Our family cell phone plan becomes a headache every month when I receive the inevitable text that we have used 75% of our data. I share a 15 GB data plan with my 16-year-old twins and my mother-in-law. Since my mother-in-law doesn't use any data, my kids and I each have 5 GB to use for the month.
Some of my kids' friends say 5 GB is nothing. They can't believe my children have to suffer with such a small amount of data for the month. I don't understand why they can't just wait until they're connected to Wi-Fi before watching the next episode of "Stranger Things." I, on the other hand, am a good girl and always stay under my allotted amount. I'm a pretty heavy phone user, but I log in to Wi-Fi when possible and rarely watch movies or play video games while out and about.
Am I being unreasonable to expect my children to live on 5 GB per month? I don't think so, but I am tired of monitoring it like a hawk, so I think it's time to make the move to the promised land of unlimited data.
All four major carriers have unlimited data plans, but are they all created equal? Nope.
Depending on your needs and priorities for your phone(s), each plan has different things that will appeal to you. Of course you can get all the fine print on the carriers' websites, but I will break down the main issues that are important to me (and, I'm guessing, for you too). The plans I've included are T-Mobile's One Unlimited Plan, Sprint's Unlimited Freedom Plan, AT&T's Unlimited Choice Enhanced Plan and Verizon's GoUnlimited Plan.
If your monthly bill is the only thing you're worried about, T-Mobile is probably your best bet. It's the only carrier that includes taxes and fees in the listed price, so there are no surprises once you get your bill. Taxes and fees can often add another 20 percent onto the plan's cost, so keep that in mind with the other three carriers. Also note that all rates are only applicable if you sign up for auto pay.
T-Mobile starts at $70 per month for one line and notches up to five lines for $180.
Sprint starts at $60 per month for one line, going up to five lines for $190.
AT&T starts at $65 per month for one line, with five lines costing $190.
Verizon starts at $80 per month for one line, ending up at $200 for five lines.
Nothing drives me more insane than a dropped call. I live in a rural area and commute to the city, so coverage is important at my home, and along my route to work. Right now, I have two spots along the interstate where I know I will always drop a call. I have to plan my calls around these drop zones and it's ridiculous. It's also another reason I'm looking at options for switching carriers and plans right now. So while I'm more concerned about coverage for phone calls, others may care more about data coverage. Two independent studies by Root Metrics and PC Mag found Verizon to be the most reliable in both categories.
Throttling is when an Internet Service Provider purposely slows down your internet by limiting your bandwidth. This can happen when you've reached a preset monthly data cap, or on specific high traffic websites. You may recall Apple recently admitted to doing this on older phones (read this Digital Trends article explaining how to disable it). All of the major carriers reserve the right to throttle data speeds in their fine print. Sprint says it may slow your connection after you use 23 GB of data. AT&T and Verizon say it may happen after someone uses 22 GB, but they give you the option of eliminating the possibility by paying more. T-Mobile is the clear winner here, claiming it will not throttle data speeds until you've used 50 GB of LTE data.
Maybe you're a sucker for getting something free. Or maybe you just want someone else to take on one of the bills you're currently paying. T-Mobile gives customers a free Netflix subscription for unlimited plans with two or more lines. If you already have a Netflix account, T-Mobile will pay the $9.99. Sprint offers a free $7.99 subscription to Hulu with unlimited plans. And with its unlimited plans, AT&T is throwing in free access to the HBO Now streaming app, which normally costs $14.99 per month.
So which unlimited plan is right for your family? I'm still not totally sure, but hopefully these tools help you figure out what works for you.