Have you ever wondered if one of the other major wireless providers might be a better fit with your needs? Or are you looking to start your own wireless plan for the first time and are unsure of which is best for you?
There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to choosing the right wireless carrier. But don't worry - we've pulled together everything you need to know about the five major wireless carriers in the United States. From coverage to family plans, we're sharing everything you need to know about AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon.
Until recently, AT&T was one of just a couple nationwide carriers that dominated in terms of coverage. Many have come to associate AT&T with high cost in spite of the outstanding coverage. Fortunately, the carrier's prices have decreased in recent years.
AT&T Network Coverage
Coverage was always one of AT&T's strengths, and that is largely still the case today. The vast majority of the United States is covered by AT&T's LTE network with HD voice. According to AT&T, as much as 97 percent of Americans are covered by AT&T's network, whether at full LTE speeds or by a network partner. In terms of actual in-network coverage, the carrier claims that approximately 80 percent of Americans are covered by AT&T own network.
AT&T Individual Plans
While many providers have switched to offering unlimited plans almost exclusively, AT&T is one of the few providers to still offer plans with data allotments or "data buckets."
As for individual plans, AT&T's offerings fall into one of two categories: plans with unlimited data and plans with limited data (which AT&T refers to as "Mobile Share Plus").
AT&T Mobile Share Plus
If your data needs are low or your priority is to save money, the Mobile Share Plus plans are for you. These plans run at $50 or $60 per month (after autopay discounts) for one line of service and 3GB or 9GB of LTE data, respectively.
The Mobile Share Plus plans include unlimited minutes and unlimited texting. Additionally, the Mobile Share Plus plans are eligible for many of AT&T's perks, including wireless hotspot and the Signature Program, which offers discounts to those employed by one of AT&T's partners.
- Mobile Share Plus 3GB: $50 Per Month (After Autopay Discount)
- Mobile Share Plus 9GB: $60 Per Month (After Autopay Discount)
It's always good to have plenty of data. Fortunately, AT&T offers two different unlimited plans, which cost either $70 or $80 per month (after autopay discounts). As a perk, both unlimited plans include over 35 channels of live and on-demand television as part of AT&T's ownership of DirecTV.
There are key differences between Unlimited &More and Unlimited & More Premium. The Premium version offers 1080p HD video streaming versus the 480p SD quality with the regular &More plan. Additionally, &More Premium offers 15GB of LTE hotspot with your choice of HBO, Showtime, or one of several other premium TV channels at not additional cost.
At this time, it does not seem that AT&T's unlimited plans are eligible for the Signature Program.
- Unlimited &More: $70 Per Month (After Autopay Discount)
- Unlimited &More Premium: $80 Per Month (After Autopay Discount)
AT&T Family Plans
Like most other major providers, AT&T offers the same plans for both individuals and families; however, additional lines are discounted. This makes family plans considerably more affordable than separate individual plans.
AT&T Family Mobile Share Plus
For two lines on Mobile Share Plus 3GB, the monthly cost starts at $80; in other words, the primary line costs $50 and the second line costs $30. However, lines three and above have a reduced monthly cost of $20 each.
With Mobile Share Plus 9GB, the cost for two lines starts at $100, which is $60 for the primary line and $40 for the second line. Then, like Mobile Share Plus 3GB, lines three and above cost $20 per month each.
- Mobile Share Plus 3GB: $50 for 1st line, $30 for 2nd line, $20 for lines 3+
- Mobile Share Plus 9GB: $60 for 1st line, $40 for 2nd line, $20 for lines 3+
AT&T Family Unlimited
Like the Mobile Share Plus plans, the unlimited plans are eligible for multi-line accounts, too.
The standard Unlimited &More plan would cost $125 per month for two lines, which is $70 for the primary line and $55 for the second line. Then lines three and above cost $20 each per month.
The Unlimited & More Premium costs $150 per month for two lines, or $80 for the primary line and $70 for the second. Lines three and above cost $20 per month each.
- Unlimited &More: $70 for 1st line, $55 for 2nd line, $20 for lines 3+
- Unlimited &More Premium: $80 for 1st line, $70 for 2nd line, $20 for lines 3+
Sprint has remained a compelling choice due to its extremely affordable and straightforward plan options. Additionally, Sprint has become increasing known for its aggressive promotions and limited-time plan discounts. However, it's possible that Sprint could be acquired by T-Mobile in the near future.
Sprint Network Coverage
When it comes to network coverage, Sprint is typically strong in urban and suburban areas with rurals areas having the most inconsistent coverage. And in some areas, Sprint is often praised for its low-latency data performance.
Sprint Individual Plans
Sprint continues to undercut the competition when it comes to price while mostly offering plans that are unlimited.
Sprint 2GB Phone Plan
Currently, Spring only offers a single plan with a "data bucket," which is called the 2GB Phone Plan for just $40 per month. Besides 2GB of LTE data, the plan includes unlimited minutes and texting.
As inexpensive as the 2GB plan may be, Sprint's unlimited plans are quite compelling. The plans - Unlimited Basic, Unlimited Plus, and Unlimited Premium - range in price from $60 per month for a single line to $80 per month.
The primary difference between the three plans are the perks and add-ons; for example, the Unlimited Basic offers unlimited minutes, texting, and LTE data with a small hotspot allowance of 500MB, 480p SD video streaming, and an included Hulu subscription.
Unlimited Plus offers all the features of Unlimited Basic with an increased hotspot allowance of 50GB, streaming video quality increased to 1080p HD, and an included subscription to Tidal.
Finally, the Unlimited Premium brings all the features of Unlimited Basic and Unlimited Plus; however, the Premium plan includes Lookout mobile security, 100GB of LTE hotspot, and an included subscription to Amazon Prime.
- 2GB Phone Plan: $40 Per Month
- Unlimited Basic: $60 Per Month
- Unlimited Plus: $70 Per Month
- Unlimited Premium: $80 Per Month
Sprint Family Plans
All of Sprint's unlimited plans can also become family plans simply by adding lines. Additionally, it's beneficial to check on current promotions because Sprint often offers discounted or even free lines.
Currently, both the Unlimited Basic and Unlimited Plus plans are available at the same price for multi-line accounts. Additionally, this promotion makes lines three through five free until June 30.
For two to five lines on either the Unlimited Basic or Unlimited Plus, the cost is $100 per month for a limited time. The Unlimited Premium will cost $140 per month for two lines and an addition $20 per month for lines three and above.
- Unlimited Basic: $100 Per Month For Up to 5 Lines
- Unlimited Plus: $100 Per Month For Up to 5 Lines
- Unlimited Premium: $80 for 1st Line, $20 for Lines 2+
Over the past several years, T-Mobile has continued to make waves in the wireless industry. Having sparked the return of unlimited data plans and undercut competitors at nearly every turn, T-Mobile has grown its subscriber base considerably and is currently the third-largest wireless provider in the US.
T-Mobile Network Coverage
Much like Sprint, T-Mobile has traditionally had strong coverage in urban and suburban areas with rural coverage being quite inconsistent; however, in areas where T-Mobile coverage is strong, the "Uncarrier" is consistently praised for offering some of the highest data speeds of any of the five major carriers in the US.
It's worth noting, too, that T-Mobile's coverage is getting stronger as the carrier rolls out 600Mhz spectrum, which is extended-range LTE. As a result, rural areas as well as individuals with spotty T-Mobile coverage will soon see a noticeable improvement.
T-Mobile Individual Plans
T-Mobile's plans are arguable the simplest and most straightforward of any of the five major wireless carriers.
Currently, T-Mobile offers just one plan, which is called T-Mobile ONE. The plan offers unlimited minutes, unlimited texting, and unlimited LTE data for $70 per month. Additionally, the T-Mobile ONE plan includes all taxes and fees included, so your monthly bill would never be higher than the base rate of the plan, provided you don't have any add-ons or third-party service charges. Of course, there are some limitations and restrictions with the ONE plan, including streaming video being limited to 480p SD and limited-speed hotspot.
From there, T-Mobile offers an add-on upgrade to ONE. For an additional $15 per month - which makes the total cost of the plan $85 per month - you also get unlimited LTE hotspot and 1080p HD video streaming.
- T-Mobile ONE: $70 Per Month (After Autopay Discount)
- T-Mobile ONE Plus: $70 + $15 Per Month (After Autopay Discount)
T-Mobile Family Plans
Both versions of the T-Mobile ONE plan can easily be converted into family plans. Additionally, it works much like with other carriers where each additional line is added at a discounted rate, making T-Mobile's family plans much more cost-effective than giving each line a separate individual plan.
For two lines on T-Mobile ONE, the cost per month is $70 for the primary line and $50 for the second line, which totals to $120. Currently, there's a promotion where a third and fourth line can be added without increasing the monthly cost; however, outside of this promotional period, lines three and above cost $20 per month each.
If you want a family plan with ONE Plus, it's quite simple: Just add $10 for each line and each line on the plan will receive all the benefits of ONE Plus.
- T-Mobile ONE: $70 for 1st Line, $50 for 2nd Line, $20 for Lines 3+
- T-Mobile ONE Plus: $70 + $10 for 1st Line, $50 + $10 for 2nd Line, $20 + $10 for Lines 3+
As the smallest of the five major US carriers, US Cellular tends to be popular in more rural areas where the "Big Four" offer less coverage. However, in those areas, US Cellular has proven to be quite popular, having won numerous reader's choice awards. With plans and pricing that are comparable to competitors, US Cellular will only continue to grow in popularity.
US Cellular Coverage
In terms of its on-network coverage, US Cellular could almost be considered a regional provider; however, US Cellular has partnerships with AT&T and Verizon, which means that US Cellular subscribers will be able to use those partner providers networks whenever they're outside of US Cellular's own network footprint. This makes US Cellular considerably more attractive.
US Cellular Individual Plans
For a single line of service, US Cellular's plans - referred to by the carrier as Total plans - all offer unlimited minutes and unlimited texting. Beyond those essentials, you can choose the plan that offers the amount of data you need.
US Cellular Total 2GB
The entry-level Total plan is the Total 2GB. As the name indicates, the plan includes 2GB of LTE data in addition to unlimited minutes and texting for $55 per month. The Total 2GB plan is currently the only US Cellular plan that doesn't offer unlimited data.
US Cellular Total Unlimited
If you prefer to have more data at your disposal, US Cellular's Total Unlimited and Total Unlimited Plus are great choices.
Total Unlimited is $75 per month and includes unlimited data. However, Unlimited Plus, which is $85 per month, comes with increased data speeds, meaning that you get the full LTE speeds that are available on the network or on US Cellular's partners networks.
- Total 2GB: $55 Per Month
- Total Unlimited: $75 Per Month
- Total Unlimited Plus: $85 Per Month
US Cellular Family Plans
Like other major providers, US Cellular allows subscribers to turn any of its plans into family plans. This means you can get the same features on each line for less than the cost of giving each line an individual plan.
US Cellular Total 2GB Family
Total 2GB, which costs $55 per month for the first line, costs $40 for the second line, $35 for the third line, and $30 for the fourth line. So a four-line Total 2GB family plan would cost $55 plus $40 plus $35 plus $30, or a total of $160 per month before any autopay discounts.
US Cellular Total Unlimited Family
Depending on whether there are promotions available, US Cellular's Total Unlimited plans can be quite affordable for families. And like competitors, each additional line receives a discounted rate for the plan. Fortunately, US Cellular is offering a promotion right now, allowing you to get additional lines at a discounted rate.
For the regular Total Unlimited Plan, the first line costs $75 per month, the second line costs $55 per month, the third line costs $30 per month, and the fourth line costs $10 per month. This makes the cost of a four-line Total Unlimited family plan just $160 per month, which is the same cost as four lines on the Total 2GB plan.
The Total Unlimited Plus is similarly discounted, making the first line $85, the second line $65, the third line $40, and the fourth line $20. This puts the total for four lines on the Total Unlimited Plus plan at $200 per month before the autopay discount.
- Total 2GB: $55 for 1st Line, $40 for 2nd Line, $35 for 3rd Line, $30 for 4th Line
- Total Unlimited: $75 for 1st Line, $55 for 2nd Line, $30 for 3rd Line, $10 for 4th Line
- Total Unlimited Plus: $85 for 1st Line, $65 for 2nd Line, $40 for 3rd Line, $20 for 4th Line
When it comes to number of subscribers, Verizon has been the top carrier in the US for many years. However, the reason Verizon has remained such a popular wireless provider is due to the carrier's incredible coverage; whether you live in an urban or rural area, it's like that you'd be covered by Verizon's extensive network. The one drawback to choosing Verizon as your subscriber is the comparatively higher cost for plans, but fortunately, Verizon's plans have been slowly declining in price.
Verizon's coverage is quite impressive, as you can see from the map. Particularly on the East Coast and the Midwest, Verizon's coverage is virtually total. But it's worth noting that there are some notable gaps along the West Coast. However, Verizon is consistently ranked as having the best coverage in the United States.
Verizon Individual Plans
While most other providers offer unlimited data almost exclusively, Verizon is one of the few carriers to offer an assortment of data bucket plans.
Verizon Shared Data
Verizon's data bucket plans - referred to as Shared Data plans even though they're eligible for both single- and multi-line accounts - come in three sizes: S, M, and L.
The Verizon S plan includes unlimited minutes, unlimited texting, and 2GB of LTE data for $35 per month. The Verizon M plan increases the data allotment to 4GB for $50 per month while the L plan offers 8GB of data for $70 per month.
As well, Verizon offers a low-cost plan called B Plan, which, presumably, is a play on the expression "plan B." The plan costs an impressively-low $30 per month, providing a single line with unlimited minutes, unlimited texting, and 500MB of LTE data. This would be sufficient for as a backup or family device, or as a plan for a senior citizen.
If you'd prefer to have more than enough data at your disposal, Verizon's unlimited plans are the way to go. Currently, Verizon offers three unlimited plans for single lines: Go Unlimited, Beyond Unlimited, and Above Unlimited.
Go Unlimited is Verizon's entry-level unlimited plan, costing $75 per month after the autopay discount. This plan includes video streaming at 480p quality and unlimited hotspot at reduced speeds.
Beyond Unlimited is an upgraded version of Go Unlimited. At $85 per month after the autopay discount, Beyond Unlimited offers 15GB of LTE hotspot, 720p HD video streaming, and an included subscription to Apple Music.
Above Unlimited is the top-of-the-line unlimited plan, which costs $95 per month after the autopay discount. The main benefits of Above Unlimited are everything that's included with Beyond Unlimited, but with the hotspot data allotment increased to 20GB of LTE data. Additionally, Above Unlimited provides 500GB of Verizon Cloud Storage and 5 TravelPasses per month, allowing for 4G data usage in more than 130 foreign countries.
- B Plan (500MB): $30 Per Month
- S Plan (2GB): $35 Per Month
- M Plan (4GB): $50 Per Month
- L Plan (8GB): $70 Per Month
- Go Unlimited: $75 Per Month(After Autopay Discount)
- Beyond Unlimited: $85 Per Month (After Autopay Discount)
- Above Unlimited: $95 Per Month (After Autopay Discount)
Verizon Family Plans
As is often the case, most of Verizon's individual plans can be turned into family plans with relative ease. Best of all, each additional line gets a discount off the single-line rate for the plan.
Verizon Shared Data Family Plans
Each of Verizon's Shared Data plans for single lines are eligible for family plans. It works like this: The base cost of the plan is the cost for the primary line. Then each additional line that's added is an additional $20 per month.
So the Verizon M plan for three lines would cost $50 plus $20 plus $20, or $90 per month. And the Verizon L plan for four lines would cost $70 plus $20 plus $20 plus $20, or $130 per month.
Verizon Unlimited Family Plans
Similar to the Shared Data plans, Verizon's unlimited plans for single lines can also be turned into family plans. But this changes the pricing structure a bit.
When you add a line to one of Verizon's Unlimited plans, the cost of that line is equal to the cost of the primary; however, the rate per line decreases. So with the Go Unlimited Plan, the cost for a single line is $75 after the autopay discount, but the cost for two lines is $65 per line, or $130 per month. For three lines, the price decreases to $50 per line. For four (or more) lines, the price becomes $40 for each line.
For the Beyond Unlimited plan, the cost for a single line is $85 after the autopay discount. Then the cost for two lines is $80 per line, or $160. From there, the cost is $60 per line for three lines, and for plans with four or more lines, the cost is set at $50 per line.
Finally, there's the Above Unlimited plan. For the first line, you'd pay $95. For two lines, the cost becomes $90 per line, or $180. The cost of three lines is $70 per line, or $210. For plans with four or more lines, the cost is $60 per line.
- Verizon S Plan (2GB): $35 for 1st Line, $20 for Lines 2+
- Verizon M Plan (4GB): $50 for 1st Line, $20 for Lines 2+
- Verizon L Plan (8GB): $70 for 1st Line, $20 for Lines 2+
- Verizon Go Unlimited: 1 Line = $75, 2 Lines = $65/Line, 3 Lines = $50/Line, 4+ Lines = $40/Line
- Verizon Beyond Unlimited: 1 Line = $85, 2 Lines = $80/Line, 3 Lines = $60/Line, 4+ Lines = $50/Line
- Verizon Above Unlimited: 1 Line = $95, 2 Lines = $90/Line, 3 Lines = $70/Line, 4+ Lines = $60/Line