In the US, there are four major national carriers that provide wireless service. That's AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint. None of them offer the same coverage or prices, and that's where this comparison comes into play. We are going to take a look at the prices and plans for each carrier – and keep it as fair as possible – to see which carrier offers the best value for your cash.
Now the country's smallest carrier, Sprint has been looking to make waves in the US by dropping prices and offering up new perks to get customers to use their service. Currently there are four ways to buy phones (although contracts are said to be dying soon). You can choose to buy your phone on a contract, there's also 24-monthly installments where you are paying for the phone over the course of two years, and of course you can buy it outright. Some smartphones – like the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge – are eligible for Sprint's lease. Which is a 24-month lease and you turn in the phone when you're done. Much like leasing a car.
When it comes to their plans and pricing, we're looking at $20/month for 1GB of data, which it'll be throttled after you hit that cap. $30 gets you 3GB of data, $45 for 6GB, $60 for 12GB and so on. All of their plans do include unlimited talk and text. On top of that price, they also charge you $45 to access your data plan. So if you have a 6GB plan, that's $90 before you factor in the price of your smartphone. Which the Galaxy S7 is $25/month, bringing the total to $115 before taxes and fees.
These plans are basically data buckets. If you add a line, you're just adding another $45 charge to your monthly bill, plus whatever the cost of that phone is. If we look at the 24GB plan – as that is similar to the other carriers – that is going to cost you $80 per month. Add on the $45 access fee per line and that is $170 before factoring in the cost for smartphones, which can be about another $100, making it $270 for a family of four.
The third largest carrier, T-Mobile often times has promotions going on to lure in customers. However their pricing is pretty standard and easy to decipher. They have 2GB, 6GB, 10GB and unlimited high-speed data plans. These are priced at $50, $65, 80, and 90 respectively. It's worth noting that once you hit your data cap, you will be throttled down to 2G speeds, unless you are on unlimited. You also get unlimited talk and text, as expected.
Now smartphones do cost extra, unless you buy your phone outright. T-Mobile does not have monthly access fees for their plans. So if you get a Galaxy S7, which has a monthly payment of $27.92, and you put that on the 6GB plan (comparable to Sprint) that's going to cost you $92.92 per month.
Family plans are a bit different, and actually cheaper in the long run. Again, T-Mobile doesn't charge monthly access fees per line. Now if you get four lines with 6GB of data each, that's going to cost you $160. If you pick up four Galaxy S7's, that brings the price to $271.68. Slightly higher than Sprint, and at that point, it would be down to the coverage and service that the two offer.
AT&T is currently the second largest carrier, behind Verizon. Boasting over 100 million customers right now. AT&T has something for everyone. With data plans starting as small as 300MB along with unlimited talk and text. With AT&T, they don't have a 6GB plan, the closest they have is a 5GB plan which is $50 per month. Once you hit that 5GB of data, you will be hit with overages, which are $15 per gigabyte. So be careful. AT&T also charges a monthly access fee. Smartphones are $25 per line per month on 5GB of less plans, and $15 per line per month on 15GB and higher plans.
We'll continue to use the Galaxy S7 as our pricing model for smartphones. AT&T offers it for 30 monthly payments of $23.17, or $694.99 full retail. If you get it on AT&T Next, you can add $23.17 to your bill each month. With 5GB of data, that comes to a monthly price of $98.17, before taxes and fees.
For a family of four, the pricing is the same, however you'll be paying for each line added to the account. AT&T offers 25GB of data for $175 per month. Add on the $15 per line for the access fee, and $23.17 for four Galaxy S7's, that brings your monthly bill to $327.68. About $50 higher than both AT&T and Verizon.
The nation's largest wireless carrier has actually made their plan pretty easy to decipher now. It's named "The Verizon Plan" and has five options. You can get S which is 1GB for $30, M which is 3GB for $45, L which is 6GB for $60, XL which is 12GB for $80 and XXL which is 18GB for $100. Like with AT&T, when you hit that cap, Verizon will be charging you overages of $15 per gigabyte. Additionally, smartphones are a $20 access fee per line and per month.
With a Galaxy S7, you're looking at $28 per month on Verizon Edge. Which would mean that with a 6GB plan, that's going to be $108 per month. If you buy the phone outright, the price would drop down to $80/month.
For a family of four, we're looking at the 18GB plan for $100, plus four line access fees which is $80 and then four Galaxy S7's, which would be $112. Together that would cost you $292. That comes right in between AT&T and Sprint/T-Mobile.
As you can see, prices here are pretty much the same across the board, or within a few dollars of each other – other than AT&T's family plan there. This means that the other factors in choosing a wireless carrier even more important. That includes coverage and device selection. Coverage is arguably the most important, as you'll want coverage from the company you are paying each month. We recommend checking out a crowdsourced coverage map like Sensorly. As the coverage maps from the carriers can often times be outdated and thus incorrect.
Wireless carriers do a good job of confusing customers, but hopefully we've helped you to make an informed decision here.