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 offering 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. (Be aware that those two carriers are planning to merge, though there won't be any major changes to pricing and plans until the merger goes through.) Verizon now offers three unlimited plans, while AT&T has two of its own; unfortunately, the cheaper plans from either carrier contain too many restrictions.
|Carrier||Unlimited Data Plan Price||Features||Who's It Good For|
|T-Mobile||480p video streaming, Unlimited 3G hotspot data; speeds may be throttled after 50GB||Customers who want a simple bill and T-Mobile's regular freebies|
|Verizon||HD video streaming, 15GB of LTE hotspot data; speeds may be throttled after 22GB||Customers who appreciate Verizon's network performance and reach|
|Sprint||HD video streaming, 10GB of LTE hotspot data, music streaming capped at 1.5 Mbps; speeds may be throttled after 23GB||Customers who want the lowest price, regardless of network quality|
|AT&T||WatchTV streaming service, HD video streaming, 15GB of LTE hotspot data, DirecTV discounts; speeds may be throttled after 22GB||Customers who want unlimited data and streaming TV 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 a handful of tiered options that cost less than these unlimited plans. The best of the bunch is Verizon's $55-a-month 5GB offering.
How We Picked the Best Individual Cellphone Plans: We divided individual plans into two categories — unlimited data and tiered plans (though there are not many tiered plans remaining, to be honest). 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.
What You'll Pay for an Individual Data Plan: Assuming you go the unlimited data plan route, expect to pay $60 to $85 per month, depending on the carrier. (A current promotion at Sprint drops the price even further, but only for customers switching carriers.) You'll find limited tiered options at three carriers, ranging from $40 to $60 depending on the size of your data allotment.
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, you can pay $10 extra each month for T-Mobile One Plus, which still means your monthly bill would be $5 cheaper than what Verizon charges for its unlimited plan with HD video streaming.)
After unveiling an appealing unlimited plan at the start of 2017, Verizon shuffled things up. Now there are three plans that make you choose between lower rates, better features and a lot of data. We think the best option is the $85-a-month Beyond Unlimited plan, which includes HD video streaming and 15GB of at LTE hotspot data. A new $95 Above Unlimited plan brings the hotspot data to 20GB, adds cloud storage and travel-friendly benefits and ensures that your data speeds won't slow unless you use more than a staggering 75GB of data during a billing period.
Meanwhile, the less expensive $75 Go Unlimited plan restricts video streaming to 480p resolution, caps hotspot speeds at 600 Kbps and raises the possibility that your data speeds will slow if there's a lot of traffic on Verizon's network. That latter restriction is pretty hard to swallow. All unlimited customers at Verizon can now use the talk, text and data from their plan when traveling in Canada and Mexico.
Sprint’s unlimited plan competes well on price; at $60 a month, it’s $10 cheaper than T-Mobile’s offer. Sprint’s unlimited plan offers HD streaming for video, but it limits the speeds of streaming music and gaming to 1.5 Mbps and 8 Mbps, respectively. Sprint also offers 10GB of LTE hotspot data while throwing in streaming through Hulu.
Your remaining unlimited data option comes from AT&T, which offers two newly renamed unlimited plans. The better choice for individuals is the $80-a-month Unlimited & More Premium plan, especially since you'll only save $10 a month by opting for the cheaper Unlimited & More offering. Both plans now include access to the newly launched WatchTV, a 30-plus channel streaming service featuring the likes of AMC, TBS, TNT and others. The Premium version bests AT&T's standard plan by including 15GB of LTE hotspot data, HD video streaming, and access to one complimentary premium streaming service (whether that's a premium cable channel like HBO, Showtime or others or streaming music from Amazon or Pandora).
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. AT&T start throttling data at 22GB as does Verizon for its Go and Beyond Unlimited plans. As noted, Above Unlimited customers at Verizon can consume up to 75GB of data without fear of any slowdowns. That's the most generous ceiling, beating T-Mobile's 50GB cap. (Of course, T-Mobile's plan is $25 cheaper than Verizon's Above Unlimited offer.)
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 $75 to $85 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: 5GB plan, $70
Who Should Get It: Average data users who like to roll over unused data
In addition to its unlimited options, AT&T also offers what it calls Mobile Share Flex plans. The best options for individuals give you either 1GB of data for $35 a month or a more generous 5GB for $60. But before you consider either option, you've got some math to perform. Add in a $20-a-month access fee for your phone, then subtract $10 a month for enrolling in autopay. That leaves you with a total monthly bill of either $45 for 1GB or $70 for 5GB.
Of those two, the 5GB plan is the better option, though it costs the same as the new Unlimited & More plan. Under AT&T's 5GB plan, you can rollover unused data to the next month, and if you go over that 5GB allotment, you merely face slower speeds instead of an overage charge.
Sprint has largely followed T-Mobile's lead and eliminated its tiered data plans save for one 2GB plan that's available for $40 a month with an autopay discount. Considering that Sprint's prepaid plan offers twice as much data for the same price, though, it's better to take a look at the many prepaid offerings for individual users.