Compare the differences between Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint plans to see which plan from the "big 4" major carriers is best for your needs. Wirefly makes it simple to compare plans using our guide. Compare AT&T vs. T-Mobile vs. Sprint vs. Verizon Wireless plans below, then read on for a more in-depth comparison and review.
What's the Difference Between Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint?
No matter what type of cell phone you purchase, you will need to consider the carrier plan that comes with it. You’ll want to ask the questions that are important, such as what plan is the most affordable? How much are the extra lines? Should I choose a postpaid or a prepaid plan? You can ask us these questions and more right here.
Which Carrier Offers the Cheapest Plans?
All of the national carriers offer their customers unlimited texting and talk, so you will more than likely look at how much data costs when you make your decision. Unfortunately, you have to look at each carrier, as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all have slightly different data plans.
You can compare the total cost of your plan over two years with each carrier, except for T-Mobile, who is the “uncarrier” plan, which will be discussed in more detail later. Read on for more information on this.
The total cost for the AT&T Next Every Year Plan with a new phone and for a two-year contract would be $2,115, or $88/month. This breaks down into a one-time activation fee of $25, $27/month for the new phone, $20/month for the monthly access charge, and 3GB of data at $40/month.
The Verizon Plan with a new phone and for a two-year contract would be $1,998, or $83/month. This breaks down into a one-time activation fee of $30, $27/month for the new phone, $20/month for the monthly access charge, and 5GB of data at $35/month.
The Sprint Installment Plan with a new phone and for a two-year contract would be $1,880, or $78/month. This breaks down into a one-time activation fee of $25, $27/month for the new phone, $25/month for the monthly access charge, and 3GB of data at $35/month.
The Sprint 18 Month Lease with a new phone and for a two-year contract would be $1,418, or $79 a month for 18 months. This breaks down into a one-time activation fee of $25, $27/month for the new phone, $25/month for the monthly access charge, and 3GB of data at $25/month.
As of today, all of the four carriers offer customers unlimited data plans.
What is the deal with T-Mobile and their unlimited data plans?
T-Mobile was not included in the previous section of carriers since they only have an unlimited data plan. However, every choice now has an unlimited plan that they offer to their customers. AT&T has two different unlimited plans to choose from: Unlimited Choice at $60 per month and Unlimited Plus at $90 per month. Sprint comes in the lowest at $50 per month, with T-Mobile offering $70 per month plans and Verizon $80 per month plans.
The Unlimited Choice plan with AT&T will limit customers to standard definition video, does not have a hotspot data allowance and has data speeds that are capped at three megabits per second. Upgrading to the Unlimited Plus plan gets past the Unlimited Choice plan’s limits. Simply turn their Stream Saver off to get to high-definition video. It also includes 10GB of hotspot data prior to the speed slowing down.
Understanding the different costs between carriers of a new phone compared to having a single line with an unlimited data plan will be summarized as follows. All plans are compared with the purchase of a new $649 cell phone. With AT&T Plus, data will be throttled after 22GB/month. A one-time activation fee of $25 is applied to a new account, monthly cost of the cell phone is $27/month, the unlimited data monthly cost is $90/month, and the total cost for the single line over two years comes to $2,834, or $118/month. With Verizon, data will be throttled after 22GB/month. A one-time activation fee of $30 is applied to a new account, monthly cost of the cell phone is $27/month, the unlimited data monthly cost is $80/month, and the total cost for the single line over two years comes to $2,599, or $108/month. With T-Mobile ONE, data will be throttled after 30GB/month. A one-time activation fee of $20 is applied to a new account (SIM starter kit), monthly cost of the cell phone is $26/month with $26 due upfront, the unlimited data monthly cost is $70/month, and the total cost for the single line over two years comes to $2,350, or $98/month.
With AT&T Unlimited Plus, data may be throttled after 22GB/month. A one-time activation fee of $25 is applied to a new account, monthly cost of the cell phone is $27/month, the unlimited data monthly cost is $60/month, and the total cost for the single line over two years comes to $2,114, or $88/month. With Sprint, data will be throttled after 23GB/month. A one-time activation fee of $30 is applied to a new account, monthly cost of the cell phone is $27/month, the unlimited data monthly cost is $50/month through March of 2018 and then is $60/month, and the total cost for the single line over two years comes to $1,999, or $83/month.
Remember, there is some fine print with these plans:
Every plan will include a five dollar per month discount if you set up automatic payments.
At the time of this publication, Sprint’s $50/month promotion prices expires on March 31, 2018 and a single line plan rises to $60/month.
Sprint, Verizon and AT&T plans don’t include the taxes, surcharges and any additional fees. Depending on your geographical area, these can be high.
AT&T Choice only offers standard definition video streaming, whereas AT&T Unlimited Plus, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all include high-definition video streaming for each plan.
After 22GB, AT&T and Verizon will limit priority access and data speeds. T-Mobile limits speeds after 30GB and Sprint after 23GB.
Every carrier includes a mobile hotspot allowance when you purchase an unlimited plan, except for AT&T Unlimited Choice, which doesn't include a hotspot.
The additional line costs for various plans vary greatly with each carrier. With AT&T Unlimited Choice and Unlimited Plus, consumers can get a second line added for $55/month and any additional lines up to 10 for $20/month, unless it is for a wearable, when it changes to $10/month. With Sprint, consumers can have three, four or five lines for free until March 21, 2018 and then the unlimited plan will change back to the old pricing. This is $60 each month for the first line, $40 each month for the second and $30 per month for the third and up to fifth. Verizon offers their second line for $60/month, with the third line at $22 and the fourth at $18. T-Mobile offers their second line at $30/month, with their third at $41 and the fourth at $19/month.
All plans include a $5 per month discount for autopay, except for AT&T, which offers a monthly discount of $10.
Comparing Prepaid and Postpaid Deals
For now, every carrier plan mentioned here has been postpaid, meaning you pay monthly after the service is used. With a prepaid plan, you pay in advance for the amount of data you believe you will use. You can buy more if needed. A prepaid plan will not have a contract and can be ended at any time.
Prepaid plans are less expensive because there is no monthly line access fee. With a postpaid plan, you can spend at least $600 for this fee over two years. Carriers charge more for data use to make up for this fee. With AT&T and T-Mobile, their prepaid plans will save you cash when compared to postpaid, while Verizon’s plan is similar in cost comparing the two. Sprint’s plans are both very inexpensive, but going with a prepaid one can save you hundreds. You simply have to refill your data plan every month. One downside of prepaid plans is the lack of multiple lines or family options, and there may be fewer options for the actual cell phones themselves.
T-Mobile offers a $20 SIM starter kit and 3GB for $40/month, coming to a total of $980 for two years. AT&T offers a one-time activation fee of $25 plus five dollars for the SIM card for 3GB for $40/month, for a total two-year cost of $990. Sprint has a $0 activation fee, offers 3GB for $45/month, for a total of $1,080 for two years. Verizon also offers a $0 activation fee, 5GB for $50/month, for a total of $1,250 for two years.
Every major US carrier offers consumers $5 off of their bill for automatically taking payments from their accounts. This can save customers $120 over two years, but Verizon offers this discount only for their unlimited plan and a few single line plans. Unlimited plans of AT&T users can enjoy the discount, and an unlimited data plan with multiple lines will have a $10/month discount.
Choosing the Right Plan
This information has been geared towards the major carriers, but some smaller carrier’s pricing for plans may be competitive. You may want to ask your family and friends their thoughts and experiences when it comes to their own plans to get an idea of who works the best in your area. This is a good plan if you need a sharing or family plan. If you believe you are paying too much for your current plan, it is best to start shopping around. But if you are happy with what you have, consider staying with that carrier and plan. You can compare all cell phone plans at Wirefly as well to find other alternatives besides the "big 4" carriers.
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