Six months ago T-Mobile made an unprecedented move by announcing it was killing all data plans in favor of a single offering, T-Mobile One, with unlimited high speed data plus unlimited talk and text for $70 for a single line. While it was one of its boldest “Un-carrier” announcements yet, as it is often the case, the devil was in the details. The new plan included unlimited standard definition video streaming only and limited tethering to 2G speeds — HD videos were an extra $25 per month and 4G high speed tethering $15.
Some of these initial restrictions didn’t go over well with users and just 10 days later T-Mobile bumped tethering to 3G speeds (512kbps), added a $3 one-day HD pass, and included both unlimited HD video streaming and high speed tethering for $25 per month instead of breaking them in two separate add-ons.
Fast forward to this week and we’ve seen one of the busiest weeks in recent memory as far as competition in the wireless industry is concerned. Verizon, five years after originally doing away with unlimited plans, seemingly caved to the pressure and announced an unlimited plan of its own that one-upped T-Mobile by including HD video streaming and 10GB of tethering without the need for add-ons.
T-Mobile responded almost immediately by dropping its HD video add-ons and matching the included 10GB for tethering. Sprint followed suit modifying its unlimited plan and lastly AT&T also announced an unlimited data plan that doesn’t require a subscription to AT&T’s cable or satellite TV service.
Now that all four major U.S. wireless carriers have played their cards here’s a quick rundown of how the new unlimited plans stack up.
|Taxes & fees included||No||Yes||No||No|
|Tethering||10GB per line, then 3G||10GB per line, then 3G||Not included||10GB per line, then 2G|
|Video quality||No throttling||No throttling if you switch off Binge On||No throttling||Up to 1080p|
There are a few caveats worth mentioning starting with the fact that all this all these unlimited plans actually have a soft limit on 4G data usage, and your speeds may be slowed after crossing that threshold in a given month. You won’t be throttled down to 2G speeds outright, but each carrier reserves the right to "de-prioritize" your traffic behind other customers during times of network congestion.
It’s also worth mentioning that all of the prices listed here, except for AT&T, are with auto-pay billing switch on — otherwise, lines are from $5 to $10 more expensive depending on the carrier. Sprint is significantly cheaper for 3 or 4 lines but that’s because the carrier is running a promotion in which the third and fourth line are completely free until March 31, 2018, at which time you'll have to pay $30 for each.
For international travelers, T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T offer unlimited calling and texting to and from Mexico and Canada, as well as unlimited high speed data in those countries, except for Verizon which caps usage at 500MB per day. T-Mobile and Sprint also offer unlimited data roaming in over 140 countries at 2G speeds, with high speed passes available, while Verizon and AT&T only offer $10/day data passes.
Lastly, but most importantly, this is only meant to give you a quick snapshot of the current unlimited data landscape after a busy week of announcements. It’s nice to have more options for people that demand more 4G LTE data but you’ll also need to consider things like network coverage and the quality of that coverage, as well as prices when factoring in a subsidized device and all applicable fees.