Which unlimited plan should you buy: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon?

All four major carriers in the U.S. offer unlimited data plans. But which is the best?

With Verizon bringing back an unlimited data plan, the big four networks in the United States (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) all carry an unlimited data plan now. That's important for power users as well as anyone who uses their mobile broadband internet as their sole way to stay in touch or for entertainment. The cost of data overages means that unlimited data is a must for many of us.

But just because everyone offers unlimited data doesn't mean that all plans are equal. Pricing is important as are "extras" like tethering and the hidden data cap that pushes you back to slower 3G speeds when you reach it. And of course, zero-rating means we have to pay attention to what unlimited means when it comes to the quality of streaming media as well as the source.

We took a look at what each carrier has to offer so we can decide who delivers the very best unlimited data package. Let's start with a look at the details for each carrier.

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AT&T

Unlimited Plus

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data
  • 10 GB mobile hotspot (tethering)
  • Unlimited talk and text to Canada and Mexico
  • Advanced messaging between compatible phones on the AT&T network
  • Unlimited talk, text, and data in Canada and Mexico with free Roam North America Feature (if more than 50% of use is outside the U.S. the plan can be terminated)
  • Unlimited music and video streaming with optional Stream Saver for less data use
  • $25 monthly credit for DirecTV services
  • One line of service on an AT&T Unlimited Plus plan is $90
  • Two lines of service for $145
  • Up to eight additional lines (includes any phone, LTE tablets, LTE hotspots and connected cars) for $20 per line
  • Add a wearable for $10 per month

Unlimited Choice

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data
  • Data speeds capped at 3Mbps
  • Standard definition video streaming
  • One line of service on an AT&T Unlimited Choice plan is $60
  • Two lines of service for $115
  • Up to eight additional lines (includes any phone, LTE tablets, LTE hotspots and connected cars) for $20 per line
  • Add a wearable for $10 per month

Everything you need to know about AT&T's unlimited plans

Sprint Unlimited Freedom plan

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data (with certain restrictions)
  • Unlimited data for streaming video up to 1080p
  • Unlimited data for gaming up to 8Mbps
  • Unlimited data for streaming music up to 1.5Mbps
  • 10GB high-speed mobile hotspot with VPN and P2P support
  • Add a tablet with unlimited data for $25 per month
  • One line of service is $50
  • Two lines of service is $90
  • Three lines of service is $90
  • Four lines of service is $90

Sprint's pricing is scheduled to change June 30, 2018. The "free" third and fourth lines are a current promotion and will probably go away.

Everything you neeed to know about Sprint's Unlimited Freedom Plan

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T-Mobile

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data with 200MB of roaming data
  • Unlimited talk, text, and data in Canada and Mexico
  • One hour of free Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi and unlimited texting on enabled flights
  • Unlimited data and texting in over 140 locations at 2x speed (264kbps) (limited time offer)
  • 10GB 3G mobile hotspot use
  • One line of service on a T-Mobile ONE plan is $70 (including taxes and fees)
  • Two lines of service for $100 (including taxes and fees)
  • Three lines of service for $140 (including taxes and fees)
  • Four lines is $160 and each additional line adds $20 to the total (including taxes and fees)

T-Mobile's One plan has some limitations. Streaming video is compressed and delivered at 480p and tethering is limited to 3G speeds. You can add One Plus to any plan for an extra $10 per month per line and enable 1080p HD video streaming and 10GB of high-speed 4G LTE tethering. The One Plus International offers unlimited 4G LTE tethering for an extra $25/mo per line.

Everything you need to know about T-Mobile's unlimited plans

Verizon

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data
  • Unlimited HD streaming video (see Verizon's Video Optimization Deployment page)
  • 10GB high-speed mobile hotspot
  • Add a tablet with unlimited data for $20 per month
  • Add a connected device for $5 per month
  • Unlimited calling and texting to and from Canada and Mexico
  • $80 for one line of service
  • $70 per line for two
  • $54 per line for three
  • $45 per line for four

Everything you need to know about Verizon's unlimited plan

The best unlimited data plan

The best plan is the one that works where you need it to work, not the one that's the cheapest. And we can't tell you which that one is, because it's different for each of us. Paying more than you need to for phone service is a bad idea, but so is paying for service that doesn't work.

Generally, if you live outside of a metropolitan area that means Verizon. You pay a little more for the first or second lines when compared to T-Mobile (especially once taxes and fees are applied) but chances are Verizon will have the best coverage if you're in a rural area. There are exceptions, so be sure to investigate before you give any company your money.

If you're part of the 90% of the U.S. population who lives in a large town or city, your choices are expanded. T-Mobile can be a great choice for a single line or two lines, as even with the One Plus add-on fee of $10 per month you'll still save money because they include taxes and fees in the cost. If you need more than two lines, Verizon is actually cheaper once you factor in the $10 per line for One Plus, but you still have the taxes and fees to contend with on Verizon. Alternatively, if you're fine with 480p video and 3G tethering speeds, you can forego the One Plus add-on and come in a few dollars cheaper.

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Of course none of this includes any customer-loyalty offerings or legacy plans you might be using. In those cases, you might want to stick with the carrier you have now instead of switching because of new pricing or new promotions.

We can't tell you which carrier will be the best for you. But we can tell you what to look for and where to start. Talk to your friends and see what service they are using and how well it's working, and call each company to see exactly what they have to offer. Most carriers have plans they don't advertise and one may fit your needs better than the default unlimited plans.

We just want you to enjoy the service you're paying for!

See plans at AT&T

See plans at Sprint

See plans at T-Mobile

See plans at Verizon

Your turn

What carrier do you subscribe to? Are you happy or are you looking for something new? Add your experience to the comments and help sort this mess out!

Update July 7, 2017: This post has been completely rewritten with new information about all the carriers' unlimited plans, and a new conclusion based on current information.