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When it comes to picking an unlimited data plan for your new phone — whether you have an , , another  device or even a flip phone — things can quickly get complicated. Unlike with , where there often may be only one or two available options, most people in the US can pick wireless plans from several competitors at different prices that offer similar claims of performance or coverage. 

For this roundup, I’m going to focus on the three major carriers — Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T — combing through the multiple postpaid unlimited plans available to find the ones that provide the most perks and value for single lines and for families of four.

5G graphic

Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

Know your area

Before we get to the plans, to get the best deal you need to make sure you have the coverage that you need. This makes it very hard for us to give a blanket recommendation of any one carrier. T-Mobile’s service in New York may be excellent, but if you’re in rural Iowa, Verizon is more reliable. 

While your mileage may vary, the good news is that these networks are growing and improving all the time, particularly as the three major players race to blanket the US with 5G. It’s quite possible that a decade ago you left a network complaining about its sparse service, but now it’s been beefed itself up because of that race to acquire customers.

If you know any friends or family in your area that already use the carrier you’re considering, ask about their experience. You could also go to a carrier’s store and see if they offer any free ways to try out the service before switching over, such as . Using  you can try out its parent company Verizon’s network.

Know your deals and discounts

One other thing to keep in mind: discounts. All of the carriers offer additional discounts that you could be eligible for, depending on your employer, military status, student status or age.

First responders, military members, veterans, nurses and teachers can get discounts on every major carrier. for students, while T-Mobile’s Work perk could , with AT&T offering a similar program for its . 

If you’re 55 or older, you may also be eligible for a discounted plan: offers discounted plans nationwide for as low as $55 a month for two lines, and  and offer similar options — but only for Florida residents.

Now on to the picks.

James Martin/CNET

If you only need one line, AT&T’s new Value Plus plan could be the way to go. You get unlimited talk, text and data and 5G access. There are no perks like a free streaming service subscription or hotspot data and you will need to stick to one line. 

But if all you need is a simple unlimited plan from your phone this is $10 cheaper than T-Mobile’s cheapest Essentials pricing, $15 cheaper than AT&T’s Unlimited Starter (with this plan including 3GB of hotspot data) and $20 cheaper than Verizon’s 5G Start. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Those looking to save the most on unlimited service from the major carriers may be best with T-Mobile’s Essentials. Unlimited talk, text and data are included for all of the carrier’s base unlimited plans. In this price-focused comparison, T-Mobile’s option comes in at $60 for a single line, $5 a month cheaper than AT&T’s Unlimited Starter and $10 less than Verizon’s 5G Start. 

In addition to being $5 cheaper than AT&T’s option, T-Mobile’s Essentials includes unlimited mobile hotspot (albeit at slower „3G speeds“), giving you a little more flexibility. All three carriers offer 5G access with their base plans. We should note that Verizon’s 5G Start doesn’t support its fastest forms of 5G, but it’s unlikely you’ll be missing out on taking advantage of those speeds this early in . You can always reevaluate your options as Verizon and AT&T build out the latest updates to their respective 5G networks over the next two years. 

The savings of T-Mobile’s plan also become more pronounced the more lines you add. Two lines of Essentials is $90 a month, while a similar offering from AT&T or Verizon runs $120 a month. Three lines will also run $90 at T-Mobile thanks to a promotion, compared to $135 monthly at AT&T or Verizon. The four-line option is $105 at T-Mobile, compared to $140 at the other carriers. 

These prices do come with a couple of caveats: Unlike T-Mobile’s Magenta or Magenta Max plans, taxes and fees are not included in any of these prices, making the actual total a little higher. All the deals also require that you set up AutoPay and paperless billing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

AT&T’s plan is more expensive than T-Mobile Essentials but cheaper for one line when compared to Verizon’s Start Unlimited. Like T-Mobile’s plan, this option also includes access to all of the carrier’s 5G networks. Verizon’s cheapest plan limits you to its slowest form of 5G.  

CNET

Formerly called Start Unlimited, Verizon’s base unlimited plan is the priciest of the bunch. That said, depending on your employee discount, it could be a good option. A teacher’s discount, for example, would knock the single-line price down to $60 per month (a $10 monthly savings), while four lines would run $120 per month (a $20 monthly discount). 

As mentioned, with this plan you will only have access to Verizon’s slowest form of 5G that it calls „5G Nationwide.“ To get access to the carrier’s faster networks (what it calls „5G Ultrawideband“) you will need a pricier plan such as Play More, Do More or Get More. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you’re looking for freebies with your wireless service, Verizon has one of the most aggressive bundles out there with its Play More plan ($80 a month for one line, $45 a month if you have four lines). 

Verizon’s Play More plan includes unlimited talk, text and data and 25 GB of higher-speed 5G and 4G LTE hotspot data. Among the perks are a free subscription to the Disney Bundle (Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and Hulu)  and .

All told, the perks quickly add up if you use any of these services. The Disney Bundle normally runs $14 a month, and Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass each run $5. 

That’s potentially $24 a month in services. Verizon offers these benefits as part of its Play More and Get More plans, but for most people, the Play More choice is the best fit. Get More runs an extra $10 a month ($90 a month for a single line, $220 a month for four lines) and adds an extra 25 GB of high-speed hotspot data, 50% off a connected device (like a monthly plan for tablet or smartwatch) and 600 GB of Verizon’s Cloud Storage. Get More also includes a subscription to Apple Music, normally $10 per month. 

Something to note: These perks are often limited to one per account, so only one line on a family plan would qualify to open a Disney Plus account and get it covered by the carrier. 

Verizon also lets you mix and match plans when you have multiple lines. 

If you have four people on your family plan, only one needs to have Play More to get the perks for the whole family. The rest can be on the cheaper 5G Start, which would make four lines $150 a month as opposed to $180 a month if all four lines had Play More.

Angela Lang/CNET

T-Mobile is the runner-up for perks. Among the benefits are unlimited international data (albeit at slow „2G speeds“) when traveling in over 210 countries, an hour of Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi, T-Mobile Tuesdays weekly giveaways and the bundling of Netflix’s $9 a month Basic plan (which is limited to watching on one screen at a time and without HD). It also now offers a and a free year of . 

Its pricier Magenta Max plan upgrades the Netflix subscription to the more popular $14-a-month Standard plan (which allows for HD streaming on up to two screens at once) and adds faster international data and unlimited Gogo Wi-Fi on flights. Unlike its Essentials plan discussed earlier, T-Mobile also includes taxes and fees with the pricing of its Magenta and Magenta Max plans. 

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HBO Max is only included with AT&T’s Unlimited Elite plan. 

Angela Lang/CNET

More about unlimited data plans and perks

AT&T’s unlimited plans don’t have much in the way of perks. If you want HBO Max, you’ll need the carrier’s top Unlimited Elite offering ($85 for one line, $50 a month if you have four lines), though like with Verizon you can mix up the plans on your account so that only one line has the Elite and the others are on more affordable options like Starter. 

As with Verizon and the Disney Bundle, T-Mobile’s offering of Netflix, Paramount Plus and Apple TV Plus (and AT&T’s offering of HBO Max) is limited to one subscription per account, not one for each line you have.

Unlimited data plans FAQs

Why get unlimited?

If you’re on T-Mobile, all of your plans are unlimited. AT&T and Verizon, however, still offer some tiered data plans. 

Although everyone’s wireless needs are different, for most we think unlimited plans make the most sense especially when it comes to choosing a new plan. 

A 5GB shared data plan at Verizon is $55 for one line, or $130 for four lines. This plan has unlimited talk and text, but after you use up 5GB of data — and it’s 5GB shared with all your lines, not 5GB for each line — your speed will drastically slow until the end of your billing cycle. If you want faster data in the interim, you need to pay an absurd $15 per gigabyte. 

Verizon’s basic unlimited plan — now called 5G Start — is $70 a month for one line, or $140 for four lines. So if you’re coming close to your data limit it may make more sense to switch to an unlimited plan. Verizon also has a 10GB per month shared data plan that is $65 per month for one line or $140 for four lines. 

The good news with Verizon’s plan is that if you don’t use all your data up in a month it will roll into the next month. So if you have a 5GB plan and only use 2GB, your next month will have 7GB available. Verizon’s plans also don’t have access to the carrier’s fastest 5G networks.

AT&T’s option isn’t much better. It has a 4GB per line plan that runs $50 a month for one line ($160 for four lines). Each line here gets 4GB of data, but if you go over that threshold in a month you’re paying $10 for every 2GB. AT&T’s plan also does not include access to its 5G networks. 

The company’s basic unlimited plan, called Unlimited Starter, is $65 a month for one line or $140 for four lines. 

If you have one or two lines and don’t use a lot of data, you may be fine with one of these plans or the older plan you currently have. For most, however, we really do believe unlimited is the best choice when choosing a new plan.

Is unlimited data really unlimited?

It is, but the speeds you get may vary depending on your plan and how much data you use in a given month. Whereas in the past carriers would slow down or „throttle“ your speeds if you pass a certain limit (usually over 22GB of data within a month) for the remainder of your billing cycle, today all three major providers claim that they will only do that in special cases. 

To have your data slowed on the plans mentioned above you will need to have: 

1. Used over 50GB of data in a month.

2. Be in an area that is experiencing „congestion,“ „heavy traffic“ or if the network is „busy.“ Examples of this could be at a sporting event or concert where there are tens of thousands of people in the same area uploading and sharing photos and videos.

All carriers say that in these cases your data should only be slowed „temporarily.“ If you have an older unlimited plan, however, your threshold for when your data slows and how long it lasts may be different.

Is hotspot included?

Hotspot, or the ability to share your phone’s connection with other devices, will vary based on the plan you have. Some, like AT&T’s Value Plus and Verizon’s 5G Start, don’t include it at all while others — such as AT&T’s Unlimited Starter and T-Mobile’s Essentials and Magenta — offer limited amounts of high-speed access before capping your hotspot performance to „3G“ or „2G“ speeds. 

In short, if hotspot access is important for you, check out a pricier unlimited plan such as T-Mobile’s Magenta Max (40GB of high-speed data); Verizon’s Play, Do or Get More (25GB of high-speed data on Play/Do, 50GB on Get More); or PTS Terbaik ASEAN AT&T’s Unlimited Extra (15GB of high-speed data) or Unlimited Elite (40GB of high-speed data) options. 

We’ll keep updating this article as new unlimited plans and better deals emerge. In the meantime, if you know of a better wireless plan deal or have your own favorites, drop them into the comments or message me on Twitter .

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