So you’re getting ready to buy a new smartphone, but you’re not sure which carrier to choose. Deciding on a carrier can be difficult — there are a lot of different plans to digest, and sometimes it’s just unclear as to which company is offering the best deal.
We’ve broken down exactly what each carrier has to offer in terms of individual and shared plans. Here’s a quick look at what you can expect to get from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.
Verizon has a few different options for those who want to buy a phone on a two-year contract. With Verizon, you’d pay a $US40 fee that gives your smartphone access to Verizon’s network (this is standard across carriers) and pricing for data depends on how many gigabytes you need per month.
Here’s what Verizon has to offer. All prices are per-month. And there are many options:
- $15 for 250MB of data
- $30 for 500MB
- $40 for 1GB
- $50 for 2GB
- $60 for 3GB
- $70 for 4GB
- $80 for 6GB
- $90 for 8GB
- $100 for 10GB
- $110 for 12GB
- $120 for 14GB
- $130 for 16GB
- $140 for 18GB
- $150 for 20GB
- $225 for 30GB
- $300 for 40GB
- $375 for 50GB
- $450 for 60GB
- $600 for 80GB
- $750 for 100GB
These prices are in addition to the $US40 you would pay for line access each month. The latter bunch are obviously meant for large families and those that plan to share data across multiple devices. But if you can get by with 2GB of data, Verizon offers a flat rate of $60 that also includes unlimited talk and text for individual shoppers.
If you’re sharing data with a spouse or family members, you could get 10GB of data to share between four smartphones for $US100. Combine that with a $US40 charge for each smartphone, and you end up paying $260 per month.
Verizon offers a discount if you opt for its Edge program, which lets you upgrade your phone every year, by chopping $US10 off your data charges. So, if you opted for $US60 for 3GB per month, you would only pay $US50 for 3GB if you used Edge. The trick, however, is that you pay the full, unsubsidized cost of a phone. So, your iPhone that costs $US200 with a contract, actually costs $US650. That’s why carriers are offering discounts on data to make these programs seem more appealing to consumers.
BOTTOM LINE: If you use data moderately, the Single Line plan (2GB for $US60) is really the best option from Verizon for individual user since you don’t need to pay a line access fee. Verizon also offers the most versatile lineup of data brackets, which could come in handy for large families that need to buy a lot of data for the month.
AT&T’s pricing is pretty similar to Verizon’s options. The cost for each data package is fairly standard:
- $20 for 300MB
- $25 for 1GB
- $40 for 2GB
- $70 for 4GB
- $80 for 6GB
- $100 for 10GB
- $130 for 15GB
- $150 for 20GB
- $225 for 30GB
- $300 for 40GB
- 375 for 50GB
You’ll notice the 2GB option is slightly cheaper than Verizon’s ($50).
Just like Verizon, there’s a $US40 access cost for smartphones. However, if you opt for one of AT&T’s Next plans, which lets you upgrade every 12 or 18 months depending on your plan, you only pay $US25 per month for line access.
If you decide to use Next, bring in your own device, or purchase a phone at full price, you could opt for AT&T’s $US65 monthly plan. This gets you 2GB of data and unlimited talk and text just like Verizon’s, although it’s $US5 more expensive.
AT&T offers a few different options for those looking to share data between several people. If you’re using AT&T Next, bringing in your own device, or are buying a device at full price, you can pay $130 per month for two lines, $US145 for three lines, and $US160 for four lines. With that, you get 10GB of data to be shared between phones and unlimited talk, text, and data.
For those who prefer the more traditional two-year contract route, you can choose how much data you want to share from the options in the bulleted list above. You would also have to pay the line access fee on top of that. (Again, that’s $US40 for two-year contract phones and $US25 or $US15 for AT&T Next phones depending on how much data you go for).
BOTTOM LINE: AT&T is really pushing its early upgrade plans, which let you pay off the full price of the phone over the course of 12 or 18 months. Data on AT&T has a standard price, but there’s no real attractive bargain for those who just want a subsidized phone on a two-year contract. For example, you’d have to pay $US80 per month for 2GB of data with a phone on a two year contract. That’s probably you best bet if you use data moderately and want a two-year contract phone. Otherwise, if you plan on upgrading every year and paying your phone off monthly, the $US65 individual plan is a good value.
Sprint’s prices for data are cheaper than both Verizon’s and AT&T’s:
- $20 for 600MB
- $25 for 2GB
- $40 for 4GB
- $70 for 8GB
- $80 for 12GB
- $90 for 16GB
- $100 for 20GB
- $130 for 32GB
- $150 for 40GB
- $225 for 60GB
Similar to AT&T, Sprint requires that those who buy a subsidized phone on a two-year contract pay $US40, while those who opt for Sprint Easy Pay, buy a phone at full price, or bring their own phone would pay either $25 or $US15 per month. This depends on how much data you choose (if you decide on 20GB and up it’s $US15).
If you’re shopping for a new iPhone 6, Sprint is offering a special deal for single lines. You can pay $50 per month for unlimited data, talk, and text. If you’re not buying an iPhone, you can get the same deal for $60 per month, which is still pretty cheap for unlimited data.
Sprint is offering some other temporary promotions too. If you sign up for Sprint before 2015, you can pay $US100 to get 20GB of shareable data per month and unlimited talk and text without paying any access fees. Sprint is also offering to pay up to $US350 via a Visa prepaid card for every line that switches to cover your early termination fee.
BOTTOM LINE: Sprint’s data prices are the cheapest, but like Verizon and AT&T it’s also catering towards those who opt for its early upgrade plan. For single lines, the $US60 unlimited data, talk, and text deal is a great value. If you’re buying a new iPhone, it’s even cheaper ($50). But you can only get those deals if you use Sprint’s Easy Pay plan. The $US100 deal for 20GB of shared data is also a great deal if you need a family plan for around four people or so. The good news is that if you want to buy a subsidized phone on a two year contract, the regular pricing brackets for data are a bit cheaper than AT&T and Verizon.
For single lines, T-Mobile customers have a few different options. With T-Mobile, you pay for the amount of 4G LTE data you want. Once you surpass that cap, T-Mobile slows down your speeds. So you’re still getting unlimited data, but only the amount you pay for will run on its LTE network. Here’s how the pricing breaks down:
- $50 for 1GB
- $60 for 3GB
- $70 for 5GB
- $80 for unlimited
T-Mobile also offers a Simple Starter plan for individual lines that gets you 2GB of 4G LTE data and unlimited talk and text for $US45. While that’s a good value when you compare it to paying $US50GB for 1GB of 4G LTE, the catch here is that data is suspended when you go over your cap. It doesn’t just slow down when you hit your limit like with T-Mobile’s other options. Still, for the average user 2GB of data is more than enough to get by for a month.
For shared plans, T-Mobile allows you to add up to six lines. You can pay $80 for two lines, $US90 for three lines, $US100 for four lines, $US110 for five lines, and $US120 for six lines.
Those are all starting prices that change depending on how much data you choose. You can change the data allotment for each line, and select between 1GB of 4G LTE data, 3GB, 5GB, and unlimited. The data prices for your primary line remain the same as the individual plans listed above. But as you add more lines, those prices get cheaper for additional lines.
For example, if you have two lines, your second line would pay $30 for 1GB, $US40 for 3GB, $US50 for 5GB, and $US60 for unlimited. Additional lines get cheaper than that too. If you add two more lines for the four line plan, each line would cost $US10 for 2.5GB of unlimited 4G LTE, $US20 for 3GB, $US30 for 5GB, and $US40 for unlimited. T-Mobile is also offering a discount until 2015 that gets you 4.5GB of data for what you would normally pay for 3GB if you buy four or more lines.
BOTTOM LINE: T-Mobile and Sprint are the only carriers that offer unlimited data. So if having unlimited data is important to you, you’ll want to stick with T-Mobile. If you know that you regularly use around 2GB a month and are satisfied with that amount, you might want to try a different carrier. You can pay a little less for 2GB of high speed data at AT&T or Sprint. With T-Mobile, you’d end up paying $US50 for half that amount and then slow data speeds when to go over your cap. It’s also worth noting that T-Mobile has the most flexible options when it comes to sharing. You can hand pick how much data each line gets rather than buying a bulk amount for the month and sharing it.
So who has the best deal?
COVERAGE: It depends on what you’re looking for, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, you’ll want to make sure your area is covered. If you check out coverage maps for AT&T and Verizon, you’ll notice that the entire east coast and large chunks of the midwest and west coast are covered by their 4G LTE networks. Sprint also covers most of the East Coast, but leaves a few more open pockets in the northwest region. The case is the same with T-Mobile — there’s a big area in the northwest region around Montana that’s left uncovered, and the coverage map doesn’t specify which areas are covered by 4G LTE versus 3G.
You’ll also want to consider how fast these networks are. According to recent tests from CNET, Verizon and T-Mobile generally had faster average download and upload rates than their competitors. AT&T didn’t fall too far behind, but Sprint’s rates were much lower than the other three.
No matter how cheap a plan is, it doesn’t matter if you can’t get the coverage you need. The best thing you can do is find out which carrier or carriers have the best coverage where you live or travel the most.
BOTTOM LINE: If you want a traditional two-year contract and don’t care about unlimited data, try Verizon. The $US60 single line plan is a decent deal if you need your own plan and with moderate to heavy data usage. There are also tons of options on the higher end that can be shared between other family members.
T-Mobile also offers a lot of flexibility for family plans, since you get to hand pick how much data each line gets to use. Sprint and T-Mobile are also the only carriers that offer unlimited data, so if that’s important to you then you may want to consider their deals. Sprint’s unlimited plan is only available for the iPhone, however.