Smartphone plans across major US carriers – A Comparison

26 Jun

The intent of this article is to elucidate various cellphone plans offered by the 4 major mobile operators in USA – Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. It will help American residents in analyzing various carrier plans. Readers in other countries will be able to comprehend the cost of wireless services for US subscribers. Plan pricing and details are latest as of this writing and subject to variation in different parts of the country. These are monthly tariffs with taxes and fees not included.

Post-paid users account for more than two-thirds of US mobile subscriber base, so let us start with monthly bill plans.

Smartphone plans - Table 1

One notices that there is only little cost difference between the plans of two biggest operators, Verizon and AT&T. However, there are other factors too that affect a new customers’ decision. Device availability could play a role. Coverage and network quality is best in Verizon, but AT&T’s LTE and 3G network is generally rated faster wherever it exists. Another comparison parameter used to be the ability to swap SIM cards in GSM phones. That is why it was a good idea to use a GSM service like AT&T if the subscriber traveled internationally, but that difference is fading away now. Latest phones from Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers have built-in SIM card slots in Verizon and Sprint models. Customer service is also a differentiating factor. My personal experience with AT&T and prior to that with T-Mobile was generally satisfactory.

Although behind on LTE deployment, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile offer very competitive and simpler plans. Given the way their tariff model works, Sprint looks good for individuals but expensive for families. Unlimited no-tier data has been the operators’ USP.  T-Mobile has recently started offering no contract plans. That brings flexibility but not much financial gain for the customer.  However, T-Mobile is the best value for money if you bring your own device.

AT&T Wireless and Sprint Nextel also have individual and family plans for new subscribers. As discussed earlier, Sprint’s unlimited data plans are cheaper for individuals. Adding extra line is more cost-effective with AT&T whereas Sprint offers a better value for money for a family of two.

Smartphone plans - Table 2

Smartphone plans - Table 3

Now let us briefly discuss the uncomplicated and hassle free prepaid plans. About a third of US subscribers are using prepaid services. Nowadays, all 4 carriers offer pay as you go plans with unlimited talk and text and following is their pricing structure –

Verizon Wireless: 2 GB data – $60, 4 GB data – $70

AT&T Wireless: 2 GB data – $60, 4 GB data – $80

Sprint Nextel: Unlimited data – $70

T-Mobile: 500 MB data – $50, 2.5 GB data – $60, Unlimited – $70

Above analysis only looks at smartphone plans, since that is the direction in which the whole industry is moving. Smaller or regional carriers may have lower prices, but it just wasn’t practical to discuss all of them in a single article. While tariffs charged by service providers in other countries have not been listed here, it is widely believed that US subscribers pay higher for mobile phones services as compared to most of the world. In return, they get a service quality (coverage and capacity) which is among the best in the world.



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