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The best unlimited phone data plan in 2021

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The best unlimited phone data plan in 2021

Sarah Tew / CNET

When it comes to selecting a wireless plan for your new phone, whether you have an iPhone, Galaxy, Android, or even a foldable phone, things can quickly get complicated. Unlike home internet, where there are often only one or two options available, most of the US can choose wireless plans from various competitors at different prices that offer similar claims of performance or coverage.

For this overview, I’m going to focus on the top three carriers – Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T – and look at the multiple unlimited postpaid plans available to find the ones that provide the most benefits and value for individual lines and for families of four.

Know your area

Before you get to the plans, the most important thing to get the best deal is to make sure you have the coverage you need. This makes it very difficult for us to give a general recommendation of any operator. T-Mobile’s service in New York can be great, but if you’re in rural Iowa, Verizon is more reliable.

5G chart

Screenshot by Sarah Tew / CNET

While your mileage may vary, the good news is that these networks are growing and improving all the time, particularly as the top three players compete to cover the US with 5G. It is very possible that a decade ago he left a network complaining about its poor service, but now it has been strengthened by that arms race to acquire customers.

If you know of a friend or family member in your area who already uses the carrier you are considering, ask about their experience. You can also go to a provider’s store and see if they offer a free way to test the service before bringing your phone number, like T-Mobile test drive.

Know your discounts

Another thing to keep in mind: discounts. All companies offer additional discounts that you may be eligible for based on your employer, military status, age, or student.

First responders, military, veterans, nurses, and teachers can get discounts at all major companies. Verizon has discounts for students, while T-Mobile’s employment advantage could discount $ 10 a month on a Magenta Max plan, with AT&T offering a similar program for their Unlimited Elite plan which calls Signature.

If you are 55 or older, you may also be eligible for a discounted plan: T Mobile offers discounted plans nationwide for as low as $ 55 a month for two lines, meanwhile, Verizon other AT&T They offer similar options but only for Florida residents.

Now let’s move on to the selections.

Best Value: T-Mobile Essentials, $ 60 for a single line, $ 105 for four lines

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Sarah Tew / CNET

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

In addition to being $ 5 cheaper than AT & T’s option, T-Mobile Essentials includes an unlimited mobile hotspot (albeit at slower “3G speeds”), giving you a little more flexibility. All three operators offer 5G access with their basic plans. We should note that Verizon’s Start Unlimited does not support their faster forms of 5G, but the opportunity to take advantage of those speeds so early in the 5G lifecycle is unlikely to be missed anyway. You can always reevaluate your options next year after Verizon begins activating its latest version of wireless technology.

T-Mobile plan savings also become more pronounced the more lines you add. Two lines of Essentials cost $ 90 a month, while a similar offer from AT&T or Verizon costs $ 120 a month. Three lines also cost $ 97.50 at T-Mobile with a new promotion, compared to $ 135 a month at AT&T or Verizon. The four-line option costs $ 105 at T-Mobile, compared to $ 140 at the other carriers.

These prices come with a caveat: Unlike T-Mobile’s Magenta or Magenta Max plans, taxes and fees are not included in any of these prices, making the actual total higher.

Best for the perks: Verizon Play More Unlimited, $ 80 for a single line, $ 180 for four lines

verizon-NEWS BLOCK.png

CNET

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

In addition to the Disney Bundle, which consists of Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, and Hulu, the operator also offers a one-year subscription to Apple Music and Discovery Plus.

A recent addition gives you a year of Apple Arcade or Google Play Pass to play on your iPhone or Android phone respectively.

In total, the benefits add up quickly if you use any of these services. The Disney package typically costs $ 14 a month, Apple Music costs $ 10, and Discovery costs $ 5. Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass each cost $ 5.

Added up, that’s potentially $ 34 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 option is the best option. Get More costs an additional $ 10 / mo ($ 90 / mo for single line, $ 220 / mo for four lines) and adds an additional 15GB of high-speed hotspot data, 50% off a connected device as a monthly tablet plan and 600GB of Verizon cloud storage.

One thing to note: These benefits are often limited to one per account, so only one line on a family plan would qualify to open a Disney Plus account and have it covered by the operator.

Verizon also allows you to “mix and match” plans when you have multiple lines.

If you have four people in your family plan, only one needs to play more to reap the benefits for the whole family. The rest can be in the cheaper Start Unlimited, which would generate four lines of $ 150 a month instead of $ 180 a month if all four lines had Play More. And after a year has passed, you need to assess whether the Play More plan still provides enough benefits when Apple Music, Discovery Plus, Apple Arcade, and Google Play Pass subscriptions are exhausted.

Read more: Best streaming service deals

T-Mobile ranks second with its Magenta plan ($ 70 a month for a single line, $ 140 a month for four lines). The benefits of this plan include unlimited international data (albeit at slow “2G speeds”) when traveling to 210+ countries, 1 hour of Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi, weekly T-Mobile Tuesday gifts, and the $ 9 Netflix A basic one-month plan (limited to watching on one screen at a time and no HD).

Their most expensive Magenta Max plan comes with Netflix’s most popular $ 14-a-month standard plan (which allows HD streaming on up to two screens at once), faster international data, and unlimited Gogo Wi-Fi on flights. Unlike the Essentials plan discussed above, T-Mobile also includes taxes and fees with the price of its Magenta and Magenta Max plans.

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HBO Max is only included with the AT&T Unlimited Elite plan.

Angela Lang / CNET

AT&T unlimited plans don’t have many benefits. If you want HBO Max, you’ll need the carrier’s best Unlimited Elite deal ($ 85 for one line, $ 50 / month if you have four lines), although since Verizon you can mix the plans on your account so that only one line has the Elite and the others are in more affordable options like Starter.

As with Verizon and Disney Bundle, Netflix’s T-Mobile offering and HBO Max’s AT&T offering are limited to one subscription per account, not one for each line you have.

Why be unlimited?

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

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

For one line, a 5GB shared data plan on Verizon costs $ 55 for one line, or $ 130 for four lines. This plan has unlimited talk and text, but after using up to 5GB of data, and your shared 5GB across all your lines, not 5GB for each line, your speed will drop dramatically until the end of your billing cycle. If you want to get faster data in the meantime, you have to pay an absurd $ 15 per gigabyte.

Verizon’s basic unlimited plan, called Start Unlimited, costs $ 70 a month for one line or $ 140 for four lines.

The AT&T option isn’t much better. You have a 4GB plan that costs $ 50 a month for one line ($ 160 for four lines). Each line here gets 4GB of data, but if you hit that threshold in a month, you pay $ 10 for every 2GB.

The company’s basic unlimited plan, called Unlimited Starter, costs $ 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 with the older plan you currently have. For most, however, we truly believe that unlimited is the best option when choosing a new plan.

We will continue to update 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 in the comments or send me a message on Twitter. @eliblumenthal.

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