When it comes to selecting a wireless carrier, a big part of the decision making process is the price, and whether the carrier offers the amount of data you want or need. With the US wireless carrier industry being so incredibly competitive in the last few years, most carriers have changed up their pricing and made things a bit more confusing. So let's break down individual line and family line plans for each of the four national carriers and see which one is really the best price.
With AT&T, pricing can be a bit misleading and that is because you are going to be paying a monthly access fee, as well as monthly for your device, on top of what your plan costs. The access fee is $20/month and for most smartphones you'll be paying around $25 or less per month. Now if you pick up the 6GB plan at AT&T, you're looking at $60/month. Add in the $20 access fee, and then if you get a Galaxy S7, that'll be $23.17. Making the total $103.17/month for a single line with just 6GB of data. However, there is an option for unlimited, which is $100/month, no access fee and that would make your bill $123.17/month.
For a family of four that's $80 in access fees per month. And if you grab a data bucket of 25GB to share among the four lines, that is $110/month ($190 with the access fees). If you don't bring your own smartphones and buy them from AT&T, you're looking at about $92.68 if you buy four Galaxy S7's. Of course, if you buy cheaper phones, it'll be lower. That brings your total to around $282.68 per month.
Verizon's plans are set up sort of similar to AT&T. Although there is no unlimited option, they do charge access fees for each device on your account. Which are $20/month for smartphones, it drops down to $10/month for tablets, smartwatches and other devices. Now Verizon doesn't have a 6GB plan, so we'll compare their 4GB plan, which is $50/month. With 4GB of data, and a Galaxy S7 (financed through Verizon Edge), you'll be looking at $98/month ($50 for data, $20 for access fee and $28 for the Galaxy S7). Now if you need more data, the next step up is their L plan, which actually gives you 10GB (it's 8GB but you get 2GB free for a limited time) and that will cost you $70/month, bringing the total to $108/month for 10 GB of data, which doesn't sound to bad, in the end.
When it comes to a family of four, Verizon actually has what appears to be a pretty good looking plan. They are offering 20GB of data for all four lines to share, for just $160/month. That means it is about $40/month per line. Keep in mind that this is before the access fees (which will be $80 total) and then the price for these smartphones. Then four smartphones would cost you around $114 if they are Galaxy S7's. Bringing the total to $354/month. Which is quite expensive, but that is one of the disadvantages to being on the best network in the US (according to multiple network reports).
Sprint makes things a bit easier. They offer one plan now, which includes unlimited talk, text and data for $60/month. There is no longer an access fee, so that brings the total with a Galaxy S7 for $25/month to just $85. Making it the cheapest deal in wireless for unlimited data. Things are still pretty simple when it comes to a family of four, Sprint offers four lines for $160. So that you add on four Galaxy S7's with that and you get $260/month for unlimited data on four lines and four new smartphones. Not too shabby.
It's worth mentioning here that Sprint's unlimited data isn't truly unlimited. They slow down your game streaming, video streaming and music streaming speeds. Which allows them to offer more data to more people at a cheaper price. But most things are pretty easy to do, and you'll get full speed. You can also pay more to get rid of some of these limits. It's very similar to what T-Mobile does with T-Mobile ONE.
T-Mobile actually has the easiest to understand plans, especially now that they have taxes and fees included in their price. So instead of paying $70 for T-Mobile ONE and then paying around $30 extra for various taxes and fees, it's all included. So someone with a Galaxy S7 on T-Mobile would be paying $97/month out the door. That's not bad at all. Now for a family of four, like Sprint, you can get it for just $160/month. Add on four Galaxy S7's and that makes the price $268/month. That's good enough for the best price in wireless - with taxes and fees included, Sprint is $260 but that is before taxes and fees.
Like with Sprint, T-Mobile does also throttle video at 480p, additionally the mobile hotspot is limited to 2G speeds. However you can get out of this if you pay another $25/month per line for T-Mobile ONE Plus. Another interesting tidbit that is worth noting is the fact that if you set up autopay, you can get an extra $5 shaved off each line per month. That's a big deal for a family of four, as that's $20 taken off of your amount due. Finally, there's also KickBack. So every line that uses 2GB of less each month, you will get a credit of $10. Which can really make this plan pretty cheap.
There are great things about each of the four carriers. Of course, if you are a heavy data user, Sprint and T-Mobile are likely your best options with their unlimited data plans available now. AT&T isn't a bad one either, but it's not as cheap (however they also don't throttle video, music and gaming). Of course, it's also important to check out the coverage maps of these carriers. While T-Mobile may be good in an area, Verizon or Sprint may be unusable, or vice versa. So it's good to check out crowdsourced coverage maps like Sensorly for this data.