Comparing AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, & Verizon's unlimited wireless plans for iPhone in 2019

Posted:
in iPhone edited March 29
All four of the major carriers in the United States offer competitive "Unlimited" plans, but they all vary in terms of what they actually offer to customers. AppleInsider compares the plans to try and work out what actually provides the better deal for iPhone users.




The mobile network business is extremely competitive, with all of the main wireless plans offering similar items, including "unlimited" calls, texts, and data allowances. While this is mostly true, "unlimited" really means LTE speeds for a certain amount before potentially being cut down to slower data rates, with the allowance varying between carriers and plans.

Carriers are also offering many extras to their plans that aren't directly communications-based, such as subscriptions to video or music services. Savvy shoppers may feel they can get a bit of a deal by going for such plans, with the money from not paying for a subscription directly offsetting some of the overall cost of the plan.

All four of the main carriers have similar unlimited plans at first glance, but as will be explained, there are quite a few differences to take into account when deciding where to spend your hard-earned money.

AT&T

The offering from AT&T hasn't changed much from the last time AppleInsider took a look at it, but this time under the $70 before taxes and fees Unlimited &More and $80 Unlimited &More Premium names that take advantage of AT&T's online television offerings. Both plans offer unlimited calls, texts, and data that work in the United States as well as for Mexico and Canada, as well as more than 35 channels of live and on-demand television.

AT&T store


The differences start with the data, as while both are "unlimited," AT&T's slowdown during times of network congestion for the non-Premium version can kick in from the very first byte of data, while Premium users are safe from such measures for their first 22 gigabytes in a billing cycle. The standard also does not have mobile tethering, whereas Premium has 15 gigabytes available per line.

There is also a difference in terms of the resolution of video that can be streamed on each, and again Premium customers are better off with 1080p HD streaming versus 480p "DVD quality" streams that max out at 1.5Mbps.

Premium adds in an extra bonus for subscribers, with the choice of one of HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, VRV, Amazon Music Unlimited, or Pandora Premium subscriptions.

Sprint

Last time, Sprint had just one tier of service, but now it is offering three: Unlimited Basic, Plus, and Premium, priced at $60, $70, and $90 before taxes and fees respectively. All offer unlimited calls, texts, and data usage, as well as free text and basic data when roaming in more than 200 countries, and unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada.

Sprint store


Basic provides 480p video streaming, upgrading to 1080p for Plus then "Full HD Streaming" for Premium. The mobile hotspot allowance also goes up with the price, from 500 megabytes for Basic to 50 gigabytes in Plus, and 100 gigabytes in Premium.

This data limitation also extends to roaming in Canada and Mexico, as while Premium users have unlimited 4G LTE data while in those destinations, the allowance goes down to 10 gigabytes and 5 gigabytes for Plus and Basic respectively.

On all tiers, users will find their data reducing from LTE to 3G speeds after exceeding 50 gigabytes of usage in a month.

One other add-on users could consider is the inclusion of streaming services. Basic has Hulu, with Plus adding Tidal on top, but Premium users also have Lookout and Amazon Prime at their disposal.

Verizon

Verizon has effectively kept their plans the same since last time, with three plans on offer. Go Unlimited is the basic service at $75 per month for one line, before taxes and fees, while Beyond Unlimited is $85 and Above Unlimited is $95. The primary difference is when each are subject to slowdowns caused by network congestion, with Go automatically affected while Beyond and Above have 22-gigabyte and 75-gigabyte allowances before the slowdown rules apply.

Verizon store


All do include an unlimited hotspot facility, but where Go is limited to 600Kbps, Beyond allows up to 15 gigabytes at LTE speeds before reducing down, and Above sets the tethering barrier at 20 gigabytes. Video streaming is limited to "DVD-quality" on Go, described as 480p, but the other two allow "HD" 720p streams through.

The three plans all have unlimited texts and minutes, offer usage in Mexico and Canada, Verizon Up Rewards, and a six-month subscription to Apple Music.

On top of that, Above Unlimited also has five "TravelPasses" per month for roaming using the device in 185 countries and 500 gigabytes of Verizon Cloud storage.

T-Mobile

As with Verizon, T-Mobile has kept its offering pretty much the same, with two plans called T-Mobile One and T-Mobile One Plus. The standard T-Mobile One costs $70 per month for one line, with Plus costing an additional $15. Unusually, T-Mobile is including taxes and fees as part of the plan's marketed cost.

T-Mobile store sign


Under the standard One plan, customers get unlimited calls, texts, and data, with a 50 gigabyte LTE allowance before speed limiting comes into play. Texting and data abroad is also included, with the addition of talk in Mexico and Canada, as well as mobile hotspot data, albeit at 3G speeds, and video is streamed at 480p.

Bonus items under the basic plan includes the standard Netflix plan, free texting from Gogo while flying, and other weekly freebies.

Adding Plus to the plan brings streams up from "DVD" to "HD," though the resolution is not specified, as well as a 20-gigabyte LTE allowance for tethering before dropping to 3G speeds. There is also unlimited in-flight Gogo Wi-Fi, faster data speeds while abroad, a Voicemail-to-Text facility, and Name ID, which tries to identify calls from unknown numbers.

Which do you go for?

Your primary concern has nothing to do with the features of each plan and everything to do with reception, as there is no point opting for a plan if there is no coverage for that particular carrier for where you live, work, or generally need to use your devices. While Sprint and T-Mobile tend to fare very well in urban areas, neither is great in rural locales, making AT&T and Verizon better bets for those who travel and need coverage everywhere.

The cost of each carrier's unlimited plans for one line, per month.
The cost of each carrier's unlimited plans for one line, per month.


For urbanites, the decision is less clear-cut as there's a lot of elements to consider.

If the amount of data you need to use is important, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Above Unlimited's throttling limits of 50 gigabytes or more are going to be the main attraction. For tethering, Sprint's Unlimited Premium is king, but with strong showings from Sprint Unlimited Plus, T-Mobile One Plus, and Verizon Above Unlimited.

The limits for each price plan before connection throttling can occur, and how much tethering allowance each offers.
The limits for each price plan before connection throttling can occur, and how much tethering allowance each offers.


The extra additions of each plan in terms of third-party services are also worth considering, especially in relation to the price of the plan, and if you already have a subscription for them. Bear in mind that it may seem like an attractive thing to go for, but going for a higher plan just for a non-telephony bonus may not necessarily be a good deal for you.

For example, Sprint's addition of Amazon Prime on the Premium plan may be attractive for non-subscribers, but you're effectively looking at a $20-per-month add-on for Lookout's security, more tethering allowance, and access to a service that would normally cost $120 a year on its own.

Also bear in mind that the pricing of the plans being compared are based on one single line, with all carriers providing discounts for each additional line on a plan. Families are typically better off if they have all of the lines on the same carrier through a single account.

The same price plans but with four lines on an account instead of just one.
The same price plans but with four lines on an account instead of just one.


An example of this would be Verizon's plans going down in price by $35 per line when there are four or more lines on an account. The $75 per month per line Go Unlimited reduces down to $40 for each of four lines, or $160 per month in total, just over double the cost of a single line on its own.

Despite the hype surrounding 5G, and each carrier's plans to bring the next-generation networks to consumers as soon as possible, there is no point considering these future connections as part of your buying decision for the moment. It will take years for the 5G networks to become fully useful to consumers, and with Apple unlikely to bring out a 5G-capable iPhone until 2020 at the earliest, there's still a while yet before you will be able to take advantage of the higher bandwidth on an Apple device.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 2,160member
    Apple Music is free on Verizon's Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans. You get 6 months free on the Go Unlimited plan. 

    https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/apple-music-faqs/
    edited March 29 forgot usernamechasmredgeminipa
  • Reply 2 of 18
    big kcbig kc Posts: 117member
    The T-Mo Senior plan should have been mentioned. For 55+, 2 lines of T-Mo One is $70 including taxes & fees. Only the account holder needs to be 55+ - second line user can be anyone/any age. Also, the Plus add-on for T-Mo is only $10 per line if for 2 or more lines. We switched to T-Mo 2 years ago after 20 with AT&T and have been VERY happy with the move. Saving a ton of money, customer service is 100x better, and coverage is nearly as good and improving all the time.
    williamhsportyguy209davebarnesgatorguylovemnGeorgeBMaccurtis hannah
  • Reply 3 of 18
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,884member
    AT&T's slowdown during times of network congestion for the non-Premium version can kick in from the very first byte of data, while Premium users are safe from such measures for their first 22 gigabytes in a billing cycle.

    Has anybody ever not experienced slower service during network congestion regardless of what plan is paid for?
  • Reply 4 of 18
    Aw....I thought this article was going to compare data speeds.....but that would be dependent on your location. I switched to T-Mobile recently due to my Apple Watch series 4 and there are still a lot of deadspots and I live a major metro area (Washington D.C.). The coverage in Georgetown (not where I live) is horrible.......but it is way cheaper then when I changed my ATT plan to get my watch active. The Taxes were killer. The bill end up being $150 a month (like 1/3 in Taxes). T-Mobile I'm paying $95 (phone, watch, and Plus plan).
  • Reply 5 of 18
    bulk001bulk001 Posts: 478member
    First, thanks for the article as it made me check what I was paying. I use T-Mobile. $60 each for the first 2 lines and $20 each for the next 2 and $10 per Apple Watch. With free Netflix and MLB.tv it is a pretty good deal compared to AT&T that I used to have. With 50 gigs before throttling, unlimited video streaming and 20 gigs of hotspot it is great for a family with kids that run YouTube 24/7 when we are driving. As mentioned by the poster above me, the coverage is not as good as AT&T but that has seldom been a real problem as we are mostly in city areas. 
  • Reply 6 of 18
    rcfarcfa Posts: 763member
    And exactly why
    don’t you mention GoogleFi?

    Pay as you go starting at $20/line up to $80/line for unlimited everything, including LTE speed data in like 170 countries, and one-time purchase data-only SIMs that count towards the same allowance, so for $80/month unlimited calling, texting, data on your iPhone and iPad.
    There’s even $20 off your first bill...
    https://g.co/fi/r/35DDA7
  • Reply 7 of 18
    For us, T-Mobile has 2 huge advantages:
    1. Old fart plan is very affordable as mentioned above by Big KC.
    2. Our phones "just work" when we get off the plane in western Europe.
    curtis hannah
  • Reply 8 of 18
    georgie01georgie01 Posts: 240member
    “...While Sprint and T-Mobile tend to fare very well in urban areas, neither is great in rural locales, making AT&T and Verizon better bets for those who travel and need coverage everywhere.”

    That statement seems to be more a relic of past reputations. From what I recall, the most recent OpenSignal report rated T-Mobile basically equal to Verizon in coverage. Anecdotally, there are times when my Verizon friends have better coverage than me with T-Mobile and times I have better coverage, rural or urban.
    bigpicsredgeminipacurtis hannah
  • Reply 9 of 18
    lovemnlovemn Posts: 50member
    If you are a Veteran T-Mobile is half the price of Att. And, their service is great. 
  • Reply 10 of 18
    bigpicsbigpics Posts: 1,371member
    I was happy to escape Big Red 5 years ago for T-Mob and I still am (and am in no hurry for them to absorb Sprint's culture).  

    Not just the service, which has been pretty great in all kinds of locales, but the quality of the store and phone reps.  My services have been increased and my bill cut several times during visits or calls - when it wasn't even what I was inquiring about.   E.g., I went to the highest level of service when I needed more tethering and they found a senior discount and some other wrinkle that not only gave me the upgrades but cut my bill by $5/month. 

    I'm also wondering if the cost chart factors in that their billed cost is with taxes included and the other three aren't.

    I only wish I could buy more tethered GB and be done with needing Comcast altogether.....
  • Reply 11 of 18
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,515member
    rcfa said:
    And exactly why
    don’t you mention GoogleFi?
    Because Google Fi is not a national carrier and not even remotely nationwide, durrrrr ....
    redgeminipacurtis hannah
  • Reply 12 of 18
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,579member
    chasm said:
    rcfa said:
    And exactly why
    don’t you mention GoogleFi?
    Because Google Fi is not a national carrier and not even remotely nationwide, durrrrr ....
    It actually does have nationwide coverage , but like you I wouldn't consider them a national carrier as such. They are really an MVNO, and not something to be considered in the same vein as ATT, et.al. for the purposes of this article. I agree with you that it's a different beast, more like a Republic Wireless with better perks and privacy (assuming your phone is Fi-ready and not just Fi compatible)
    https://fi.google.com/coverage

    FWIW my T-Mo senior plan is a better value. 
    edited March 29
  • Reply 13 of 18
    tribalogicaltribalogical Posts: 1,181member
    The T-Mobile One "Unlimited 55" plan is a great one for us older folks. You overlooked that in the article. Also, you didn't compare the prices for adding an extra line for Apple Watch cellular.

    I've been using iPhone since v1.0, so I suffered through that horrible first five years of the AT&T exclusive. Never going back to them. Ever.

    I had been using T-Mobile prepaid service since 2014. That was $40 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data (5GB a month at LTE speed, the rest in 3G). That was fine for me, until I bought an Apple Watch (cellular) last year.

    I switched to the T-Mobile One "Unlimited 55+" service, adding an extra line for the Watch. The base price is $55 a month for unlimited talk, text, data (throttles to 3G after 50GB), Netflix, unlimited video streams (480p), free roaming to Canada/Mexico and a big one for me, unlimited text/data in 210 countries. Base price for the extra line for the Apple Watch is $15 (actually under the 55+ plan any two lines are $70/mo before the auto pay discount, so you can apply it to Apple Watch or not).

    I save $10/mo using Auto Pay (direct from bank monthly payments), so my total monthly comes out to $60 for two lines, which is pretty great compared to most.

    As far as service coverage, I'm in an location that has both small-urban and semi-rural areas (Boise, Idaho). I've been up here for about four years, and although the coverage was occasionally lacking a few years ago, it's solid and entirely on par with everyone else up here now. The old idea that T-Mobile was behind on coverage is pretty much a thing of the past now.

    Finally, I can't say enough about T-Mobile's support and customer service. That is where they really shine. Compared to my experiences with customer service at AT&T, it's like night and day...

    Finally, I really like that T-Mobile states the price for the service, and that's the price you pay. No hidden fees or additional charges. I hated how AT&T charged a base price of $80/mo, then added fees and charges galore until it arrived at more like $130/mo for each line... outrageous!

    Anyway, I can't recommend T-Mobile enough. Price, service, support, perks... all good. (I'm not affiliated in any way, just a happy customer). If you're over 55, it's pretty hard to beat.
    edited March 30 Andy.Hardwakebigpicscurtis hannah
  • Reply 14 of 18
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,579member
    The T-Mobile One "Unlimited 55" plan is a great one for us older folks. You overlooked that in the article. Also, you didn't compare the prices for adding an extra line for Apple Watch cellular.

    I've been using iPhone since v1.0, so I suffered through that horrible first five years of the AT&T exclusive. Never going back to them. Ever.

    I had been using T-Mobile prepaid service since 2014. That was $40 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data (5GB a month at LTE speed, the rest in 3G). That was fine for me, until I bought an Apple Watch (cellular) last year.

    I switched to the T-Mobile One "Unlimited 55+" service, adding an extra line for the Watch. The base price is $55 a month for unlimited talk, text, data (throttles to 3G after 50GB), Netflix, unlimited video streams (480p), free roaming to Canada/Mexico and a big one for me, unlimited text/data in 210 countries. Base price for the extra line for the Apple Watch is $15 (actually under the 55+ plan any two lines are $70/mo before the auto pay discount, so you can apply it to Apple Watch or not).

    I save $10/mo using Auto Pay (direct from bank monthly payments), so my total monthly comes out to $60 for two lines, which is pretty great compared to most.

    As far as service coverage, I'm in an location that has both small-urban and semi-rural areas (Boise, Idaho). I've been up here for about four years, and although the coverage was occasionally lacking a few years ago, it's solid and entirely on par with everyone else up here now. The old idea that T-Mobile was behind on coverage is pretty much a thing of the past now.

    Finally, I can't say enough about T-Mobile's support and customer service. That is where they really shine. Compared to my experiences with customer service at AT&T, it's like night and day...

    Finally, I really like that T-Mobile states the price for the service, and that's the price you pay. No hidden fees or additional charges. I hated how AT&T charged a base price of $80/mo, then added fees and charges galore until it arrived at more like $130/mo for each line... outrageous!

    Anyway, I can't recommend T-Mobile enough. Price, service, support, perks... all good. (I'm not affiliated in any way, just a happy customer). If you're over 55, it's pretty hard to beat.
    +1.
    I'd do plus +5 if I could. 

    I will mention an option for the truly budget conscious, and from everything I can tell there really is little downside to them: Mint Mobile.
    I had my son on my plan until I went with the Over-55 T-Mo. Of course he wasn't happy (So?) but I found him this one where prepaid for a year was under $300. Don't remember the exact number but he's a heavy user and seems happy with it. 

    EDIT: Mint Mobile was better than I remembered. I just re-upped him last month since I have the credit card:)
    $240 for an entire year, no hidden fees. There's an even cheaper plan if you're good about using wifi when it's available: $180 total for 12 months

    It runs on TMobile's backbone too so if you're happy with their coverage I'd assume you'd be happy with Mint as well. 
    https://www.mintmobile.com/

    edited March 30 Andy.Hardwake
  • Reply 15 of 18
    The above analysis, while mentioning the fact that T-Mobile includes taxes and fees, doesn't really get into just how much that can save you every month on account of that feature, especially if you have multiple lines.  I had 3 iPhones and an Apple Watch on AT&T's premium unlimited plan - the total cost was $220/per month, but $40 of that was attributable to taxes and fees.  Switched to T-Mobile (all lines on T-Mobile One), and now I pay $130/month with no additional taxes or fees.  That's $90/month less.  There are a few differences between the plans - tethering limited to 3G speeds on T-Mobile One (I rarely tether anyways, and if I have a month where I need more speed, I can just boost that line to T-Mobile One Plus for $15 for the month), video streaming over the T-Mobile network is limited to 480p - but, on the other hand, I can use up to 50GB before the threat of being slowed, and I get some of the other perks from T-Mobile like in-flight data and limited international data free.  At least in my area, I have noticed absolutely zero difference in network coverage and speeds changing to T-Mobile, although I do live and work in the suburbs of a major metro area.  If I end up having less coverage in rural areas, I don't really care for a $90/month savings.  Zero regrets.
    edited March 30 curtis hannah
  • Reply 16 of 18
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,453member
    big kc said:
    The T-Mo Senior plan should have been mentioned. For 55+, 2 lines of T-Mo One is $70 including taxes & fees. Only the account holder needs to be 55+ - second line user can be anyone/any age. Also, the Plus add-on for T-Mo is only $10 per line if for 2 or more lines. We switched to T-Mo 2 years ago after 20 with AT&T and have been VERY happy with the move. Saving a ton of money, customer service is 100x better, and coverage is nearly as good and improving all the time.
    I agree, The T-Mobile senior plan(s) should have been mentioned.   In addition to the 2 line plan they also have a single line version for $50 -- although they don't make it obvious and you might have to look for it or ask for it.

    In addition resellers should also be considered (except few offer Unlimited plans which is what this article is comparing).  But, if you don't need unlimited data, they can save many hundreds each year.  Consumer Cellular offers Unlimited talk & text with 5Gb of data for $40/month.  Or, 10Gb for $10 more -- or 20Gb for another $10.   And, you can change plans monthly as needed.
  • Reply 17 of 18
    A couple of things about Verizon, with one mentioned above:

    Apple Music is fully included in the Beyond and Above Unlimited plans. 

    Go Unlimited not only could be throttled from day one, but also delivers substantially slower speeds no matter what. Verizon also allows you to choose which of the unlimited plans you want per line, so the pricing isn’t cut and dry for a family plan. 

    When we first switched from Sprint to Verizon (I was tired of roaming on Verizon when I traveled, so might as well just get Verizon), we had Go Unlimited. Overall data speeds made Sprint seem fast (not that Sprint was all that terrible). After Verizon started the “mix & match” unlimited plans, we changed a few things around. Our primary lines were bumped to Beyond Unlimited, and our business and my mom’s phones were left on Go Unlimited, as their demands are far less than our primary lines. I can often hit over 100Mbps in town with Beyond, where Go barely broke 15Mbps. 

    As for T-Mobile, I had my old iPad Pro setup on prepaid for a little while. I had it playing Apple Music on a trip I take monthly, which is very rural through the mountains of PA and south-western NY. To my surprise, T-Mobile actually had better coverage in many areas than Verizon, Sprint or AT&T, based on my experience with those carriers. If Verizon gets to the point of making me switch, T-Mobile will be it. 
  • Reply 18 of 18
    Johan42Johan42 Posts: 163member
    Apple Music is free on Verizon's Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans. You get 6 months free on the Go Unlimited plan. 

    https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/apple-music-faqs/
    “Free”

    Price-per-month too high for it to be considered free.
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