There doesn't appear to be a lot of guesswork with T-Mobile's data plans, since the carrier only offers unlimited data. But there's more to the T-Mobile One plan than meets the eye.
You actually have a couple potential variations of T-Mobile One to pick from. And given that T-Mobile seems to trot out promotional pricing at the drop of a hat, it's worth taking a closer look at what the Uncarrier offers potential customers.
Best Family Plan
In late 2016, T-Mobile said it was doing away with tiered data plans in favor of T-Mobile One, a plan that provides unlimited LTE data alongside unlimited talk and text. For a family of four, it’s an attractive option, even as other carriers have rushed out with unlimited data plans of their own. T-Mobile's offering normally costs a family of four $160, which is cheaper than what Verizon currently charges and on par with how Sprint normally prices its unlimited plans. (As of this writing, Sprint offers a discounted rate on unlimited family plans, waiving charges on the third and fourth line of data through March 2019.)
If you want to know how things break down, T-Mobile charges $70 for the first line of data, $50 for the second and $20 for each line after that. Put another way, a family of four pays $40 each per line. Note that T-Mobile frequently offers promotions where it discounts additional lines. As of this writing, for example, it's waiving the cost of that fourth line, meaning a family of four would pay $140 for unlimited data each month. Bottom line: check T-Mobile for deals before you sign up for a plan.
T-Mobile’s price assumes you enroll in the carrier’s automatic payment program; otherwise, you’ll be charged an extra $5 per line each month. T-Mobile's pricing includes taxes and fees, a departure from how other carriers handle things.
T-Mobile's plan has its share of limitations. You're restricted to streaming video at 480p. Also, hotspot data, while unlimited, is capped at 3G speeds. If either of these restrictions is too much to bear, you can sign up for T-Mobile One Plus, which costs an extra $10 per month per line.
T-Mobile One Plus lets you stream HD video and it gives you 10GB of LTE hotspot data; you get additional perks like faster data speed when traveling abroad and unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi via Gogo. (T-Mobile One subscribers only get an hour of free data on Gogo-enabled flights.) T-Mobile briefly included HD streaming and 10GB of LTE hotspot data as part of the standard T-Mobile One plan, when it was trying to steal some of thunder away from Verizon's entry into the unlimited data market, but that promotion's over.
Adding T-Mobile One Plus to more than two lines will eat away at the price edge T-Mobile enjoys over Verizon's unlimited plan. Then again, for many users watching Netflix on a 5-inch smartphone, T-Mobile One and its DVD-quality streaming will probably be good enough, especially since T-Mobile will cover the cost of your Netflix subscription if you've got two or more T-Mobile One lines. (More on that in a moment.)
But wait — there's more. For an extra $25 a month, you can opt for T-Mobile One Plus International, which includes the video streaming and in-flight Wi-Fi benefits of T-Mobile One Plus along with unlimited international calling to landlines in 70-plus countries and mobile numbers in 30-plus countries. You also get unlimited hotspot data at LTE speeds.
T-Mobile offers one other variation on its lone unlimited plan that could be appealing to anyone 55 years or older. The carrier's T-Mobile One Unlimited 55+ plan provides two lines of unlimited talk, text and data. That now costs $70 a month, a $10 increase T-Mobile just instituted. Even at the higher price, it remains a considerable discount from the regular price of the T-Mobile One plan for multiple lines. Note that the 55+ plan isn't eligible for promotions such as T-Mobile covering the cost of your Netflix subscription.
There's one final limitation no matter which plan you pick. If you use too much data, T-Mobile reserves the right to throttle your speeds, but that doesn't kick in until you've used around 50GB of data in a month (basically, what the top 3 percent of data users consume). While this practice is pretty standard among carriers, T-Mobile's 50GB ceiling is the most generous. Sprint's cap kicks in at 23GB, for example.
Other Options: Apart from the variations on T-Mobile One noted above, that's it in terms of options. So what if you're interested in a T-Mobile plan but don't use a lot of data? T-Mobile's answer is its KickBack program which will give you a $10 bill credit for each line that doesn't use more than 2GB of data per month. That's a potentially attractive program for families, especially if some people on the plan use far less data than others. You have to enroll in KickBack through T-Mobile's mobile app.
Best Individual Plan
The advent of T-Mobile One takes a lot of the guesswork out of finding an individual plan — you can get unlimited data for $70 a month. (Again, you'll need to enroll in autopay for that price.) That’s $10 more expensive than what Sprint charges for its unlimited plan, though T-Mobile’s network performs a lot better. AT&T's Unlimited Choice Plan now costs $65 and no longer automatically restricts data speeds, though AT&T reserves the right to throttle speeds if its network gets congested. And the T-Mobile One plan is cheaper than either of Verizon's unlimited options.
Other Options: It's unlimited data or nothing, friend, though you could also take advantage of the KickBack program for those months where you use less than 2GB of data to reduce the cost of your monthly unlimited plan by $10 in bill credits.
Best Prepaid Plan
T-Mobile may have pared its other plans down to a single unlimited offering (with some variations), but its prepaid choices are something of a mess. Officially, there are two tiered data plans available to prepaid customers: you can either get 4GB of high-speed data for $45 a month or 6GB for $55 a month. Either might seem appealing to customers who like T-Mobile's network but don't want to pay for unlimited data.
But wait — there's another prepaid option. T-Mobile says you can select a 10GB prepaid plan for $50 — which is $5 less than what you'd pay on its 6GB plan. T-Mobile does list the 10GB option as a limited-time offer, so it's unclear how long it will be available.
The 10GB plan appears to be T-Mobile's attempt to provide a family plan for prepaid customers. You can add two 10GB lines for a total of $80 each month. Discounts on additional lines allow a family of four to have four lines of 10GB each for $120 a month.
T-Mobile offers an unlimited data option for prepaid customers. It's essentially the T-Mobile One plan without a credit check, and at $75, it costs $5 more each month than the standard T-Mobile One plan.
What You Need to Know About T-Mobile
Here are a few other things to consider when looking at T-Mobile's cellphone plans.
* T-Mobile is still a good choice for travelers. Generally, international travelers have plenty to like about T-Mobile, though there's a little less to like than before. Last November, T-Mobile put a cap on the amount of LTE data you can use while traveling in Mexico or Canada. Previously, you could use whatever amount of data you had in your plan while traveling in those countries; now it will be capped at 5GB per month, and if you go over, T-Mobile will slow down your speeds to 128 kbps (or 256 kpbs if you pay up for T-Mobile One Plus). That's a bummer if you spend a lot of time in Canada and Mexico, though you still get unlimited text and talk. T-Mobile One Plus International, a $25 add-on to the $70 unlimited plan, adds unlimited LTE data in Mexico and Canada, plus other perks.
Otherwise, T-Mobile still has unlimited texting and data more than 140 countries, with data reduced to considerably slower speeds in those countries. You're able to place calls to mobile devices and landlines at 20 cents a minute. With the Winter Olympics starting next month in South Korea, T-Mobile customers traveling in that country can expect unlimited calls within South Korea and back to the U.S. along with free, unlimited high-speed data. That offer goes into effect Feb. 7 and lasts through March 20.
* Taxes and fees are folded into T-Mobile's rates. Earlier this year, T-Mobile dropped access and regulatory fees from your bill, so that the price it advertises for its unlimited plan is what you pay each month. Essentially, T-Mobile adjusts the rate it charges so that any fees are baked into that $70-a-month you're paying for one line of unlimited data.
* T-Mobile's network is pretty strong. Verizon has long boasted of having the best network in the U.S., though the gap has vanished according to at least one third-party testing firms. OpenSignal called T-Mobile "the operator to beat" in its latest report, with T-Mobile offering the highest LTE speeds and most 4G availability. Another study from RootMetrics is less favorable about how T-Mobile stacks up, though in our own testing, T-Mobile and its MetroPCS subsidiary held their own against speed champ Verizon.
* You can devour a lot of data before getting throttled. Here's the thing about unlimited data — every carrier puts a limit on just how much data you can consume each month before it might slow down your speeds, T-Mobile included. But T-Mobile's limit is the highest among the four major carriers. And that cap is now at 50GB. (That's because T-Mobile only throttles the top 3 percent of its data users.) The next highest limit is Sprint's, at 23GB per month. Note that the throttling only takes place if the network's congested, and it only lasts for the remainder of a particular billing cycle.
* Your phone number now works on multiple devices. T-Mobile's Digits program turns your T-Mobile number into one that works on multiple devices, whether that's an old phone you have lying around or even a laptop or tablet. Every T-Mobile subscriber gets one Digits number for free, and customers on a T-Mobile One Plus or T-Mobile One Plus International plan will be able to get an extra number for free for a limited time. (Otherwise, it's an extra $15 a month.) Think of Digits as a more convenient way to stay connected even if your main phone isn't close at hand.
* T-Mobile subscribers get weekly freebies. Each week, T-Mobile gives away free prizes to its subscribers, and all you need to claim your reward is the T-Mobile Tuesday app. Recurring giveaways have included free Frostys from Wendy's and movie downloads from Vudu, with the Subway fast food chain joining the mix, too.The carrier also gives away an ever-changing weekly prize each week. T-Mobile Tuesdays have not been glitch-free — original participant Domino's pulled out after it was unable to keep up with the demand for free pizzas — but it has been widely embraced by subscribers as another way that T-Mobile stands out from other carriers.
* T-Mobile picks up your Netflix bill, too. If you have multiple lines on a T-Mobile One plan, say goodbye to that $9.99-a-month charge for Netflix. T-Mobile says it will cover the cost of the streaming service if you've got two or more lines, potentially saving you $120 per year. Legacy T-Mobile accounts aren't eligible, nor are special promotional accounts like the Unlimited 55+ Plan or people who pay $100 a month for two lines. If you have an $11.99 premium account for Netflix, you'll still have to pick up the extra $2 each month.