Each month, we go over the plans for both individual and families at the top four US carriers (that's AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) and decipher the marketing terms to find out which carriers have the best price for what you want. Since the November edition of this breakdown, Sprint and T-Mobile have restructured their plans. So it's definitely worth taking a look at.
AT&T is one of the only carriers that still does contracts. So you can still get a subsidized smartphone. Now with a contract, you can get 3GB of data for $80/month. Or if you're looking for a family plan for four lines, you can get 10GB for $260 per month. You can also go "contract free" and finance your phone through AT&T Next.
Now on AT&T Next, you pay nothing up front. Instead you pay for your smartphones each month. And those fees can be as high as $35 per month on top of your regular plan rate. With Next, you are paying $40 for each device to use data in your pool, if you have a data plan over 6GB, that drops to $25. So, for 3GB of data on AT&T Next for a single line, you're looking at $65. However you still have the amount your paying for your phone on top of that. And if you are using a Galaxy Note 5, that fee starts at $24.67 per month. On top of that $65. For a family plan, it gets a bit more confusing. For 10GB of data, we're looking at $160. But again, you still have to factor in the cost of those phones. Which can be up to $35 each.
Important note for those on AT&T's grandfathered unlimited data plan, in the first quarter of 2016, your plan will see a $5 increase from $30 to $35.
Again, Sprint has shaken up their plans. So now their plans start at $20 per month which gets you 1GB of high-speed data, which is then throttled down to 2G speeds after that. For $30/month you can get 2GB, $50/month is 4GB on up to $225/month for 60GB. They also offer truly unlimited for $70/month still. Additionally, if you come over from T-Mobile, Verizon or AT&T, Sprint will cut your bill in half (and give you the same plan).
So for a single line with 4GB of data, we're looking at $50/month. Now that's just for data, talk and text. Sprint also charges you a $20 access fee as well as the fee for your phone. For example, with the Galaxy Note 5, we're looking at a $25/month fee for the phone. So for 4GB per month, we're looking at about $95 before taxes and fees.
For a family plan, Sprint is doing data buckets, basically. Which are shared across all the lines on your account. However, when you raise your data cap, your access fee goes down. So at 8GB of data, it's $15 per line per month, and at 10GB of data, there is no access fee. So for a 4-line plan with 10GB, that would be $200 (in our example, we used four Galaxy Note 5's, all of which are $25/month on Sprint EasyPay).
Following Uncarrier X, T-Mobile changed things up a bit. T-Mobile announced that they have doubled their data caps. Going from 1GB, 3GB and 5GB to now having 2GB, 6GB, and 10GB of data. Now these prices did go up. So for the 3GB plan, we were looking at $60, the 6GB plan is now $65. So while you're getting double the data, you are paying $5 more. Not too bad considering the other perks that are included, like Binge On, Music Freedom and Data Stash.
Now, with these new plans, a single line will cost $50 for 2GB or $65 for 6GB. You'll also need to factor in the price for your smartphone each month (if you don't pay full retail), which is around $20-25/month for the flagships and quite a bit lower for the mid-range and low-end models. So that's about $70-90 per month. Not a bad price at all.
On the family plan side, T-Mobile is currently doing a promotion where you can get 2 lines with 6GB of data each for $100, or 4 lines for $120 also with 6GB of data each. For the four lines, you are getting the fourth one free, as 3 lines would cost you $120 per month for the same amount of data. And now remember, that you also need to factor in the cost of your phone, which can be as much as $20-25 on top of that price. So we're looking at around $200 per month for four lines with 24GB of data (6GB x 4) altogether.
Verizon is now contract free. And sticking with EDGE. That means that now you're paying around $20-30/month for a flagship device on top of the $20 for your device to have access to your data pool. Their new data plans start at 1GB for $30, 3GB for $45, 6GB for $60 and 12GB for $80. So for instance, if you want 3GB of data and the new Droid Turbo 2. You'll be paying $26 for the device, $20 for the line to have access and $45 for data. Which comes out to $91 before taxes. Now if you want to add additional lines, it'll be another $20 for that line plus the cost of the device. So if you get 4 Droid Turbo 2's that would be $264 for the 12GB plan (closest to the comparable plans at the other carriers).
There's more than just price when it comes to picking a carrier. It's very important to check out their coverage for where you live and work before deciding which carrier you should go with. As some might have terrible coverage where you are, and that kinda negates the amount of money you'd save by switching. A good tool we recommend for finding unbiased coverage is Sensorly. The information is crowdsourced by users like you, so the information is more up to date and unbiased.
If you want to avoid paying for a smartphone each month, you can buy one at full retail. There are a few great phones that are available and work on all four carriers. Like the Moto X Pure Edition, the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. That way no matter what carrier you sign up with, you don't need to get a new smartphone.