.

Thursday, AT&T changed its unlimited plans by adding its new WatchTV service that bundles 30 or more live channels to each. The new entry level unlimited plan is now $70 per month -- $5 more per month than the previous one.

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 21, 2018.

Data limits, prioritization 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 4G LTE data speeds can be slowed temporarily or for the remainder of the billing cycle. Some carriers like Verizon sent 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 >50GB/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 23GB 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:

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 One and Verizon "gounlimited" plans limit people to standard-definition video and only 3G hotspot support.
  • AT&T's Unlimited &More 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 limit Video streaming -- up to Unlimited data monthly cost Single-line data plan cost for 2 years Hotspot allowance
Sprint Unlimited Freedom 23GB/month 1,080p HD $60 $1,440 10GB
T-Mobile One 50GB/month 480p SD $70 $1,680 3G data speeds only
AT&T Unlimited &More 22GB/month 480p SD $70 $1,680 none
Verizon "gounlimited" none 480p SD $75 $1,800 3G data speeds only
T-Mobile One Plus 50GB/month 1,080p HD $80 $1,920 10GB
AT&T Unlimited &More Premium 22GB/month 1,080p HD $80 $1,920 15GB
Verizon "beyondunlimited" 22GB/month 720p HD $85 $2,040 15GB
Verizon "aboveunlimited" 75GB/month 720p HD $95 $2,280 20GB

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 $70 a month plan on T-Mobile actually costs $70. 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.

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:

  • 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.
  • AT&T Unlimited &More: $70 per month for the first line, $120 for two and $160 for four.
  • 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 &More Premium: $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 prepaid unlimited data plans with autopay discount applied

Carrier Data limit Video streaming -- up to Hotspot allowance Monthly cost
AT&T Unlimited 22GB/month 480p SD none $55
Sprint Forward Unlimited 23GB/month 1,080p HD 10GB $60
T-Mobile One Prepaid 10GB/month 480p SD up to data allotment $70
Verizon "prepaidunlimited" none 480p SD 3G data speeds only $75
AT&T Unlimited Plus 22GB/month 1,080p HD 10GB $75

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

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 check out our in-depth story.

Comparison prepaid unlimited data plans with autopay discount applied

Carrier Data limit Video streaming -- up to Hotspot allowance Monthly cost
AT&T Unlimited 22GB/month 480p SD none $55
Sprint Forward Unlimited 23GB/month 1,080p HD 10GB $60
T-Mobile One Prepaid 10GB/month 480p SD up to data allotment $70
Verizon "prepaidunlimited" none 480p SD 3G data speeds only $75
AT&T Unlimited Plus 22GB/month 1,080p HD 10GB $75

HD video vs. SD video

Sprint includes 1080p high-definition video streaming in its plan. Verizon includes 720p HD video in its "beyondunlimited" and "aboveunlimited" plans but not its entry level plan. T-Mobile One, AT&T Unlimited &More and Verizon "gounlimited" plans limit video streaming to 480p standard definition (think DVD quality). That means the WatchTV service you get on AT&T's Unlimited &More plan only streams shows at standard definition.

netflix-app-7922-001.jpg

netflix-app-7922-001.jpg

All carriers provide HD video streaming with their unlimited data plans.Josh Miller/CNET

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 "gounlimited" 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 &More Premium --  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 &More -- 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.

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.

Links to each carriers' unlimited plans: Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon.

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