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Head to head: Comparing AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile & Verizon's 'unlimited' wireless plans for iPhone [u]

All four of the big U.S. wireless providers once again have unlimited plans available to smartphone users. AppleInsider looks into the four, and gives you the data you need to make the best choice possible if you're in the market.




The first thing most users look at in a wireless data plan is the basic price of the plan. Sales or special promotions vary, and expire, so full prices of plans as offered on Feb. 15 without time-limited promotions are included here.




The first graph only includes plan costs, and doesn't include taxes, or pre-requisites for service.

If you want in on the AT&T unlimited plan, up until Feb. 15 a $50 DirecTV service package was mandatory, at an additional $50 per month —but this provision was removed on Thursday.

Also, T-Mobile's plan encompasses all taxes and fees, where the others don't. This varies somewhat by location, but an assumption of an extra 10% because of the line-items may not be precise, but isn't absurd to assume for the others.




Video streaming



For AT&T, Resolution defaults to 480p, but upgrading to 1080p is no additional charge —at least for now. If you have the previously mandatory DirecTV, it comes "zero rated," so any video streamed from the service won't count against the soft cap.

After an update late on Feb. 16, Sprint has removed it's charge for HD streaming. Verizon and T-Mobile also include HD video streaming at no cost.

A variety of streaming services, including Apple Music, are zero-rated with Verizon and T-Mobile as well.

Caps? Not exactly unlimited, but close.



The numbers are similar across all four carriers: AT&T and Verizon limit full speed to the first 22 GB of data consumed, Sprint waits until 23GB, and T-Mobile's limit is 28GB. How much the 6GB swing between highest and lowest matters depends on the user.




We couldn't get representatives from any of the four to give us a firm rule on when the throttling takes place after the cap is exceeded. Generally, the limits appear to kick in during times with the most users are occupying a small area, using the most data.

Tethering



Sprint includes 10GB per month of mobile hotspot data per line, with Verizon and T-Mobile granting 10GB in total.

AT&T is problematic, here. Mobile hotspot data is only available through the unlimited data when connected to an in-car system, which is odd. It's not even available for an extra charge —it's just not going to happen, and you need to pick a different plan if you need the feature.

Device costs



At some point in a mobile device's lifespan from release to discontinuation, there are myriad promotions and sales. We feel that this is a dead heat between the big-four, regardless of when in the cycle you buy.

Which is the best?



What numbers or graphs can't determine in this case is how well the network performs in your particular area, and this alone may eclipse any other consideration. Overall performance is best determined by talking to colleagues, inspecting coverage maps, and getting a feel from (possibly apocryphal) accounts of the situation.

All of the major networks have done a lot of work in the last few years on coverage and speed, so older reports should be taken with a grain of salt.