In the US, there are four national carriers that cover the majority of the US – they all have some areas where they don't have coverage. While their coverage is much the same, for the most part, their plans definitely are not. They are always changing, and adding in new marketing mumbo jumbo to confuse customers. Which means it's time for us to decipher what they are actually talking about, and see which plan is actually the best for you. There's been quite a few changes this past month – with Sprint and T-Mobile going all in on unlimited.
AT&T also changed up their plans pretty recently. Dropping the prices of the majority of their data plans. In fact, the 5GB plan that we used to compare (as recently as last month) is no longer available. So we will be comparing the 6GB plan this month, which costs $60/month. Access fees are a bit different too. They are now $20 per line per month for smartphones, no matter what data bucket you buy. Tablets and wearables are just $10/month. This means that for a single line, a user with a Samsung Galaxy S7 (that's $23.17/month on AT&T Next) would be paying $103.17 for 6GB of data each month, before taxes and fees.
Now when it comes to a family plan, their 25GB plan is still available, although it is much cheaper now. 25GB of data will cost you just $110 now. Which means a family of four, with four Galaxy S7's would be paying $282.68 altogether, before taxes and fees. That is actually a pretty significant drop over what it used to be. So good on AT&T for dropping prices on these data buckets.
T-Mobile last month, announced that they were only going to be offering unlimited data. For $70/month you can have unlimited data. But that also means that you're getting video at 480p and mobile hotspot will be at 2G speeds. However, you can eliminate that by paying an extra $25/month for HD video as well as unlimited mobile hotspot at 4G LTE speeds. The Galaxy S7 is about $27/month at T-Mobile, which means for one line, you're looking at about $97/month for unlimited data. Now if you want HD video, that will add another $25 and make it $123/month.
When it comes to a family of four, you can actually get four lines for just $160 or $40/line. Add in four Galaxy S7's which equal $108/month and that's just $268/month for unlimited data. And if you want HD video and faster hotspot speeds, that would bump it up to $368/month.
Sprint's plan basically mirrors T-Mobile's but it's just $60/month or two lines for $100. The same caveats apply as well, video is downgraded to 480p, so is music and mobile hotspot. We'll continue using the Galaxy S7 as our example here, which is $25/month on Sprint. That means for a single line you can get unlimited data for just $85/month. Those that are on a family plan, you can get four lines for $160/month as well. When you factor in the prices for your phones, that brings it to $260/month.
Surprisingly, Verizon is the only carrier that hasn't made any changes to their plans in the past month. Access fees are still here for $20/month per line. The Galaxy S7 is $28/month on Verizon, pair that with their 4GB plan for $50 and that brings your total to $98/month. If you need a bit more data, the 8GB plan is $70, and brings your total to $118/month.
With their family plans, remember that your data bucket is being used for everyone on the plan. So here we'll use their 24GB plan that is $110/month as it's the closest to what AT&T offers at 25GB. Add in four access fees and four Galaxy S7's, and we're looking at $302 per month. That does include 24GB of data, which is an average of 6GB per user. If you are afraid of going over, you can sign up for Verizon's Safety Mode which will keep feeding you data at slower speeds, but there won't be any overage fees.
All in all, the carrier plans are probably more confusing now than ever. However, it is nice to see that plans are going down in price. If you are just needing a single line, and coverage isn't an issue for any of these carriers in your area, T-Mobile or Sprint is likely the best way to go. But it's always important to check out coverage first before jumping to a new network. As not all of these networks are created equal. Checking out a crowdsourced coverage map like Sensorly is definitely recommended here.