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Best cellphone plans 2020

What Is the Best Unlimited Plan for Individuals?

It's safe to say unlimited data plans for smartphones are back in vogue, now that all four wireless carriers offer multiple unlimited tiers. But which carrier has the best unlimited data plan?

We think T-Mobile's $70-a-month Magenta unlimited plan is among the best cell phone plans out there. (Good thing, too, since unlimited data is your only option at T-Mobile.) T-Mobile's Magenta plan is not the cheapest unlimited 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 the T-Mobile-Sprint merger is about to move ahead, and we're just waiting for the deal to officially close, now that the two carriers have cleared one of the last big legal hurdles. While T-Mobile is promising a cheaper data plan once its combined network launches this year, we still don't know any other impacts on smartphone plan options. That includes Dish, which is inheriting some of the network assets that T-Mobile and Sprint have to unload to get the green-light for their deal to launch a new cellular service.

Verizon offers four unlimited plans, while AT&T features a trio of unlimited tiers. Unfortunately, the cheapest plans from either of these two carriers contain too many restrictions.

Plan Name
Plan Price
FeaturesWho's It Good For
T-Mobile Magenta
$70 WhistleOut480p video streaming, Unlimited 3GB of LTE hotspot data; speeds may be throttled after 50GBCustomers who want a simple bill and T-Mobile's regular freebies
Verizon Do More$80 Verizon480p video streaming, 15GB of LTE hotspot data, data may be throttled after 50GBCustomers who appreciate Verizon's network performance and reach
Sprint Unlimited Plus
$70 SprintHD video streaming, 15GB of LTE hotspot data; speeds may be throttled after 50GBCustomers who want extras like Hulu and Tidal without paying top dollar
AT&T Unlimited Extra$75 AT&T480p video streaming; 15GB of LTE hotspot data; data may be throttled after 50GBCustomers who don't want to pay up for Verizon's comparable unlimited plan

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.

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 (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.

Wireless carriers are upgrading to the faster 5G networking standard as we speak, and we now know what carriers will charge for that service. The good news is that your bill is largely unaffected at most carriers. AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile include 5G coverage with their unlimited plans (though in the case of AT&T and Sprint, you need to get specific plans). Verizon charges $10 extra on top of its unlimited plans, but waives that fee currently if you get a Do More, Play More or Get More plan.

Best Unlimited Plan: T-Mobile

T-Mobile’s $70-a-month Magenta unlimited plan is your best choice if you demand limitless data each month. (Magenta is the plan's new name; for the past few years, it's been known as the T-Mobile One plan.) 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 Magenta Plus.

If you'd prefer to pay less each month, T-Mobile's Essentials plan costs $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 Magenta. 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.

Best Alternative Unlimited Plan: Verizon

With four unlimited options — two of which that cost the same — Verizon isn't going to win prizes for clarity. But at least, it's charging a little less for unlimited data than it was before.

The most appealing option for most users is the $80-a-month Do More plan, which lets you enjoy up to 50GB of LTE data before Verizon exercises its right to slow your data speeds if its network is congested. Perks include 15GB of high-speed hotspot data and 500GB of free cloud storage. You also get six months of Apple Music.

MORE: Whose LTE Network Performs Best?

If you're more into streaming, the identically priced Play More may be the better choice. Apple Music is included in that plan, and you get to stream video at HD resolution instead of settling for 480p as you have to with Do More. Your speeds may slow after consuming 25GB of data, though, under the Play More plan.

Start Unlimited is Verizon's cheapest option at $70 a month, but Verizon can slow your speeds whenever its network gets congested. Get More customers enjoy 75GB of data, free Apple music and HD video streaming, plus 30GB of LTE hotspot data, but at $90 a month, that's Verizon's most expensive plan.

Other Unlimited Options: Sprint and AT&T

Sprint also splits its unlimited offerings into multiple tiers — a $60 Unlimited Basic plan, a $70 Unlimited Plus option and an $80 Unlimited Premium plan. 

Unlimited 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 now offers three different plans. The best choice for individuals is the $75 a month Unlimited Extra plan, which includes 15GB of hotspot data and AT&T's promise to not slow down your data unless you use more than 50GB in a month. You can save money with the $65 Unlimited Starter plan, but there's no hotspot data and AT&T reserves the right to slow your data whenever its network gets congested.

As for the third plan, AT&T Unlimited Elite restores some of the video streaming perks AT&T dropped when it launched its unlimited plans in October — at least when it comes to being able to watch HBO. The Unlimited Elite plan also lets you stream video in HD resolution, doubles hotspot data to 30GB and raises the bar for when AT&T might slow down your data speeds to 100GB in a month. It's also the priciest of AT&T plans at $85 a month.

One caveat about unlimited data: It’s not totally without limits. AT&T reserves the right to start throttling data at 50GB for Unlimited Extra and 100GB for Unlimited Elite; Unlimited Starter customers can be throttled at any time. Likewise, Verizon sets different thresholds for slowing down data depending on the plan you have. (The Get More plan has the biggest cap at 75GB.) Both T-Mobile and Sprint let you use 50GB of data before throttling can begin.

Best Individual Plan with Tiered Data: 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 with Tiered Data: 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

MORE: The Best Phones Available at AT&T

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 (though that's only $5 less than AT&T's cheapest unlimited plan). 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.

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

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. However, that's not a very compelling price, especially when many prepaid offerings offer more data for less money.

  • PhilipMichaels
    Archived comments are found here:
  • JamieLanger
    It also depends on your geographical location and the vicinity of you with respect to the carrier's signal. You can just bypass iCloud lock if you're using an iPhone and get done with it. Everything completes every other, thus an ultimate "ideal" plan is not always feasible