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 and AT&T both offer two unlimited plans each; 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 32GB||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 50GB||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||HD video streaming, 10GB of LTE hotspot data, DirecTV discounts; speeds may be throttled after 22GB||Customers 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 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.
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 for HD video streaming.)
After unveiling an appealing unlimited plan earlier this year, Verizon shuffled things up and the end result is two plans that make you choose between lower rates and better features. We think the best option is the $85-a-month Beyond Unlimited plan, which includes HD video streaming and 15GB of LTE hotspot data. 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.
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 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) limits you to streaming at standard definition video, and AT&T caps data speeds at 3 Mbps; you can add DirecTV Now streaming at a discounted rate, however.
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. T-Mobile is the most generous by far in this area, as it won't start throttling you until you use 50GB of data during a billing cycle.
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: 3GB plan, $60
Who Should Get It: Average data users who like to roll over unused data
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.
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.