The Best Phone Plans with Unlimited Data and Tethering
Though most people simply accept the plan given to them by their current carrier, the truth is that carrier plans have gotten extremely competitive over the last few years. Between solid prepaid offerings and some serious competition from upcoming carriers like T-Mobile, even the biggest, most stubborn companies like AT&T and Verizon have refocused their efforts on providing consumers some serious value with their plans. While some plans are most certainly cheaper than others, and some carriers have stronger rural networks, assuming you live in an area that features coverage from all four networks, you should find yourself in luck when it comes to picking a new plan—especially when it comes to picking a plan that features unlimited data and tethering.
Originally, most carriers throughout the United States offered unlimited data plans for a flat rate for any smartphone user, but with the rise of fast 4G LTE data, that all changed. With more folks than ever suddenly using data to stream Netflix, download files, and tether their phones Carriers went from unlimited plans to setting strict data caps, and offering users on family plans shared data buckets. Suddenly, data overages were a thing you had to worry about, tethering was an add-on option, and data plans got more expensive for less than what you were used to. Thankfully, both the prepaid market and a refocused T-Mobile came together to begin offering consumers additional deals that made it a whole lot easier to pick the plan right for you.
Nearly every carrier in the United States now offers some sort of unlimited plan, and tethering is often included once again at no additional charge. But not every plan is created equal, and you’ll want to make sure you know what to look for when shopping for a carrier. Though each network now sells itself as unlimited, there are often some secret or hidden limits to your service that can interrupt your service if you aren’t careful.
So what should you look for in an unlimited plan? Is T-Mobile’s plan really as good as what we’ve seen from AT&T or Verizon? Which carriers come with limitations, and which include additional bundles at no extra charge? And are any plans designed for family members? These are all important questions that we intend to answer in this guide to the best unlimited data carriers in the United States. Let’s dive in.
Postpaid or Prepaid Carriers
The first major question you’ll want to ask yourself is this: do you want to go ahead and dive into a relationship with a postpaid carrier, or would you rather stick it out with prepaid carriers? Postpaid carriers are the majority of what most Americans use, and all four national carriers—Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint—all use postpaid plans with their customers. Postpaid simply means you’re entering into an agreement with the carrier at the time of signup, and you’ll be sticking with that plan and paying at the end of each month until that agreement is complete. For years, most postpaid carrier agreements were held together with a service contract, typically for two years. You’d receive a phone at a lower subsidized cost, and in exchange, you would stick with that carrier for the two years you agreed. After that, you could change the terms of your service, or leave altogether.
Nowadays, however, contract agreements are more or less a thing of the past, replaced mostly by lease plans on phones. Instead of paying $200 or $300 down on your device as a subsidized cost, you pay either the full cost of your phone (whether it be $300, $600, or $1000) and the phone is yours, or you pay the cost of the phone over a certain amount of time (it depends on the carrier, but the average span would be about two years overall). When the payments are complete, the phone is yours to keep; alternately, you can typically pay on the phone for a certain period of time (twelve months, for example), then return the phone and get a new one from your carrier, with restarted payments. This upgrade method depends on the phone and the carrier.
Prepaid carriers, meanwhile, typically require you to bring your own device or to buy one outright from their store. Typically, prepaid smartphones lean toward the budget end of the market, though Samsung is pretty good about making sure the big prepaid carriers in the United States have access to their newest Galaxy S-lineup of devices. Carriers like MetroPCS, Ting, Total Wireless, and Straight Talk all work over other carrier’s networks, operating as MVNOs, which often means you can get top-tier plans for just a little bit of cash, though not every prepaid carrier offers an unlimited plan. For the ones that do, we’ll be covering them in our list below.
Are These Carriers Really Unlimited?
Short answer: no. Truly unlimited data died at the turn of the decade, with Verizon, AT&T, and eventually the rest doing away with their unlimited plans in favor of plans with set caps. And even then, those plans weren’t fully unlimited, often featuring soft caps that could potentially knock you off the plan if you weren’t careful. Current day data plans are a bit more open about their soft caps, though you’ll still have to read the fine print or use Google for a straight answer.
The two biggest limits come in the form of soft data caps that slow your internet connection for the month after you surpass a certain level of data usage, and limits on the quality of streaming video you can watch on mobile networks. Both of these depend on the carrier, so we’ll cover them in more detail below in a case-by-case basis, but the core of each of these plans limits the actual amount of 4G data you can consume to a number between 22GB and 50GB per month. Once you’ve passed this threshold, you’ll be limited by speed for the rest of the month. For most users, they won’t hit this limit; the amount of WiFi in most people’s lives covers the majority of their usage. Unfortunately, for a select group of users, you’re likely to find that running up on that limit is a monthly occurrence, and while you’ll avoid being charged overages for every gigabyte, you will have to deal with 2G speeds on your device.
The other issues comes with streaming video over your mobile network. Every carrier now limits the resolution you can stream video at while under their unlimited plans, and while not everyone will care about this, it is worth paying close attention towards. No carrier is aligned on this, so we’ll also discuss this in further detail for each carrier, but it’s important to know going into an unlimited plan with these carriers that you will likely find yourself watching YouTube or Netflix at 720p or even standard-definition 480p.
Should I Switch to an Unlimited Plan, or Stay on My Current Plan?
Well, that depends on your current plan. The unlimited plans offered by the four national major carriers in the United States can get expensive, especially if you have a family of four or more and plan on purchasing your devices through a lease, which often means that your account will increase in price. Several carriers, including Verizon, have done away with their employee discounts featured through manufacturing partners like GM or Ford, which often let customers have a reduced special price on their monthly plan.
If you fall into that category, you could see your price increase by up to 40 percent, a terrible bargain when considering your other options. Instead, these carriers have replaced these plans with introductory “rewards” schemes that offer you points based on the cash you spend them. Overall, it’s a downgrade, and a serious option to consider if your employer currently subsidized the plan.
That said, plans like T-Mobile and Sprint also offer additional additional add-ons with their monthly fees, which means for some consumers, it could save additional cash on certain options. Whether or not this is true really depends on your current situation, but for many, we expect users to find that sticking with their monthly capped plan will depend on how much data they use and how much more they can afford to spend on cell phone service.
So, which unlimited plan is right for you? There’s no obvious winner, especially since every carrier has different strong and weak sections of coverage throughout the country. Not every carrier has perfect coverage, and no matter how good a deal seems, putting coverage ahead of unlimited data is typically a smart idea. In no particular order, here’s what each carrier’s current unlimited plan options look like, complete with details on tethering, throttling, and pricing, and what you can expect from their coverage. Let’s take a look.
T-Mobile was the carrier that started the movement back towards unlimited data. The carrier has been focused on its “Un-carrier” promotion and advertising campaign since 2013, which largely worked to rebrand the carrier as a mid-priced, consumer-focused carrier that would fight for consumer rights. This has been, overall, a mixed campaign, with some critics calling out T-Mobile’s usage of zero-rating policies that stand in the way of the guidelines of net neutrality, something that does not affect wireless carriers. Still, reception to the Un-carrier plans have been largely positive when it comes to T-Mobile’s actual customers, and their refocus on building up their network reliability, particularly in cities, combined with a focus on affordable, simple pricing strategies has bumped T-Mobile from fourth place nationally to third. At 70 million users, both Verizon and AT&T have distant leads, but T-Mobile’s fate did turn around following their focus on new plans. Plus, the competition pushed AT&T and Verizon to both bring back their unlimited plans.
As one of the oldest sellers of these new types of “unlimited” data plans, it makes sense that T-Mobile’s would be the easiest to describe in detail. Last August, T-Mobile made the move to push all of their plans into one conglomerate plan for everyone, appropriately called T-Mobile One. There are some additional add-ons that we’ll cover below, but for the most part, every T-Mobile customer starts with the One plan that includes unlimited talk, text, and data. Let’s break this down: the “talk” portion of that plan includes all calls made in the United States; for users to call internationally on a regular basis, you’ll want to consider one of the add-ons we’ll discuss below. The “text” portion is perhaps the most unlimited option, with free unlimited texting in up to 140 countries. Then there’s the data portion: T-Mobile allows their users to consume up to about 50GB of data per month at normal speeds, by far the highest of any other options available on one of the four national carriers.
What else is included in the T-Mobile One plan? Well, for starters, mobile hotspot and tethering is here, albeit limited to 3G speeds. Your data can be used in both Canada and Mexico, up to 5GB per month of 4G LTE data without overages, which is a decent amount all things considered. Streaming video is included as an unlimited part of your plan, which means you won’t have to deal with overages because you were watching Netflix on the bus during your commute. Unfortunately, this also limits all streaming video to just 480p standard-definition; you’ll have to connect to WiFi to stream anything higher. Taxes and fees are included in the price you see when you sign up, which means there’s no hidden charges at the end of every month like you might find with Verizon. Finally, the two bonuses you gain with T-Mobile: the ability to use in-flight texting and one hour of free Gogo in-flight WiFi on compatible planes, and most importantly, a free standard Netflix plan that includes HD streaming and 2 screens at a time (you can also upgrade to the 4 screen, 4K plan and have T-Mobile pay all but the difference). That last bonus requires two or more lines on a plan, but is probably the best perk about T-Mobile’s whole One program.
T-Mobile’s plan starts at just $70 for one line. Like we said above, that’s including taxes and fees, but it doesn’t include device payments. If you manage to bring your own device, you’ll only be paying $70 per month for your plan overall. You can add up to four lines per plan, with each line reducing the price of a separate line (of course, at the same time, your bill will go up). If you add two lines, you’re looking at a cost at $120 per month for both. Three lines brings that total to $140 per month, and four lines brings it to $160. This, of course, doesn’t include either of the add-ons you can include in your plan. T-Mobile might make a big deal out of their “one-size-fits-all”strategy, but the confusingly-named One Plus and One Plus International. Here’s what both of those plans add:
- For an additional $10 per line per month, One Plus adds unlimited HD streaming (as opposed to the standard definition streaming included in the basic plan), though with the catch that you have to enable it in the settings of your T-Mobile app on your smartphone. Your tethering and hotspot access is upgraded to 10GB of full 4G LTE connections, though it should be noted that you’re returned 3G speeds after you run out of the 4G allocation. In 140 countries outside of Mexico, and Canada, where you’re already given 4G LTE with up to 5GB on the standard plan, you’re given access to faster data speeds. All this, plus access to Name ID to identify calls from unknown numbers, unlimited in-flight WiFi from Gogo-enabled flights, and voicemails to text. Considering the additional $10 per month, you’re looking at anywhere from $80 per month to $200 per month, depending on the number of lines and not including device leases.
- For an additional $25 per line per month, you’ll receive One Plus International. It comes with all the perks of T-Mobile One Plus, but also adds unlimited international calls, the ability to use your phone in Mexico and Canada without the 5GB data limit every month, and unlimited 4G tethering and mobile hotspot. At $25 per month, we really can only recommend it to those who travel often; it’ll cost you anywhere from $95 to $260 per month, not including device lease payments.
If you’re looking to lease phones through T-Mobile, you should know that their devices typically require a $30 monthly fee over 24 months for a total of $720, plus a down payment at the beginning of the lease to cover any additional charges (for example, the Galaxy S8 has a $30 down payment with $30 monthly charges). This typically means a user leasing their device will see their phone bill rise to about $100 per month; family plan users will see their bills rise to about $280 per month with all four phones. Finally, we should mention that a prepaid version of T-Mobile’s plan also exists. That plan includes the same unlimited talk, text, and data, 3G mobile hotspot speeds, and roaming capabilities, but reduces the free streaming video to free streaming music (with streaming video counting against your data cap and still loading in 480p). The plan costs $75 per month, and doesn’t require a contract or a credit check.
Overall, T-Mobile is a decent unlimited carrier, especially if you can manage to bring your own device or already have a device compatible with T-Mobile. Though their lease payments can make the service more expensive, the features provided by T-Mobile on their plan are actually fairly intriguing. Being able to use a fairly large chunk of 4G data in both Mexico and Canada on the base plan is great, and the inclusion of Netflix included in your bill at no extra charge is also welcomed. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that T-Mobile’s plans are easy to calculate. Every other carrier on this list has some form of hidden charge, tax, or fee that’s near impossible to calculate. T-Mobile keeps things simple, and even if their unlimited plan isn’t quite as cheap as some users may want it to be, it’s still a great option. Just make sure T-Mobile covers your area. They’ve been working hard at expanding their signal, but it still works best in urban and metro areas.
Unlike T-Mobile, AT&T still offers typical capped data plans that are a bit cheaper than what an unlimited plan costs. AT&T’s Mobile Share Advantage plan is designed with families in mind, but the page on their website is beginning to look a bit decrepit, and even pushed you towards their unlimited plans. In fact, if you were to walk into an AT&T store today, they might not even advertise the existence of these plans, instead keeping them around for people who meet their eligibility requirements or for folks who have been grandfathered into older plans. Of the two largest carriers in the United States, AT&T was the slower to reapproach unlimited plans, with Verizon announcing theirs ahead of AT&T’s roll-out. Still, it’s worth taking a look at AT&T’s plans; after all, nearly every phone in the world can work on their network, giving you the most flexibility when it comes to choosing a device. Let’s dive in.
The first thing you’ll notice upon diving into AT&T’s wireless plan page is that they love to push their DirecTV association. AT&T owns DirecTV, and uses that subsidiary to give deals to consumers who subscribe to both services. The top of their page is an advertisement for HBO, complete with video clips of Westworld and Game of Thrones. We’ll get to their HBO deal in a minute, but for now, allow us to focus on how much more confusing their plan page is over T-Mobile’s. AT&T uses more than half the entire page to advertise HBO or DirecTV deals, and even when you reach the checklist showing what their Unlimited Choice and Unlimited Plus plans offer, the first two options on the list aren’t data rates or information about texting and calling—it’s all about HBO and saving cash on your DirecTV bill.
Let’s do our best to break down what AT&T’s Unlimited Choice and Unlimited Plus plans offer. First, some caveats: unlike T-Mobile, AT&T does not advertise including fees and taxes in their monthly price, so it’s very likely your final bill at the end of the month will be anywhere from $10 to $20 more expensive, depending on where you live. Second, AT&T only gives pricing rates on their website for single lines and four-line family plans, though if you browse through their marketing material, you can find their official rates for lines with two or three lines. Finally, these prices also factor in paperless billing and autopay on your account; your price will be higher if you want a paper bill or don’t want to enroll in autopay.
Starting with the basic Unlimited Choice plan: for $60 per month for one line or “less than” $40 per line per month, you gain access to unlimited talk and text, along with unlimited data. You’re soft-capped at 22GB per month, however, and after you hit that limit, you’ll be throttled when you’re in a busy area with large amounts of data consumption. That’s standard for most carriers today, however, and while it’s a bit frustrating, there isn’t much else you can turn to outside of T-Mobile’s 50GB softcap. What’s more frustrating is how the Unlimited Choice plan throttles your 4G speeds no matter where you are or what network congestion feels like, not allowing your internet connection to increase over 3Mbps.
While we’re sure AT&T will claim most users won’t notice a difference in their capped speed, it’s still ridiculous to limit the speed of a network overall. Speaking of limiting network connections, streaming video is limited to just 1.5Mbps, or “around 480p quality,” similar to T-Mobile. Unlimited Choice does include data roaming and unlimited text and talk with Mexico and Canada on this basic plan, though 50 percent or more of your monthly data usage must be domestic or this service will be terminated on your account. Finally, HBO is included after two months of billing, and Unlimited Choice users can save $15 per month on their DirecTV Now plan.
Overall, we’d say the Unlimited Choice option isn’t great. For something called Unlimited, there’s simply too many limits here to recommend, especially when the four-line pricing is identical to T-Mobile’s own One plan. Unlimited Choice puts limits on your video streaming, your data usage, your overall data speeds, and doesn’t allow you to use mobile hotspot on your phone. It’s just not a great deal when compared with some of the rest of the services on this list, particularly T-Mobile’s own plan. At $160 for four lines per month, without including device lease payments, it’s hard to recommend.
That said, if you want to stick with T-Mobile, their Unlimited Plus plan does offer a bit more flexibility, so long as you’re willing to pay premium pricing. Unlimited Plus starts at $90 per month for a single line, a much more expensive proposition than both the Unlimited Choice option and T-Mobile’s One plan, and runs to “less than” $50 per line per month for four lines. For that cost, you still get unlimited talk, text, and data, along with the DirecTV discount (now extended to normal DirecTV as well, in addition to DirecTV Now) and free HBO, and the same roaming capabilities we described above. The biggest changes come from removing the same limits we discussed above: your speeds are no longer capped at 3Mbps over normal data usage and 1.5Mbps for video, and you can stream video over the network in high-definition resolutions. Of course, you’ll have to manually disable Stream Saver, which caps your video at 480p even on the more expensive plan. AT&T also adds the ability to use tethering or mobile hotspot features, with 10GB of 4G data per month allotted to your plan. Obviously, this is the better version of the Unlimited plan, but it’s unfortunate you have to pay so much to earn it.
Speaking of paying, let’s briefly break down AT&T’s pricing structure. Above, the phrase “less than” has been used twice, and that’s because AT&T markets their pricing as “less than” a specific amount of cash. Here’s how each bill actually works: for unlimited choice, a single line per month costs $60. Two lines will run you $115, or an additional $55 per month. After this, each line (which includes phones, tablets, dedicated hotspots or connected cars) will run you an additional $20 per month. So, for four lines, with included paperless billing and autopay and not including any device lease payments, taxes, or fees, your bill will run you $155 per month. Unlimited Plus, meanwhile, features a similar pricing structure: $90 per month for the first line, $145 per month, or an additional $55, for two lines, and $20 per line after that for any of the devices outlined above. So, once again, four lines with included paperless billing and autopay will run you around $195 per month. Why AT&T doesn’t advertise this pricing more widely on their standard site is confusing, but hopefully this clears up any confusion.
Is AT&T’s unlimited plan a good deal? That’s a much more controversial question than some might think. We won’t say it’s a bad deal, because for some, AT&T is the strongest network in their area, and those users are typically willing to pay more money in order to access a stronger network. However, our conclusion is this: for a network plan that’s using the word “Unlimited,” AT&T’s basic Unlimited Choice plan comes with a lot of limits. There’s a hard data speed cap on all data flowing through your device, and an even lower cap on any video streams. There’s no tethering or mobile hotspot to speak of, and the 22GB softcap is the smallest of any of the four major carriers. Basically, AT&T’s cheaper unlimited plan isn’t unlimited at all. In order to have a proper unlimited experience from AT&T, you’ll have to spring for the more-expensive Unlimited Plus plan; otherwise, you’ll be dealing with some of the harshest limits we’ve seen out of any carrier with an unlimited plan to date.
Sprint has a bit of a reputation for following along behind T-Mobile and performing similar plan and pricing strategies just a few months after T-Mobile has already enacted them. Once the third-place carrier, Sprint’s had a difficult few years. In the early days of 4G data, they incorrectly focused their energy on WiMAX over LTE, a plan that backfired when LTE proved to be the top consumer choice in the marketplace, despite Sprint’s WiMAX network launching first. Sprint had originally planned to buy T-Mobile about half a decade ago, though when T-Mobile began its “Uncarrier” marketing push and managed to gain new subscribers, the tables turned, with T-Mobile having pursued a similar buy-out of Sprint up until last month, when Sprint’s own board of directors turned down the offer. It’s been a tough decade for Sprint, but being in last place has made them more competitive than both AT&T and Verizon, and assuming your area has decent Sprint network coverage, you may be able to take advantage of some of the deals rolled out by Sprint as of late.
Though Sprint does offer non-unlimited plans for certain users, their Unlimited Freedom plan is the one they advertise heavily on their site. Like T-Mobile’s One plan, Sprint actually does a decent job displaying what their service offers and how much it costs, though some parts of their plan use temporary pricing that expire after a year or so, similar to what we’ve seen from cable internet companies like Spectrum or Comcast. Just as we’ve seen with T-Mobile pushing hard on their Netflix integration, and AT&T pushing with their DirecTV deal, Sprint has made an offer of their own with access to Hulu as long as you’re a paying Sprint customer. Sprint’s deal with Hulu is relatively new, and it’s unclear how long the plan will last—the fine print on their Unlimited Freedom page says it’s available online only through December 8th, less than two weeks away from the time of writing.
Unlike AT&T and T-Mobile, Sprint’s Unlimited Freedom plan comes in one single size for anyone who buys it. This means you don’t have to deal with any of T-Mobile’s add-on packages, or the limitations forced on you by AT&T when you choose their cheaper plan. Sprint even breaks down their cheaper pricing compared to the other four carriers, which makes it easy to do some price comparison on Sprint’s website. It’s worth noting that Sprint is, of course, a bit biased on their site in favor of themselves, putting up the most expensive versions of their competitors’ plans in comparison to their own, but what you’ll notice when looking at their singular plan is that the cheapness of their own plan is largely matched by plans from T-Mobile or Verizon while being several dollars cheaper. And there is some fine print to read, but not as much as there was when breaking down AT&T. Let’s jump in.
As with all of the plans on this list, Sprint Unlimited Freedom (or Sprint Unlimited, from here on out) offers the basic unlimited talk, text, and data for every user on a plan. As with every other carrier, Sprint prioritizes a user’s data speeds after a certain amount of data is used; in this case, it’s 23 gigabytes, an average amount when compared with AT&T and Verizon. Like with most other carriers, you’ll still be able to use your plan after surpassing 22GB of data, but you’ll see your speeds drop in congested areas or in times of heavy use. That said, unlike AT&T’s basic plan, your data speeds aren’t limited for regular browsing. In fact, your data speeds are hardly limited at all; you can stream video in HD up to 1080p, stream online games up to a rate of 8Mbps, and stream music at a rate of 1.5Mbps. For most users, those are fairly acceptable rates, and are much better off than the limits we’ve seen from some of the other competitors at their lowest prices.
Sprint also offers an allocation of 10GB per month of hotspot or tethering, VPN and P2P connections, followed by the ability to use those features but at 2G speeds. Again, both AT&T and T-Mobile require users either upgrade their plan payments monthly to access the hotspot at 4G speeds, or to access the hotspot feature at all, so Sprint makes a big win here. This plan also includes some basic roaming features for free with Sprint’s Global Roaming plan, which includes free calling and texting to Canada and Mexico, discounted calls and free texting to a bunch of other countries around the world (the full list is here), unlimited calls when travelling in those included countries, a free gigabyte of high-speed data usage, and unlimited 2G data when travelling around the world. You can buy additional high-speed data packages from Sprint for about $2 per day in Canada or Mexico, or $5 per day in most major countries around the world. Overall, it’s pretty decent pricing, even if it’s not quite as good of a deal as T-Mobile’s roaming policies. And finally, we’ve also mentioned the inclusion of Hulu with their unlimited plan, though how long that deal will last is up in the air.
Let’s get to pricing. Sprint Unlimited, as mentioned, just has one single tier, without the add-ons or additional plans we’ve seen from AT&T and T-Mobile. The plan starts at $60 for a single in line, cheaper than both T-Mobile’s One and One Plus plan and in-line with the AT&T Unlimited Choice, though in terms of features, closer in similarities to the more-expensive AT&T Unlimited Plus. Confused yet? That’s probably the point, which is why we appreciate Sprint keeping things simple with the one plan. Two lines on Sprint runs you just $100, and as for three, four, or five-lines are currently included for free through January 31st, 2019. That’s right—as of right now, you can grab multiple additional lines for that same $100 monthly fee when enrolled in autopay, and of course, not including device lease payments. That last bit is important, as Sprint is the hardest carrier to shop unlimited devices for, thanks to their reliance on CDMA technology and their relatively small user base when compared to other carriers in the world today. Sprint’s lease payments, like T-Mobile’s, average about $30 per month for flagship devices.
After the promotional pricing for your Sprint deal ends, additional lines run users $30 per month, a bit more expensive than what we saw with AT&T, but still a decent deal, running up to $190 for five lines and the same $160 for four lines we saw with AT&T’s limited Choice plan. Sprint is definitely a better value with one or two users, but even when the promotional pricing ends, you’ll be saving a decent buck. Still, Sprint’s network isn’t quite up to snuff as Verizon, AT&T, or even T-Mobile, so whether those savings turn into real world value or not really depends on where you live and what form of network connectivity you have there. Of course, if you’re looking for the best postpaid value in mobile, you can’t beat Sprint’s pricing. If what you’re after is the cheapest plans, regardless of the network, and you need unlimited data and mobile hotspot features, Sprint is your pick.
Verizon Wireless is the largest carrier in the United States, both in terms of its user base and in terms of the amount of the United States geography covered by its coverage. Needless to say, Verizon is often slow to change, having not brought back their unlimited plan until 2017. For many, Verizon is the must-have carrier; despite the high price of service, some areas simply only offer coverage on the Big Red network, especially if you live in a rural town. In fact, we’d bet that plenty of readers would rather pay extra for a service that works in their area then purchase the cheapest plan in the United States, only to drop connections in your house. If that sounds like you, you’ll be happy to know Verizon’s two tiers of unlimited wireless connections, first unveiled at the beginning of this year, don’t come cheap, but they are solid additions, especially for Verizon customers.
Unsurprisingly, Verizon seems to take the same approach to mobile plans as AT&T, offering two unique plans that offer different levels of “unlimited.” Verizon calls their plans “Go Unlimited” and “Beyond Unlimited,” and each comes with their own set of perks. We thought this was a silly notion with AT&T, essentially locking customers into an unlimited plan with nothing but limits, and it’s a bit silly here as well. Still, Verizon doesn’t go quite as far in limits as AT&T’s Unlimited Choice plan, and some of what Verizon has to offer is appealing. It’s not a perfect deal, but it is worth looking at in closer detail, beginning with the typical unlimited talk, text, and data policy. Unlike AT&T, however, Verizon won’t cap your data speeds through everyday use, offering the exact same 4G LTE speeds for normal browsing you’d expect to have on both the Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited plans. That said, there is a major change here: on the Go Unlimited plan, though Verizon doesn’t cap your data to a standard 3Mbps speed like AT&T, their plan does allow them to throttle your speeds during any kind of network congestion. The Beyond Unlimited plan, meanwhile, uses the typical 22GB number we’ve seen with other carriers, including AT&T. This makes Verizon’s cheaper plan somewhat better than AT&T’s Unlimited Choice plan, which always limits you, but it’s still bad, and is still a limit on something called “unlimited.”
Speaking of limits, as expected, Verizon limits Go Unlimited customers to 480p standard-definition video streams when on their mobile network. If you’re using a tablet on the Go Unlimited plan, they’ll allow you to watch 720p HD video. On Beyond Limited, meanwhile, streaming video on each device bumps up one level—you can stream 720p video on your smartphone, and 1080p video on your tablets. Unlimited hotspot usage isn’t much better. Unlike AT&T, which doesn’t offer any sort of hotspot features on their Unlimited Choice plan, Verizon does include mobile hotspot and tethering on their cheaper Go Unlimited plan, but it’s limited to just 600kbps, or roughly the equivalent of 2G network speeds. To get the full strength of Verizon’s 4G LTE network while tethering, you’ll have to upgrade to the Beyond Unlimited plan. Even then, you only gain access to 15GB of 4G data per month before being reduced to those 2G speeds, and you’ll be limited to 1080p video streams while using your device’s hotspot feature.
One final limit to speak of: despite every other network on here offering some amount of roaming data, voice, and texting plans for their consumers, only the more expensive Beyond Unlimited plans feature the ability to use mobile data in Canada and Mexico. The Go Unlimited plan offers nothing in the way of roaming plans outside of Verizon’s standard $5 per day offer for both the United States’ neighbors to the north and south, which is a bit of a ridiculous price when it was offered for $3 cheaper just a year ago. And if that wasn’t enough, even the Beyond Unlimited plan here has limits for roaming: after you use 500MB of roaming data in a day, you’ll be reduced to 2G speeds.
Right now you might be wondering whether Verizon offers an additional bonus service with their unlimited plan for their consumers. After all, T-Mobile offers Netflix, arguably the king of streaming video. Sprint offers Hulu for free, at least as of writing, and AT&T offers HBO and a discount on your AT&T-owned DirecTV plan. Verizon customers need not worry, however, as the company does offer you a free streaming platform you can watch without using an ounce of data: Go90. If you’re currently wondering what Go90 is, it’s Verizon’s “social video” application that has some exclusive shows and streaming classics like Veronica Mars. We’ll drop the facade: this is a joke of a “bonus,” and frankly, Verizon should get consider actually getting competitive with Sprint and T-Mobile on this front. Even AT&T, usually operating in parity with Verizon, offers their customers a pretty solid deal.
The pricing scheme for both of these plans will sound familiar to anyone that read our outline of AT&T’s own pricing above. Verizon’s pricing for their Go Unlimited plan starts at $75 per month for a single line, making it the most expensive base plan on this list. Two lines brings the per-line price down to $65 for a total of $130 per month, with three lines running you $150 and four lines just $160. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard to recommend this plan for the same reason we could recommend the AT&T Unlimited Choice plan—there are simply too many limits to refer to it as “unlimited” in any sense of the word. Instead, if you’re sold on Verizon’s unlimited options, you’ll have to jump for the Beyond Unlimited plan. A single line for that plan starts at $85, and two lines reduce the price to $80 for a total of $160. No, this doesn’t make sense when the other plan reduces the price by $10 per line, but that’s Verizon for you. Meanwhile, three lines on Verizon runs you $60 per line for a total of $180, and four lines will cost you $50 for a total of $200 monthly. All of these prices are determined when using autopay, do not include taxes and fees, and are calculated before factoring in device leasing, so a family of four on Beyond Unlimited may have a monthly bill of over $320 when estimating the usual $30 per month for iPhones.
Overall, Verizon’s lineup of plans aren’t great. They split up the original Unlimited plan into Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited back in August, less than a full year after the first—and better—unlimited plan had been rolled out. Go Unlimited is simply not worth the cost of entry, unless you absolutely need Verizon’s network and can’t afford the additional cost to bump up to Beyond Unlimited. For those users, we’d suggest choosing one of their capped plans that don’t feature data that can be slowed at any time. If you do want to make the jump to Verizon’s unlimited plans, you’ll want to upgrade to Beyond Unlimited. It’s expensive, but it’s realistically the only unlimited option on Verizon worth your time. Frankly, Verizon’s pricing structure and limitations on using their network are entirely in character for the company, and it’s a shame that both Sprint and T-Mobile weren’t able to push Verizon to offer some better competition.
After looking at all four national unlimited plans, here’s what we think. The first thing you should do is check the coverage maps on each of the four networks in your area and any areas you travel frequently (your workplace, vacation spots, etc.) to see if the coverage you’re looking for in your area is adequate for your needs. So long as you can afford it, you should pick the network that best suits your area; oftentimes, this is Verizon, specifically in rural areas. If you live and spend most of your time in an urban or major suburban area, you’re probably going to be covered by all four networks. In that case, we found either Sprint or T-Mobile to offer the best plan of the four, though T-Mobile’s improved speeds, reception, and coverage make us want to push for that to be the true winner of this contest.
The overall conclusion is this: you’re going to be paying a lot for unlimited service, and even more cash if you want to escape the unlimited fine text and catches. T-Mobile seems to feature the least amount of compromise, being fairly open about what you do and don’t get for your money. Verizon and AT&T both like to hide terms from their customers on their websites, making it difficult to find the truth when shopping for a new plan. Whichever plan you pick will give you unlimited talk, text, and data in some form or capacity, making it a toss-up that comes down to service and price. Whatever plan you pick, you’ll finally have access to unlimited 4G data on your smartphone. Just keep all those catches in mind before you sign on the dotted line.