What Is the Best Family Plan?
If you want a cellphone plan for multiple lines, unlimited data is the way to go. And the best choice for families comes down to T-Mobile. The Uncarrier already offered a compelling mix of unlimited data at an affordable price and now that it lets you stream video at HD resolution, it removes our one reservation about the T-Mobile One Plan.
Still, Verizon's new unlimited data plan is a compelling alternative. Like T-Mobile, Verizon lets you stream video at 720p and it offers 10GB of Hotspot data. It also boasts a far-reaching network, though T-Mobile is narrowing the performance gap. Sprint's best option is an unlimited plan, too, particularly if you can take advantage of one of that carrier's frequent specials. AT&T now offers unlimited data to new subscribers, but it's a pricey plan with no add-ons like hotspot data; you're better off with that carrier's tiered data plan where families draw from the same pool of data.
How We Picked the Best Family Plan: To compare carriers, we assembled plans for a family of four. You can opt for family plans for as few as two lines and as many as 10 with the major carriers. In addition to price, we also considered the reach and performance of a carrier’s network, including our own 4G network testing.
Top Family Plan: T-Mobile
Best Plan: Unlimited data, $160
Who Should Get T-Mobile: Families who want unlimited data
T-Mobile is our choice for the best family plan, thanks to its pool of unlimited data for every member of the family and its host of extras. T-Mobile's unlimited offering — which is the only plan available at the carrier — is even more compelling now that T-Mobile no longer forces subscribers to watch video at sub-HD resolution.
For families, T-Mobile charges $70 for the first line if you sign up for auto-pay. (Otherwise, tack on another $5 a month to each line.) The second line costs $50 while subsequent lines cost $20 for each subsequent line up to eight lines. That would mean a family of four would pay $160. T-Mobile occasionally offers discounts on that fourth line, so check the carrier's site for the latest pricing.
Another factor that makes T-Mobile's plan attractive: the carrier says the price takes fees and taxes into account, so the price it advertises is the one you'll see on your bill at the end of the month.
With Verizon jumping into the family plan mix, T-Mobile was inspired to tweak its T-Mobile One plan to allow HD video streaming and add 10GB of LTE Hotspot data. Previously you had to tack on another $15 per line per month high-speed hotspot data and HD streaming. (The $15 add-on still exists with perks like unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi through Gogo.) Another tier, T-Mobile One Plus International, throws in unlimited calling from the U.S to landlines in 70-plus countries and mobile numbers in 30-plus countries for $25 per month per line on top of the standard T-Mobile One rate.
Best Alternative: Verizon
Best Plan: Unlimited Data Plan, $180
Who Should Get Verizon: Families who want top network coverage with unlimited data
Verizon was the lone holdout among the big carriers when it came to unlimited data, but that's changed. Now Verizon offers an unlimited data plan that, when you factor in access fees for each line, would cost a family of four $180 each month. That figure doesn't include taxes, though — a noteworthy distinction since T-Mobile's rates reflect taxes and fees.
Otherwise, Verizon's unlimited plan is very similar to T-Mobile's; in fact, T-Mobile altered its unlimited plan to adopt some of the more appealing aspects of what Verizon offered, including HD streaming and LTE hotspot data. Keep an eye on Verizon's pricing, though, because it may be available at an introductory rate.
Budget Unlimited Plan: Sprint
Best Plan: Unlimited data, $160
Who Should Get Sprint: Sprint customers who want unlimited data
Sprint still lets its subscribers choose between tiered data plans and unlimited data, but given how low its priced the Sprint Unlimited plan, it’s an easy choice for families. Like T-Mobile, Sprint charges a family of four $160 a month for unlimited data. (The math getting there is slightly different: The first line costs $60, the second line costs $40 and each subsequent line costs $30.) Sprint used to throttle video down to 480p resolution, but like T-Mobile, it changed its tune once Verizon offered an unlimited plan, and now subscribers can watch HD video. Sprint still restricts music and gaming speeds, but those limitations — 1.5 Mbps for music and 8 Mbps for gaming — are more generous than they used to be.
As of this writing, Sprint is offering a promotion that knocks $10 off the first line of unlimited data, and it's waiving the $30 per line fee on lines three, four and five. That means our family of four pays $90 a month for unlimited data — a compelling bargain until you read the fine print. Sprint's discounted rate only remains in effect for a year. As of March 2018, you'll pay the regular $160 a month for four lines.
Sprint still offers tiered data plans, though they're not compelling options with the carrier offering discounts on unlimited data. A 12GB shared data plan would cost a family of four $140 — $60 for the plan, plus the $20-per-line access fee Sprint charges for tiered data plans.
Other Options: AT&T
Best Plan: 10GB shared data plan, $160
Who Should Get AT&T: Families who can take advantage of AT&T's network reach
Unless you live in an area with stellar AT&T coverage, there are few compelling reasons to consider AT&T’s family plans.
You share one pool of data with AT&T, with each line adding to the monthly cost of a plan. A 10GB plan costs $80 a month, but adding the $20 access fee for each device raises the total bill for a family of four to $160. Your other options include 6GB starting at $60 a month or 16GB for $90 (before you add in those access fees).
AT&T now offers unlimited data, without requiring you to subscribe to either DirecTV or U-Verse for your TV service. But it's pretty expensive: The first line of this unlimited plan costs $100, with additional lines costing $40 each. However, AT&T currently credits the price of a fourth line on your bill, meaning a family of four could get unlimited data for $180 a month, access fees included. There's no hotspot data included in AT&T's plan, while the other carriers offer 10GB of LTE hotspot data in their unlimited options.