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Cheap unlimited data plans compared: AT&T vs. T-Mobile vs. Verizon

cheap unlimited cell phone plan
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Not long ago, getting one of the best unlimited data plans from a major wireless carrier meant a big monthly bill each month. And to be sure, the top plans that come packed with perks still cost a pretty penny if you turn to AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Unlimited data plans and phone deals

These days, a lot of phone deals offered by the big carriers require you to sign up for a qualified unlimited data plan to get a discount on a new device. The key word there is "qualifying." Some times, the cheapest unlimited data plans at AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are included in these deals, and sometimes they're left out. Check each offer carefully to make sure you're getting the right unlimited data plan.

But back in 2018, T-Mobile rolled out Essentials, a stripped-down version of its unlimited data plan available at a lower price. Eventually, T-Mobile's biggest competitors — perhaps feeling pressured from the best cheap cell phone plans that also include low-cost unlimited data — took notice. 

In the past year, AT&T and Verizon have both added entry-level unlimited data plans of their own. You won't find much in the way of perks, but you may not mind when your cell phone bill arrives at the end of each month.

Knowing what unlimited data plans are out there is especially vital at this time of year when phone makers are rolling out their fall flagship devices. Samsung just introduced the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4, its latest foldables, and the iPhone 14 should soon be arriving from Apple. If you're in the market for a new phone, it may pay to look for a new wireless plan as well — particularly one that doesn't charge you a lot for unlimited talk, text and data.

With that in mind, we wanted to compare the lowest-priced unlimited data plans available at the three major phone carriers. You'll find less expensive options at mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, and AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all offer more feature-packed plans at higher monthly rates. But consider this cheap unlimited data phone plan comparison a good starting point for understanding the going rate for unlimited data these days — especially if you run across the best cell phone deals that require you to sign up for an unlimited data plan.

Cheap unlimited data plans compared: AT&T vs. T-Mobile vs. Verizon

Single-line costPer line cost, 4-line planHotspot dataOther notes
AT&T Value Plus$50N/ANone5G coverage, unlimited talk, text and data in Canada and Mexico
T-Mobile Essentials$60$26.25 (includes discounted 3rd line)Unlimited at 3G speeds5G coverage, Includes a year of Paramount Plus
Verizon Welcome Unlimited$65$30None5G coverage, unlimited talk, text and data in Canada and Mexico

Cheap unlimited data plans: AT&T Value Plus Plan

What it costs, one line: $50/month

What it costs, four lines: N/A

AT&T's Value Plus plan is ideal for people who just need one line of unlimited data and don't require a lot of perks. For just $50 a month, Value Plus gives you talk, text and data with no limits, though AT&T reserves the right to slow your data speeds if its network is congested. That's what separates Value Plus from more expensive AT&T unlimited plans, which include a set amount of "premium data," or high-speed data that you can use without having to worry about throttling.

AT&T includes 5G coverage through its nationwide network with the Value Plus plan, and you'll be able to use your talk, text and data when traveling in Mexico or Canada. You can also enjoy unlimited texting from the U.S. to 200-plus countries. But that's about it when it comes to perks.

The biggest limitation with AT&T's Value Plus plan is that families can't take advantage of it — AT&T restricts Value Plus pricing to just one line. If you want to add multiple lines, you'll have to opt for one of AT&T's more expensive unlimited plans like the AT&T Unlimited Starter plan ($140 for four lines or $35/line) or AT&T Unlimited Extra ($160 for four lines or $40/line). Of course, those plans come with extra perks.

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AT&T Value Plus plan: $50/month @ AT&T (opens in new tab)
AT&T's cheapest unlimited plan doesn't offer perks, but it is the least expensive option for unlimited data among the big three phone carriers. Only individuals can take advantage of this deal, as AT&T doesn't let you add extra lines of data.

AT&T's next cheapest plan: AT&T Unlimited Stater costs $65 a month for a single line of data. That extra $15/month gets you 3GB of mobile hotspot data per line, and you can add multiple lines. Otherwise, perks aren't that much different from the Value Plus plan.

Cheap unlimited data plans: T-Mobile Essentials plan

What it costs, one line: $60/month

What it costs, four lines: $105/month ($26.25 per line)

T-Mobile's Magenta plan gets all the hype, but there's a cheaper option than the $70/month unlimited plan that's the carrier's flagship offering. T-Mobile Essentials offers unlimited data for less, though the perks aren't as generous as what you would get with Magenta or the even more expensive Magenta Plus option.

Still, Essentials offers more perks than you might expect. In addition to 5G coverage from T-Mobile's top-ranked 5G network, you can enjoy unlimited hotspot data, though it's restricted to 3G speeds. You can enjoy 50GB of unlimited data before T-Mobile can slow your speeds, which gives Essentials a leg up over the cheap unlimited plans from AT&T and Verizon. 

Normally, to get streaming services included with your wireless plan, you have to pay up for more expensive options, but Essentials customers do get a year of Paramount Plus for free. 

Unlike AT&T's Value Plus plan, Essentials supports multiple lines. As of this writing, a four-line plan costs $105/month or $26.25 for each line. But note that reflects a current promotion where T-Mobile is waiving the fee on the third line of data. Normally, four lines of Essentials will set you back $140 each month.

One big drawback to T-Mobile Essentials is that the rate doesn't include taxes and fees. Other T-Mobile unlimited plans bake taxes and fees into the monthly rate so that you're always paying the same amount.

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T-Mobile Essentials Plan: $60/month @ T-Mobile (opens in new tab)
T-Mobile has the best perks among major carriers for its cheapest unlimited data plan, with unlimited hotspot data (at 3G speeds) and a year of Paramount Plus included. Even better, you get 50GB of premium data so your speeds won't be slowed if T-Mobile's network is congested.

T-Mobile's next cheapest plan: From Essentials, you can step up to the $70/month Magenta plan, which will cost a family of four $140 total, thanks to that discounted third line. Magenta doubles your premium data cap to 100GB, and your hotspot speeds increase to high-speed with a 5GB cap. Multi-line plans get a free Netflix subscription, and there are travel benefits like in-flight Wi-Fi, too.

Cheap unlimited data plans: Verizon Welcome Unlimited

What it costs, one line: $65/month

What it costs, four lines: $120/month ($30 per line)

Verizon's Welcome Unlimited is the relative newcomer to this mix of cheap unlimited plans, giving you a low entry price for unlimited data through Verizon's far-reach service. You can also get 5G coverage through Welcome Unlimited, though that's via Verizon's nationwide 5G network and not the much faster C-Band and mmWave-based 5G available in select cities.

As is commonplace among these cheap unlimited plans, perks are few and far between with Welcome Unlimited. You can expect to enjoy talk, text and data when you travel to Mexico and Canada, but that's about it. Verizon will slow your speeds if you its network gets congested.

Welcome Unlimited's greatest appeal is for families, where escalating discounts drop the per-line cost to $30 each month for four lines of data. While Verizon's other unlimited data plans let you mix and match plans, you don't have that luxury with Welcome Unlimited.

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Verizon Welcome Unlimited Plan: $65/month @ Verizon (opens in new tab)
Verizon's cheapest unlimited data plan is best for families, as the discounts on additional lines drops to the per-line cost to $30 each; that's $120 total. You get 5G coverage from Verizon's nationwide network.

Verizon's next cheapest plan: If you want more perks with your unlimited data, the next step up at Verizon is the 5G Start plan, which costs $70 a month for just one line. Families pay $35/line for four lines of data. The extra perks include 5GB of hotspot data, plus assorted 6-month streaming trials to Disney Plus, Discovery Plus, Apple Music and whichever gaming service (Apple Arcade or Google Play Pass) strikes your fancy. 5G Play More, with its more extensive benefits, ups your cost to $80/month.

Other cheap unlimited data plans

There are cheaper unlimited plans available, if you're willing to look beyond the major wireless carriers, turning instead to discount services. Mint Mobile, for example, charges $30 a month for its unlimited plan, though after a three-month trial, you need to pay for a full year of service to get that low rate.

Visible, which just shuffled up its plans, now charges $30 a month for its entry-level unlimited plan, without the year commitment that Mint requires. For $45 a month, Visible includes perks like international calling and texting plus access to Verizon's fastest 5G network. (Visible is owned by Verizon and uses that carrier's network for coverage.) Tello offers the cheapest unlimited data plan by a $1, charging $29 for unlimited talk, text and data.

As we noted with Visible, these discount services use the big carriers' towers for their service — Verizon's in Visible's case, and T-Mobile's for Mint and Tello. On the bright side, that includes 5G coverage through those networks. On the down side, your data speeds can be slowed if the parent network is experiencing a lot of traffic.

Cheap unlimited data plans: Which should you pick?

As with any cell phone plan, picking the best cheap unlimited data offering from a major wireless carrier comes down to more factors than just price. However, if that's your primary concern, AT&T is the low-price champ with its Value Plus plan, provided you don't need more than one line of data. Families would be better off considering the Welcome Unlimited plan from Verizon, particularly if they live in an area where Verizon's coverage is strong.

Perks also play a role in picking a good unlimited plan, even if those perks aren't numerous for plans this cheap. Still, T-Mobile Essentials includes hotspot data (albeit at slow speeds) and a year of Paramount Plus. It's also the only unlimited plan to promise that your data speeds won't be slowed, at least for the first 50GB of data use. Because T-Mobile has the top-ranked 5G network, it's also best for 5G coverage, even with its cheapest unlimited data plan.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.