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The Best Phone Plans with Unlimited Data and Tethering

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The Best Phone Plans with Unlimited Data and Tethering
The BEST Phone Plans for Unlimited Data!

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 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 5G data, that all changed. With more users 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 last 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 on 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 come 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 to. 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 major national 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 subsidizes the plan.

That said, plans like T-Mobile and Sprint also offer add-ons with their monthly fees, which means for some consumers, it could save you some cash on certain services you might already use. 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.

01 T-Mobile Magenta & Magenta MAX

As one of the oldest sellers of these new types of “unlimited” data plans, it makes sense that T-Mobile’s plans would be the easiest to describe in detail. In 2019, T-Mobile rebranded its One program as “Magenta,” completely changing the cost and benefits of its plans. T-Mobile now offers three unlimited plans with three distinct values, and they do come in a bit cheaper than the competition.

Their cheapest unlimited option is Essentials, which costs $60 for a single line and delivers unlimited text, talk, and data, 480p video streaming, support for 2G data usage in Mexico and Canada, and 3G mobile hotspot data. As always, your unlimited data is throttled in times of network c mongestion, and if you useore than 50GB of data in a month, you’ll find your speeds restricted. Generally speaking, this is similar to the $70 plans offered by AT&T and Verizon, which makes this a decent choice for consumers looking to save a bit of cash if they live in strong T-Mobile areas.

Still, if you’re focused on hotspot usage, you’ll want to at least upgrade to the Magenta plan, which runs you $70 per month. You still get unlimited text, talk, and data, but your data won’t be throttled in congested areas until you pass 100GB of premium data consumption per month. Aside from the premium data, you get unlimited 3G mobile hotspot data and 5GB of high-speed mobile hotspot data. The plan also offers unlimited standard 5G and 4G LTE high-speed data. Your streaming is still capped at 480p, however, so if you’re looking to watch HD content on the go, this isn’t the plan for you.

Finally, T-Mobile’s Magenta MAX plan is their top-tier option, advertised as a premium offering and going toe-to-toe with Verizon and AT&T’s most expensive plans. At $85 for a single line, it doesn’t come cheap. You get everything from the Magenta plan, plus an upgrade to unlimited premium data, 4K UHD video streaming, 40GB of high-speed hotspot data, a basic Netflix subscription, an Apple TV+ subscription, a one-year Paramount+ subscription, and unlimited in-flight WiFi. You also get Scam Shield Premium and Voicemail to Text with this plan, though those are fairly expected features for such an expensive option.

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. 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 plans aren’t quite as cheap as some users may want them 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 environments.

Pros

  • Lots of data per month
  • Unlimited talk and text
  • 5G access
  • Excellent nationwide coverage

Cons

  • Mobile hotspot slows down after hitting the data cap
  • Only the Magenta MAX plan can stream 4K UHD video
  • Magenta plan users get reduces speeds after surpassing 100GB

Specification

  • Price $70 and 85 per month
  • Premium Data Unlimited
  • Talk & Text Unlimited
  • Hotspot 5GB/40GB high-speed mobile hotspot
T-Mobile Magenta & Magenta MAX

02 AT&T Starter, Extra, and Premium

AT&T carries the privilege of being one of the biggest carriers in the United States, providing service to more than 100 million subscribers. After a failed attempt to buy T-Mobile in 2011, AT&T has continued to push its own partnership with other AT&T-owned properties, including HBO. Like Verizon, which we’ll cover further down in this guide, AT&T offers some pretty solid service, and thanks to their older 3G GSM network, almost every mobile device works on their network without issue, meaning you can bring your device to the network and gain service with a SIM card without any sort of issue.

Of course, AT&T also remains fairly expensive to buy into, though its price has dropped in the past several years. AT&T has three options to choose from, just like T-Mobile. The first is their most basic unlimited plan, which features plenty of limitations and drawbacks. AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan includes throttled 5G data at an unlimited rate per month, standard definition video streaming at 480p, roaming in Canada and Mexico, along with international texting. However, this plan only includes 3Gb of hotspot data per month, which means, for our purposes, it’s practically useless. Instead, you’ll have to jump to one of AT&T’s two other plans: Unlimited Extra or Unlimited Premium. These plans cost, respectively, $40 and $50 per month, and both will likely work depending on your hotspot needs. Unlimited Extra provides users with 50GB of premium data, along with 15GB of fast hotspot data that should keep most people covered throughout the month. If you require more data for your hotspot, however, you’ll have to jump to the Unlimited Premium plan. It might be expensive, but it gets you unlimited high-speed data with no data cap and a full 50GB of hotspot before your data is slowed down. If you take a lot of meetings on the go, it’s a price you might have to pay. The plan also allows users to stream content in 4K UHD, which isn’t possible in the Extra and Starter plans. 

Ultimately, AT&T’s data plans are pretty cheap compared to what we’ve seen from T-Mobile, though it’s quite disappointing that their entry-level unlimited plan only has 3GB of hotspot data. AT&T also has a stronger network quality around the US, which makes it a better option for those in rural markets than T-Mobile.

Pros

  • Unlimited talk, text, & high-speed data in the US, Mexico, and Canada
  • 5G access
  • AT&T ActiveArmor advanced mobile security
  • More affordable than rivals

Cons

  • Starter and Extra plans limited to standard-definition streaming
  • 4K UHD streaming only available for Premium plan holders
  • Starter plan holders only get 3GB of hotspot data monthly

Specification

  • Price $35, $40, and $50 per month
  • Premium Data Unlimited
  • Talk & Text Unlimited
  • Hotspot 3GB/15GB/50GB high-speed mobile hotspot
AT&T Starter, Extra, and Premium

03 Verizon Wireless 5G Start, 5G Do More, 5G Play More, and 5G Get More

As the largest carrier in the United States, Verizon serves more than 140 million consumers every day. Though it offers some of the best carrier services in the United States, covering about 98 percent of the US population with 5G/LTE service, Verizon also happens to be one of the more costly networks in the United States, lining up about even with AT&T when it comes to the price of buying a plan on the network. For some, Verizon is worth the price of entry. As a carrier, it is one of the most dependable networks you can find today, offering service in rural areas that out-competes T-Mobile, Sprint, and in some areas, even AT&T. For those living in more populated areas, Verizon is closer in competition to both AT&T and T-Mobile. Still, you can’t discount that the service works in more areas than almost any other network today.

If you’re looking for a single line, Verizon will start by trying to sell you their unlimited plan first. Though we update this guide every few months or so, Verizon has a habit of constantly changing its plan lineup, and it’s no different for early 2023. Though their unlimited plans have never made much sense, Verizon’s current slate of plans might be their most confusing yet.

While their 5G Start plan is by far the cheapest, it only comes with 5GB of premium mobile hotspot data. If you’re just looking for a better unlimited phone plan, Verizon’s 5G Do More plan is the way to go. At $45 per month prior to taxes and fees, you gain access to unlimited 5G talk, text, and data, 50GB of premium network access, 25GB of premium mobile hotspot data, and data usage in Mexico and Canada. You will also get a six-month free trial of Apple Music and Disney+.

If you’re looking for more perks, you can opt for their 5G Play More or 5G Get More plan. The Play More plan gets you 50GB of premium network access and 25GB of premium mobile hotspot data, while the Get More plan offers unlimited premium access and 50GB of premium mobile hotspot data. The Get More plan comes with a free Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Apple Arcade, or Google Play Pass, and Apple Music subscription, but Play More plan holders only get six months of Apple Music for free. The Get More plan is the best option out of everything since it also comes with 1 TravelPass day monthly and 600GB on Verizon Cloud. 

Ultimately, while Verizon just isn’t a great option for those looking for the best value in a cellular plan, they do go a long way in allowing you to customize your plan to best suit your own individual needs. Their service is great, but it’s ultimately pricey for what you’re receiving. Although, you can get cheaper rates the more lines you get.

Pros

  • 5G nationwide
  • International texting
  • Text, calls, and data in Mexico and Canada
  • Can get a cheaper price the more lines you get

Cons

  • Pricey if you only buy one line
  • 5G Start plan only gets 5GB of premium mobile hotspot data

Specification

  • Price $70, $80, $80, and $90 per month
  • Premium Data Unlimited
  • Talk & Text Unlimited
  • Hotspot 25GB/50GB high-speed mobile hotspot
Verizon Wireless 5G Start, 5G Do More, 5G Play More, and 5G Get More

04 Mint Mobile Unlimited Plan

If you have a tight budget and want a more affordable phone plan, you can opt for Mint Mobile’s Unlimited plan. New customers get a monthly rate of $30 for their first three months. If you extend the plan for another three months, your rate will go up to $40 or $35 for those who extend it for another six months. Your best option would be to get a year-long plan since you’ll get a monthly rate of $30. The only catch is that you’ll have to pay for the full 12 months upfront. ‘

The Unlimited plan features unlimited 5G data, but once you reach 35GB, you will begin getting reduced speeds. You will also only get 5GB of hotspot data, so it might not be the best option for those who use their hotspot for crucial tasks. Like most plans from other companies, it comes with unlimited nationwide talk and text, free calls to Canada and Mexico, and Wi-Fi calling and text. One important thing to remember is that Mint Mobile makes use of the 5G coverage of T-Mobile.

Customers will get the option to get a physical sim card or an eSIM. Having the eSIM option is excellent, especially if you own an eSIM-only device like Apple’s iPhone 14. You have the option to keep your current number when transferring to Mint Mobile, and you can also bring your own phone as long as it’s not locked to a particular carrier. Users are advised to download the Mint App because it allows them to make payments, manage lines, track usage, and contact customer care. 

Pros

  • Affordable
  • 5G access
  • Unlimited nationwide talk and text
  • Free calls to Canada and Mexico
  • Wi-Fi calling and text
  • Hnady companion app

Cons

  • Speed is reduced once you reach 35GB
  • Hotspot data is limited to 5GB

Specification

  • Price $30 per month
  • Premium Data Unlimited
  • Talk & Text Unlimited
  • Hotspot 5GB
Mint Mobile Unlimited Plan

05 Visible+

If Mint Mobile uses T-Mobile for its 5G coverage, Visible, on the other hand, accesses Verizon’s coverage. Their Visible+ plan is such a fantastic deal because you get a lot of perks for only $45 per month. The plan offers a premium network experience, and you can expect to have unlimited talk, text, and data in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, and the US Virgin Islands.

The Visible+ plan features 5G Ultra Wideband access, which is the faster 5G network access they have. Although, you have to ensure that your mobile device is 5G Ultra Wideband-capable. Users will get up to 50GB of premium data per month on either 5G or 4G LTE speeds, but your speed can get temporarily slower once you surpass the 50GB cap already. 

Other companies on this list offer limited mobile hotspot data, but with Visible+, you get an unlimited amount of mobile hotspot data. The only catch is that its speed is limited to 5Mbps. The extra freebies you get in the plan are Spam Protection, a Verizon Home Internet discount, and international texting and calling to certain countries outside the United States. We believe the Visible+ plan would be a better option compared to the most basic plans of T-Mobile and AT&T. 

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Unlimited talk, text, and data in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, and the US Virgin Islands
  • 5G Ultra Wideband access
  • 50GB of premium data per month
  • Unlimited amount of mobile hotspot data
  • Spam Protection
  • Verizon Home Internet discount
  • International texting and calling

Cons

  • Data speed slows down once you reach 50GB
  • Mobile hotspot speed limited to 5Mbps
  • You don't get a discount when you get more than 1 line

Specification

  • Price $45
  • Premium Data Unlimited
  • Talk & Text Unlimited
  • Hotspot Unlimited Mobile Hotspot
Visible+

William Sattelberg

Jan 5, 2023

William has been with TechJunkie since 2017, writing about smartphones, games, streaming media, and anything else that technology touches in our current age. He also works as a video producer, writing and recording scripts for our video team and editing videos for TechJunkie's YouTube channel. William graduated from SUNY Fredonia in 2016 with a degree in Video Production, and lives in Buffalo, NY.

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