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AT&T’s $80 Unlimited & More Premium plan gets you 15 GB hotspot use and HD video for $5 less than Verizon’s Beyond Unlimited rate, but its network trails T-Mobile’s in OpenSignal’s and PCMag’s studies. And we don’t think anyone should get its $70-per-month, no-hotspot-allowed Unlimited & More option. Like Verizon, it requires automatic payments for you to get its advertised prices but won’t let you make those on a credit card, and it disqualifies all of its discounts except its military/veterans deal from that plan.
We’re not fond of Verizon’s unlimited plans, none of which (as I’ve observed elsewhere) are truly limitless. For example, in addition to banning HD-video streaming and knee-capping mobile-hotspot speeds, the $75 Go Unlimited plan may throttle your speeds “in times of congestion,” even at the start of a billing cycle before you’ve burned up any data yourself—the others spot you 22 or 75 GB of usage before subjecting you to that risk. And as with the 5 GB plan, the $75 price requires enabling automatic payments from a checking account or debit card; otherwise it’s $5 more. Unlike Verizon’s capped plans, which give you full-speed data when roaming, the unlimited plan offers only 2G domestic data roaming, which one reader complained about while noting his experience roaming in Alaska and Puerto Rico. And the unlimited plans exclude all of Verizon’s discounts except for those for active military and veterans.
If you’re in search of a budget option but don’t want to give up the reliability of Big Four service, Sprint has a range of plans that hit their target. It has the cheapest unlimited data plan, starting at $60 per month. Sprint also tends to run numerous half-off promotions that can provide an extra nudge. Its current promotion offers the fourth and fifth line free if you switch from another provider.
After the distraction of two self-inflicted wounds (a doomed purchase of its smaller competitor Nextel, followed by the wrong choice of 4G technology before a belated pivot to LTE), Sprint is finally making substantial progress with its network. If its coverage works for you, its pricing is almost as cheap as that of many prepaid and MVNO services but provides higher data allotments—and Sprint’s incentives to customers who bring numbers from other carriers allow even greater savings. However, as with Verizon, its CDMA technology permits simultaneous voice and data only if you’re on LTE.
Rent or buy a portable hotspot — Portable hotspots are small gadgets that create a wireless network and share a cellular data connection over it — you can typically connect 5 or 10 devices to the network you create. You can rent one for short trips at an inflated daily or weekly rate, or you can buy an unlocked hotspot and stick a local SIM card in it, just as if it were a phone. Your smartphone will treat this like any other Wi-Fi network.
The carrier's new Above Unlimited offers that Canada/Mexico benefit, too, and augments it with another goodie aimed at travelers: you get five daily TravelPasses each month to use in more than 130 countries. That lets you use up to 512MB of LTE data per day. Just be aware that you'll have to do a lot of traveling to justify the higher rate for Above Unlimited, as it costs $95 a month for a single line versus $75 and $85 for Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited, respectively.