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 multiple unlimited tiers. 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 not the cheapest plan out there — that honor goes to T-Mobile's own Essentials plan as well as Sprint's Unlimited Basic, both of which start at $60 a month. But T-Mobile's network is better than Sprint's, and the perks in its T-Mobile One plan are pretty appealing. (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||Plan Name||Plan Price||Features||Who's It Good For|
|T-Mobile||T-Mobile One||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||Verizon Beyond Unlimited||HD video streaming, 15GB of LTE hotspot data, free Apple Music; speeds may be throttled after 22GB||Customers who appreciate Verizon's network performance and reach|
|Sprint||Sprint Unlimited Plus||HD video streaming, 15GB of LTE hotspot data; speeds may be throttled after 50GB||Customers who want extras like Hulu and Tidal without paying top dollar|
|AT&T||AT&T Unlimited & More Premium||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, though AT&T now offers more data — 9GB — in its $60 tiered data plan.
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 $95 per month, depending on the carrier. 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 $15 extra each month for T-Mobile One Plus.)
If you'd prefer to pay less each month, T-Mobile now has a lower-cost Essentials plan for $60 a month. You won't get as many travel perks like free texting and an hour of Wi-Fi on Gogo-enabled flights or the ability to use your data plan (albeit at slower speeds) when traveling in 210 countries as you do with T-Mobile One. More importantly, T-Mobile has the right to slow down data speeds for Essentials customers if its network gets congested. Stick with T-Mobile One, unless you really want to save that extra $10 each month.
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, 15GB of at LTE hotspot data and a free Apple Music subscription. 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 now splits its unlimited offerings into two threes — a $60 Unlimited Basic plan, a $70 Unlimited Plus option and the $90 Unlimited Premium plan. Plus has the best balance of perks versus price for individuals: you get full HD streaming for video, bundled Tidal and Hulu streaming services, 15GB of LTE Hotspot data and 10GB of data when you travel in Canada and Mexico. Basic restricts you to 480p resolution video streaming (with caps on music and gaming streaming speeds, too), offers Hulu only, limits LTE hotspot data to 500MB and halves data to 5GB for Mexico and Canada travelers. If you need more hotspot data (as in 50GB of hotspot data), want unlimited data when you travel to Mexico and Canada, or want an Amazon Prime membership included with your wireless services, you could pay up for Unlimited Premium.
Your remaining unlimited data option comes from AT&T, which offers two 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 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 the 50GB levels that T-Mobile and Sprint offer. (Of course, T-Mobile's plan is $25 cheaper than Verizon's Above Unlimited offer and Sprint's least expensive unlimited plan costs $35 less.)
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: 9GB plan, $60
Who Should Get It: People who want a lot of data without paying up for an unlimited plan
In addition to its unlimited options, AT&T also offers what it calls Mobile Share Plus plans. The best options for individuals give you either 3GB of data for $50 a month or a more generous 9GB for $60. Both those prices assume discounts for enrolling in autopay.
You'll get to rollover unused data to the next month under these plans, and AT&T only slows your data if you go over your allotment. You get talk, text and data when traveling in Mexico, too, but you are restricted to streaming video in 480p resolution. Also, AT&T's prepaid plans offer much more attractive pricing if you'd rather not use the carrier's unlimited plans.
Sprint has largely followed T-Mobile's lead and eliminated its tiered data plans, though you'll still find a 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.