What Is the Best Unlimited Plan for Individuals?

It's safe to say unlimited data plans are back in vogue, now that all four carriers offer an unlimited option. In fact, at T-Mobile, unlimited is your only option.

So it’s a good thing that T-Mobile’s $70-a-month T-Mobile One plan is the best unlimited plan for individuals. It’s $10 more expensive than Sprint’s unlimited data plan, but you get a better network and other perks with T-Mobile. Verizon's newly unveiled unlimited plan costs $10 more than T-Mobile's plan, which lets you stream video at HD resolution. T-Mobile restricts streaming to 480p by default, but you can remove that limitation for an extra $5 per month.

Carrier
Unlimited Data Plan Price
FeaturesWho's It Good For
T-Mobile
$70 T-Mobile 480p video streaming, Unlimited 3G hotspot data; speeds may be throttled after 30GB
Customers who want a simple bill and T-Mobile's regular freebies
Verizon
$80 Verizon HD video streaming, 10GB of LTE hotspot data; speeds may be throttled after 22GBCustomers who appreciate Verizon's network performance and reach
Sprint
$50 Sprint HD video streaming, 10GB of LTE hotspot data, music streaming capped at 1.5 Mbps; speeds may be throttled after 23GBCustomers who want the lowest price, regardless of network quality
AT&T
$90 AT&T HD video streaming, 10GB of LTE hotspot data, DirecTV discounts; speeds may be throttled after 22GBCustomers who want unlimited data through AT&T without restrictions

If you think unlimited data is just too much data — and for many users, that's true — you still have tiered options that cost less than these unlimited plans. The best of the bunch is Verizon's $55-a-month 5GB offering, though that's only available for a limited time. Should that disappear, AT&T's $60-a-month 3GB option is your next best choice.


MORE: Best All-Around Phone Carrier

How We Picked the Best Individual Cellphone Plans: We divided individual plans into two categories — unlimited data and tiered plans. With the average smartphone user needing about 3GB of data each month, we compared plans that offered at least 3GB. Network performance, including results of our own 4G network testing, factored into our choice. When considering price, we also included monthly access fees that some carriers charge in the total cost of each plan.

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Best Unlimited Plan: T-Mobile

T-Mobile’s $70-a-month T-Mobile One unlimited plan is your best choice if you demand limitless data each month. While the plan would be more appealing if T-Mobile let you stream HD video, for most users, watching 480p video on a smartphone-sized screen won't be too much of a hardship. (And if it is, the extra $5 a month you'd pay for T-Mobile One Plus is still less than what Verizon charges for its unlimited plan.)

MORE: Best 4G Data Service: 9 Carriers Tested

Verizon finally trotted out an unlimited plan, and it's a pretty good one, especially if you want the benefit of Verizon's network. The plan costs $80 a month (which includes Verizon's monthly access fee, less a $5 monthly credit for enrolling in autopay). Verizon's unlimited plan allows for HD video streaming and provides 10GB of LTE hotspot data. You need to pay extra to get those features from T-Mobile.

Sprint’s unlimited plan competes well on price; at $60 a month, it’s $10 cheaper than T-Mobile’s offer. (Under a current promotion, you can get a single line of unlimited data for $50 a month at Sprint, though the rate reverts back to $60 after June 30, 2018.) Sprint’s unlimited plan no longer restricts the quality of video streaming to 480p — you get HD streaming now — though it still limits the speeds of streaming music and gaming to 1.5 Mbps and 8 Mbps, respectively. Sprint also upped the amount of LTE hotspot data you get to 10GB to match Verizon.


Your remaining unlimited data option comes from AT&T, which offers two unlimited plans. The better choice is the $90-a-month Unlimited Plus plan, since it lets you stream HD video and gives you 10GB of hotspot data; you're also eligible for discounts on DirecTV, whether you use the satellite TV service or the DirecTV Now streaming option. The cheaper Unlimited Plus plan ($60 a month) doesn't offer any of these benefits. You can only stream standard definition video, and AT&T caps data speeds at 3 Mbps.

One caveat about unlimited data: It’s not totally without limits. Once you use 23GB of data in a billing cycle, Sprint will slow down your speed in favor of other users if there’s a lot of traffic on their respective networks. Verizon and AT&T start throttling data at 22GB while throttling begins at 30GB for T-Mobile.

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Best Individual Plan: Verizon

Best Plan: 5GB plan, $55

Who Should Get It: Customers who don't need unlimited data

MORE: The Best Verizon Phones

Verizon's best option for individuals who don't need unlimited data comes with caveats of its own. For starters, you need to enroll in autopay to get that $55 a month price. And it's only available if you've got just one phone on Verizon's network. (In fact, it's the only option Verizon now offers individual customers outside of an unlimited plan.) But 5GB of data is more than enough for most users, and you can still enjoy substantial savings over Verizon's $80 monthly charge for unlimited data. Since Verizon offers rollover data, unused data at the end of one month gets applied to next month's allotment. And the carrier's Safety Mode feature merely throttles your data speed when you go over your limit instead of charging you overage fees. (You will need to enable Safety Mode, though.)

Best Alternative: AT&T

Best Plan: 3GB plan, $60

Who Should Get It: Average data users who like to roll over unused data

MORE: The Best Phones Available at AT&T

AT&T’s access fees used to vary depending on how much data your monthly plan offered, but thankfully, AT&T has gone to a flat $20-a-month access fee if you buy your phone outright or pay for it in monthly installments. That’s made data plans like the 3GB monthly allotment much more attractive, particularly when you consider that AT&T lets you move unused data into next month’s bucket. AT&T also stopped charging you if you go over your monthly allotment; instead, it will just throttle your speed down to 128 Kbps for the rest of the billing cycle.

If you require more monthly data, you're probably better off opting for AT&T's $90 Unlimited Plus plan, rather than a tiered data plan with a higher monthly limit.




MORE: Cellphone Support Showdown: Who Wins, Who Loses?

Sprint has followed T-Mobile's lead and eliminated its tiered data plans. If you don't want to pay for unlimited data from either carrier, you need to take a look at their prepaid offerings.

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32 comments
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  • Rocketwoman
    Verizon's XL plan is a scam...a true bait and switch. Just switched to their XL plan in mid-November 2015. Promised 12GB data for $80 per month with a $20 per line access fee for a total of $160 per month for 4 phones. Just called them as the bill has been incorrect since signing up showing a $40 per line access fee per month not the $20 fee per line. After 85 minutes on the phone with Verizon customer service with much of the time on hold, was told by the supervisor that the $20 line access fee was a mistake on their part and we should look at page 17 of our bill that explains they are correcting their error and charging $40 instead. Looking to file an FCC complaint on this. If there's another route we should take we would love advice. This is just so infuriating to have such a large company advertise their new and improved plans since August 2015 to have this rip-off happen.
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  • gllecarp
    MetroPCS now includes the mobile hotspot with the rest of the service at no additional charge.
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  • Julie_20
    I had the WORST experience with Cricket. Placed my order online, they billed me, and the phone never came. They debited my account, credited it, then debited it again. When I called, because I hadn't written down the order number(because on the order confirmation page it says "don't have a pen, don't worry, we'll send you an email with your order number....which never came) they couldn't look up anything. I got bumped from department to department and person to person, all the while they talked to me off those scripts they use. They literally made it my, the customer, responsibility to supply a way for them to look up my order that was based on their system. Not something I could tell them about myself.They said without the order number, their was absolutely nothing they could do, though they could charge me $160. Finally they told me to dispute it with my bank. It was the most frustrating customer service experience I've ever had and I will never subject myself to risking that kind of absurdity again.
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  • John Marcotte
    I think best cell phone that is popularly known to a smartphone these days plan should consider the budget of your phone first. If you are not getting back your product after placing it online then you have right to lodge a complaint against it.
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  • Andy_51
    The info on Straight talks network in this article is inaccurate. Straight Talk works on Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and TMobile towers depending on which sim you use from the activation kit. With that added info it makes it a no contest and over all best value in wireless 10 GB of high speed data on nations best network unlimited national calling and texts for $55 per month is the best over all value / deal in wireless right now.
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  • tsteele93
    Andy_51, what are you talking about. I see nothing about anything called straight talk in the article. Are you spamming or has something been redacted from the article?
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  • Jim_50
    This is NONSENSE! T-Mobile & Sprint have HORRIBLE coverage...totally horrible, especially in the rural south!

    Cricket has nationwide coverage and for $65 a month, including all fees and taxes, you can get truly unlimited with NO CAP and no throttling no matter how much you use.

    How much are these other companies paying "Tom's Guide" for his twisted and untrue ratings?
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  • khtechster
    To be fair to Tom's Guide, they probably test the networks in highly populated areas with good coverage. Assuming all of them have great coverage while testing, they will most likely perform better than Cricket because Cricket throttles download and upload speeds to 8mbps and 4mbps respectively. So, all they have to do to "perform better" is beat those speeds.
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  • mjvidify
    How low can you go? First rule: Get a land line. Use it 90% when your at home. Second Rule: T-Mobile prepaid with the cheapest phone you can find. Put $100 (1,000 min) on it and be frugal how you use the minutes. When you roll over towards the end of your year they will give you an additional 18 % in time. You are now a Gold Standing Customer. Go figure! T-Mobile now has a $30 a month plan: Unlimited text and data and 100 minutes of talk. Now use all your extra savings and time and go live life. Or give all your money to your service provider for which they in return will give you cancer, you die, they get rich. Your choice.

    Seems like common sense to me but then common sense isn't common.
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  • Dee_4_
    I visited my local Cricket Wireless store on May 12th 2016. I told the store clerk that I'm flying out to jamaica and would like to make calls from Jamaica to Louisiana. He said we can do that and the international plan is $15. I was unable to make any calls. I contacted Cricket while in Jamaica was told to go into a Cricket store in Jamaica after being transferred several times. That call to the U.S. cost $3 per minute which lasted 10 minutes. I contacted Cricket and went into the store after I arrived back home from vacation. I was told the international plan is only good for calling to Jamaica and they refused to credit my account.
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  • thlhome99
    I didn't know that comparing the price of a T-Mobile plan with 40gb of LTE data was an apples to apples comparison with Verizon's 16gb plan. Am I wrong?
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  • Lynne_B
    Straight talk with AT&T does not have visual voicemail and to make it even worse, they block using a 3rd party visual voice mail app.

    Cricket only pushes OS updates to a very small number of phones, my son has a Galaxy 5 active that is still stuck on 4.4.2 because Cricket doesn't update that phone and Samsung does not have a downloadable update for it, so he has to sign up for AT&T prepaid to get the OS updated, for the few dollars he saves with Cricket I think he will probably just stay with AT&T prepaid.

    Boost is great, it's super cheap and they are quite helpful, the downside is that it is Sprint UGH.
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  • Gerry Allen
    Leaving out Consumer Cellular is simply silly. Great plans, bring your own unlocked (no charge SIM) and the best customer service in the business. Consumer Cellular uses the AT&T network for excellent coverage nation-wide.
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  • DR____L
    Any prepaid service using T-Mo is worthless outside of any city. Get out to the middle of nowhere and then write an article about the best prepaid plans.
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  • Mike_255
    Your article says about T-Mobile, "For families, the carrier charges $70 for the first line, $50 for the second and $30 for each subsequent line up to eight lines. That would mean a family of four would pay $160."

    But, $70 + $50 + $30 + $30 equals $180; NOT $160.
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  • Forrest_3
    Metro is 60 with more features. Metro beats T-Mobile even though it's really the same company. If this author knew what he was talking about, he would have listed that instead.
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  • Anonymous_Plutocrat
    Ha yall getting cool speeds while down here in Nigeria you get 15mbps at $50(25GB)
    And 6 to 9mbps at 25$/month(24GB) mostly in cities cause you wont even get 3G in some Villages
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  • Anonymous_Plutocrat
    and theres no unlimited
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  • kaw2zach
    I agree with Gerry Allen -- where's Consumer Cellular? We've used them for several years without difficulty.
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