In the ever changing wireless industry, the four national carriers - that'd be AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon - are constantly changing up their plans as well as adding new features for customers to take advantage of. A lot of this is marketing speak, but we're here to get through all the marketing speak and see which carrier would give you the best price based on your needs.
Since our last installment of this monthly Smartphone Plans, AT&T has dropped contracts. So your choices are either to buy a smartphone through installments on AT&T Next, or to buy the phone outright. With AT&T Next, you are paying for your smartphone each month, and the installment prices vary based on what phone you buy. The prices can be as high as $35 per month per device. On top of that you are also paying $25 per month for each device to use your plan. For example, for 5GB of data you're looking at $50 per month for the data plus $25 which brings the total to $75 along with the price for your smartphone. If we use the Galaxy S6 Edge+ as an example, that's $27.17/month and would bring the total to $102.17 for 5GB of data.
For family plans, it's largely the same but there's more math involved. If you choose more than 5GB of data, the access fee drops from $25 to $15 per month per device. We'll use the 15GB plan as our example here. Which is $100/month. For a family of four, that would be $60 in access fees ($15x4=$60) along with the amount for the phones on each line. Using the Galaxy S6 Edge+ as an example again, that would bring the total to $268.68.
AT&T also added Unlimited data again. The cap is 22GB and throttled beyond that. However there is a caveat here, you will need to subscribe to DirecTV. On the wireless side, unlimited data will cost you $100 + $40 for the access fee and the price of your smartphone. So it's not cheap, especially when you add in the price for DirecTV.
Sprint's plans start out pretty cheap, with $20 per month netting you 1GB of high-speed data (which is throttled afterwards). At $50/month you can get 4GB of data and go on up to 60GB for $225/month. Now you also have a $20 access fee for your smartphone and the leasing price. Many of the flagships are around $25/month. Which brings the total for the 4GB plan to $95. That also includes unlimited talk and text.
On the family plan side of things. Sprint has data buckets. So what happens is you pay for a data bucket, and all of the devices on your account will use data from that bucket. If you have 10GB of data, and 5 devices, those 5 devices will be using the data, and it's not split up to 2GB each. A 4-line plan here on Sprint with 10GB of data and four Galaxy Note 5's, we're looking at $200 each month, before taxes.
T-Mobile recently changed their data buckets, effectively doubling them all. Offering 2GB, 6GB and 10GB of data along with unlimited data still being available. With T-Mobile, there are no access fees each month. So you pay the amount for your plan plus your smartphone (unless you bought it outright). The 2GB plan, for example is $50 and the LG V10 which is $25/month and brings the total to $75/month. For the 6GB plan, you'll be looking at $90/month.
For family plans, they work pretty much the same way. Now with T-Mobile, there isn't a data bucket, data is actually per line, and you can choose from 2GB, 6GB, 10GB or unlimited for each device. 2GB for each line would cost you $100 per month. However T-Mobile has a better deal going on right now.
T-Mobile has a special sale right now, where you can get 6GB of 4G LTE data for two lines for just $100/month or 6GB of 4G LTE data for four lines for $140/month. And remember this is 6GB for each line.
Verizon has also gone contract free (although they weren't last to do so). So with Verizon you are either buying a smartphone at retail price or on installments through EDGE. Installment plans can be as high as $30, as with the other carriers, it all depends on what smartphone you buy. On top of that you have a $20 access fee. Verizon has also opted to go down to just four data plans. Which are 1GB for $30, 3GB for $45, 6GB for $60 and 12GB for $80.
Family plans are rather simple here actually. Data prices are the same, you just add another $20 access fee to each line along with the EDGE pricing. So for a four line plan on the 12GB plan, that would be $160 before the price of your smartphones are factored in.
When it comes to picking your carrier, or jumping networks, it's always important to look at their coverage as well as their pricing. The table above should help give you a better idea on who has the best pricing. While you can check out Sensorly's maps for unbiased coverage of all four networks (and many others outside of the US).