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2016 mobile data plans - How do they compare?

2016 mobile data plans - How do they compare?

Cellphone service providers enjoy taking digs at the competition in their commercials. At first, they were somewhat subtle by just using the brand colors – yellow for Sprint, pink for T-Mobile, blue for AT&T and red for Verizon. But now they don’t hold back at all and often mention the competition by name as they point out their own superiorities.

But what can make for an entertaining commercial can also send mixed signals to the customers. It can be so hard to figure out which provider and plan is best for you and your family. Here’s a breakdown to help you out.

Note: these prices do not include the carriers' installment payment programs. Expect to pay more if you acquire a device through these programs.

Verizon Wireless

Cost per month$35$50$70$90$110$135$225$360$450

Verizon plans start at $20 per month per line. That includes unlimited calling and text messages for all lines.

Data plans can be added for the amounts outlined in the chart above, and Verizon is currently adding a bonus 2GB if you purchase a data plan of at least 8GB. Extra data is charged at $15 per GB, but you can change your plan to the next tier if needed.

Currently, Verizon Wireless does not offer an unlimited data plan. However, it now offers Carryover Data, which allows plan holders to roll over unused data to the next month.

Verizon won't charge for data overages for plans above 8GB but will be throttled down to 128 kbps instead. For their 2, 4, and 8GB plans, to avoid overages, a Safety Mode can be added for $5.


Cost per month$30$40$60$80$90$110$135$180$225$270$360$450

AT&T finally got rid of their two-year contracts earlier this year and they've completely moved on to their Next phone installment scheme and Mobile Share data plans.

This is how their Mobile Share data plans work.

An access charge of $20 is required for each device but data could be shared between all devices on a single plan. For example, a single device on a 1GB data plan will cost $50. If you add another device and keep the 1GB data plan, it will be $70 and so on and so forth.

All these Mobile Share plans will still include unlimited domestic calling and texting to over 120 countries. 10GB plans and higher will get unlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada as well. Unused data rolls over for each billing cycle.

AT&T won't charge for overages anymore but they will throttle your data to 128 kbps when the data cap is reached.


PlansLine 1Line 2Line 3Line 4
Cost per month$70$50$20$20

T-MobileONE premieres on September 6. For this new deal, T-Mobile is replacing data plans with unlimited data for all. Each line could be as low as $40 and each family member will have unlimited talking, texting and data. It will also offer 3GB of data storage and 4G LTE Wi-Fi speed.

The downside is that smaller households will pay more per person. The first line is $70, the second line is $50, and the third and fourth lines are $20 each.

At a total of $160, your price per family member is $40. If you only need service for three people then your price per family member increases a little bit to $47 per person while a couple pay $60 each.

If you want more storage space, there’s 5GB for $50 per month and 10GB for $60 per month.

T-MobileONE does throw in some free extras. The plan includes “BingeOn,” which is T-Mobile’s unlimited streaming service that connects to Netflix, HBO Now, and Hulu. But there’s somewhat of a catch to that: the price per line includes streaming at a standard resolution. It’s an extra $25 per month to stream video in HD. You can also enjoy the T-Mobile services that provide unlimited music and MLB games.

Just be careful about your data consumption. Although it’s unlimited, if you use more than 26GB of data within a billing cycle then your service may run slower.


Plans1GB3GB6GB12GB24GB40GBUnlimitedUnlimited/Line 2
Cost per month$20$30$45$60$80$100$60$40

Sprint requires a similar $20 access fee for each device on a single plan as well. Although their site doesn't show it, their cheapest shared data plan is 1GB for $20. All data plans 6GB and above can be shared with up to 10 devices. All Sprint plans will have unlimited talk and text.

Sprint also offers unlimited data plans that start at $60 a month for a single line. Adding a second unlimited line will cost $40, and other lines added after that will be $30.

As with T-Mobile's unlimited plans, there's a catch. Currently, video streams can only be streamed at standard resolution up to 500 kbps bitrate. It looks as if unlimited HD plans are not yet offered at this time.

Throttling for Sprint's unlimited data plans will turn on after 23GB.


Looking at these current plans, it is apparent that carriers followed the trend from last year of streamlining their data plans and completely eliminating their traditional two-year contracts.

Also, instead of having confusing options for individuals and families, they're opting for simplified base prices for each data tier. One carrier, T-Mobile, has even decided to eliminate tiers altogether by offering only unlimited plans.

If you want to choose the best carrier for you, also take into account that each carrier doesn't offer the same level of service in every location so do your homework first by checking their coverage map.

Good news this year, it looks like Sprint and T-Mobile have vastly improved their services from 2015 especially in metro areas.

In this Rootmetrics Mobile Network Performance report for the first half of 2016, although Verizon and AT&T still get the top places (first and second, respectively) in overall performance, network speed, and data performance, Sprint and T-Mobile gained ground in the metro areas.

Although Sprint and T-Mobile's' nationwide performance still lags behind Verizon and AT&T, these metro area improvements are certainly good for keeping the market competitive and hopefully, prices down.

With these changes, it looks like the carrier wars will heat up even more in the last quarter of 2016 and beyond.

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