Verizon shakes up the cell phone industry with a compelling new unlimited plan - here's how to figure out which carrier has the best plan for you.
Verizon's announcement of a brand new unlimited plan has everyone looking at their cell phone bills - and carriers taking a second look at their unlimited plans. But one size does not fit all, so here is what each carrier offers to help you figure out which plan is best for you.
Verizon's Unlimited Plan is very compelling. For $80 a month, you get unlimited calls, text and data. You also get video streaming in HD quality, plus 10 gigs a month of mobile hotspot. This means you can turn your phone into a WiFi hotspot and connect a device such as a tablet, iPod touch or laptop to the internet through your phone.
The main caveat of Verizon's plan is that you must agree to paperless billing and Autopay. Not just any autopay but your monthly costs must be deducted automatically from your checking account or your debit card. Credit cards aren't accepted for this plan, which saves Verizon a ton of money in processing fees.
Verizon's plan is pretty fantastic. You're getting on one of the best networks in the nation so coverage is going to be spot on pretty much everywhere you go. Still, you are paying a premium here but you'll be very satisfied with the service. To sweeten the deal, Verizon is offering a deal where you can get a free phone when you sign up. You can trade a late model premium phone - like your iPhone 6s - for a new iPhone 7 or Google Pixel. If you have an older phone such as a Samsung Galaxy S5 you can pay just $5 a month for a brand new iPhone. The promotion is given as a monthly credit on your bill over 24 months. Keep in mind Verizon's plan tacks on fees and taxes so your bill will be a bit higher than $80 a month.
T-Mobile has been very competitive in the past few years and their response to the Verizon Unlimited plan was fast and furious. Within hours of Verizon's announcement, T-Mobile sweetened their unlimited deal, which costs $70 a month and includes all of your taxes and fees. The company added two key features to it's unlimited plan - HD video streaming and 10 gigs of LTE mobile hotspot. Basically, T-Mobile matches Verizon's offering but it's at least $10 a month cheaper. I say at least because taxes and fees are included in T-Mobile's plan price. If you get two lines with T-Mobile you'll save even more - both lines are just $100 a month, which is a steal.
Lots of people wonder about the quality of T-Mobile's network. Here's what I can tell you in my testing - when it works, it is fantastic. Speeds are good and signals are strong. But there are places - especially in rural or less populated areas - where your phone might not get a signal as strong as AT&T or Verizon's - or data speeds as fast. I always tell people to find out if the carrier they want works well at work and home - two of the places you'll use it most. You can find this out by asking the people around you each day.
Sprint's unlimited plan is a fantastic price - just $50 a month. What you don't get is HD video for that price. This means that your videos will stream in a "mobile optimized" quality, basically about DVD quality. Personally, I'm not going for this. I don't like artificial barriers between me and the best technology out there. You can pay an additional $20 a month to step up to HD video so the plan is more in line with T-Mobile's pricing. You can also save a ton if you get multiple lines - I kid you not - 5 lines with Sprint are just $90 a month (total!) until a promotional pricing ends in March 2018.
As for Sprint's network, well the quality is debatable. In my experience, I don't think it's as good as T-Mobile, Verizon or AT&T's. But there are plenty of folks on it, and if you're looking to spend the least amount possible on cell phone service with a major carrier, this is it.
Out of all of the unlimited offerings, AT&T is the least appealing when comparing on price alone. For starters, you must have AT&T TV service to even sign up for it. This includes DIRECTV or U-verse TV. Then, the plan starts at $100 a month for one line and it doesn't include one major feature - mobile hotspot. This means you can only use your unlimited data though your phone's apps and web browser - you can't connect your tablet or laptop to your phone through WiFi. I'm hoping for the sake of AT&T's customers that the company changes this provision.
The good news about AT&T is that they have one of the best networks out there. You will have coverage everywhere, but you will also be paying more.
One thing to keep in mind with all of these plans with the exception of Sprint: They all reserve the right to slow down your data use after a certain amount of usage in a given month. For AT&T and Verizon, it's 22 gigabytes a month. For T-Mobile it's 28 gigabytes. This will never be a problem for most users but it is a way for the companies to keep things somewhat limited, even when they advertise the freedom of unlimited.