The end of unlimited plans. Download speed throttling. Overage charges.All these scary terms have cropped up in the past year thanks to the huge strain networks are feeling now that everyone is rushing out to get a data-sucking smartphone.
(For a deeper look on the trend, check out this piece in the New York Times.)
Over the last year or so, both Verizon and AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans. Both networks charge you an extra $10 per GB if you go over the 2 GB cap.
For those who are lucky enough to hang on to their unlimited data plan, both networks will slow down your connection if you are in the top 5% of data users. T-Mobile still offers an unlimited plan, but it says it “may” need to slow down your connection once you reach a certain limit.
So far, Sprint is the only major U.S. network that offers unlimited data plans, but won’t throttle your speeds.
We took a look at the plans each major U.S. carrier has to offer, to help you decide which plan is best for you based on the way you use your smartphone.
If you plan to stream a lot of video or music over your 3G/4G connection, you'll need a beefy data plan to keep up. Right now, Sprint is the only major U.S. carrier that still offers an unlimited data plan and promises not to throttle your download speed.
Of course, based on the trend, Sprint's killer data deal may not last long, so take advantage ASAP.
Price: $69.99 per month
If you talk a lot during weekdays, it's best to find a good unlimited talk plan so you don't have to worry about getting charged extra for going over.
Pricing for unlimited voice plans are pretty similar for each carrier, so we tried to pick one that strikes a fair balance between talk, text, and data.
We think T-Mobile's Classic Unlimited Plus plan does just that. You get unlimited calling, unlimited text, and 2 GB of data.
Price: $79.99 per month
Most people who have capped texting plans probably won't break that barrier. It's tough to send and receive 1,500+ texts in 30 days.
However, if all you do is text, you'll need an affordable texting plan. Most carriers will let you text with others on the same network for free. Anything else will count against your limit.
Both Verizon and AT&T will give you unlimited texts for $20 per month on top of any other data/voice plan you choose. But we think Sprint is the winner with its Anytime 450 Minute Plan with Unlimited Texting. You get unlimited texting, and the minimum amount of minutes possible without breaking the bank.
Price: $69.99 per month
We've tried every major 4G network in the U.S., and Verizon is the fastest by far. At times, the connection rivaled the speed of our cable modems at home.
Verizon's 4G isn't easy on your phone's battery, but if you need a lot of speed for video streaming or heavy downloads, it's a no-brainer.
Price: Varies -- Plans start at $30 per month for 2 GB. You can pay up to $80 per month for 10 GB. When you go over your limit, Verizon charges an additional $10 for every GB you use. Click here to see all your options.
If you only use your smartphone to fire off the occasional e-mail, you don't need a monster data plan. 200 MB should do it.
AT&T's 200 MB plan is our choice. Just make sure you don't do anything but check your e-mail or you'll be charged a hefty fee.
Price: $14.99 per month.
If you travel overseas a lot, you're best off with a GSM plan. GSM is the technology most countries use. That means you're limited to AT&T and T-Mobile. Both carriers run on GSM networks.
Since prices vary country to country, check with the carrier before you go. T-Mobile tends to be the cheapest, so we suggest starting there.
Click here to learn more about T-Mobile's international plans.
Click here to learn more about AT&T's international plans.
For the greedy smartphone user, the one who needs all the data, texting, and calling he can get, Sprint has you covered at the best price. Not data caps. No overcharges. Just one flat rate.
Price: $99.99 per month.
You name it, Verizon has it: iPhone 4, Droid Incredible 2, Droid Charge, BlackBerry 7 devices, HTC Trophy (Windows Phone), the list goes on.
No matter what you prefer, Verizon has the broadest smartphone selection of any other U.S. carrier.
Well, at least for those looking for the most bang for their buck. As we said before, Sprint is the only carrier that still offers unlimited data and promises not to slow down your speed.
If you're looking for the best service, speed, and phone selection, Verizon's the best. (As long as you're willing to pay a premium.)