The big four wireless networks - AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint - have done a great job of convincing us that more is better. Recent marketing attempts to put the emphasis on unbridled streaming, surfing, and gaming, rather than on the idea of fitting their phone plans to your real needs.
COMPARE NOW: AT&T cell phone plans starting at $10 per month
Here's the thing - there's a lot of hype, and little evidence, behind the unlimited everything trend. The facts haven't eluded the internet, with Slashdot highlighting Verizon's ridiculously convoluted and expensive set of unlimited plans (three of them!).
Still, you may be nervous about the idea of having a limit to the data available on your wireless account each month. Stay tuned, because I'm going to put those fears to rest, plus tell you how to save money without giving up the reliable service offered by the AT&T network.
Table of Contents
Is AT&T Unlimited Data Actually Unlimited?
The first thing you should know is that "unlimited" is a misnomer. All four major cellular providers impose a limit to the high-speed data you can consume before potentially having your speeds slowed via throttling, also known as deprioritization.
As far as AT&T goes, according to plan details you face potential throttling once you've hit 22 GB of 4G LTE data usage. This applies to both of the carrier's unlimited offerings, called Unlimited &More and Unlimited &More Premium.
Interestingly enough, AT&T has actually faced legal problems due to throttling. In 2015 a class action lawsuit was filed based upon the carrier throttling its customers' speeds once they reached just 5 GB of high-speed data usage. The case is ongoing at the time of this writing, although there is no accusation that the carrier is currently exercising this deceptive practice.
Do You Really Need Unlimited Data?
|Carrier||Network Coverage||Data Limit||Monthly Price||Annual Price|
|AT&T||AT&T 4G LTE||Unlimited*||$75||$900|
|Red Pocket Mobile||AT&T 4G LTE||5GB||$40||$480|
|*Avg AT&T unlimited plan customer uses 4GB data|
As I mentioned earlier, the carriers certainly make us think we do. It's always nice to have extra of something, just in case we need it. In this instance, however, you could be overpaying for your wireless plan - to the tune of hundreds of dollars per year.
Consider this: when Strategy Analytics researchers looked at data usage by AT&T customers, they found that the average usage is 4 GB per month. Keep in mind, this is how much data is used up by those who are paying for unlimited AT&T data plans. Seems like a waste, doesn't it? It is!
In case you're wondering, okay, that's AT&T users, but what about everyone else? The numbers are pretty clear. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) finds that overall, Americans use even less mobile data than that per month, at 3.5 GB.
The upshot is that it's very unlikely you actually need all that data you're paying for. Want to double-check? Use our data usage calculator for a quick estimate of what size data plan you should choose.
Switch to a Cheaper Plan on the AT&T Network
Now that you know you're paying too much, how can you save money on your cell phone plan? Your best bet is to go with a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). These smaller carriers run on one or more of the big four wireless networks and can save you over 50% off your cell phone bill.
MVNOs keep their overhead low by operating online rather than maintaining retail stores. They don't spend millions on fancy advertising like the big guys. Yet, they offer you the same reliable, fast service by leasing space on the major carriers' network equipment.
Benefits of AT&T MNVOs
- Service on the nationwide 4G LTE AT&T network
- Cheaper plans - by half or more
- Custom plans so you choose what you pay for
- No contracts or credit approval necessary, and no early termination or overage charges
- Easy to bring your own device and keep your number
- Solid customer service
- Easy signup, typically done completely online
Here are the details on two of the best AT&T MVNOs to consider for your new plan.
With Red Pocket Mobile you get the option of choosing from six different plans, ranging from 500 MB of high-speed data all the way to 12 GB. They also offer data-only plans for your mobile hotspot devices.
Their prices are competitive, although not quite as low as some MVNOs on other networks. You also get free international calling to over 70 countries, including Mexico and Canada. Unlike many carriers, there's no extra charge for your SIM card.
Known for its senior-friendly features, like its discount for AARP members and super easy to use website, Consumer Cellular is a perfect choice if you want to keep things simple.
They don't offer the cheapest cell phone plans out there, however, you do get free texting and the choice between a single line or multiple lines. And of course, you get the reliability of the AT&T network.
Save Even More: Buy a Refurbished AT&T Phone
It's not just your cell phone plan you could be saving money on. You can also save 50% or more on your phone by purchasing a used or refurbished device.
Benefits of Buying Refurbished
This option is a great choice for several reasons:
- You'll get a reliable smartphone just a model year or two old for a fraction of the cost.
- You're free to take your unlocked phone to any carrier.
- Reputable sellers offer protections like warranties and free returns.
Why spend $1000 on the latest model when you could pay a fourth of that for a similar smartphone? Find a compatible AT&T iPhone or Android at an affordable price in just seconds.
Once you've found a great deal on a new phone, don't forget to sell your old phone for cash!
Getting your phone bill under control will require a little bit of effort, but once you've done it you'll be putting more money back in your pocket.
- Calculate your data usage to see if your plan is overkill.
- Choose the AT&T MVNO with the right plan for your needs and budget.
- Buy a refurbished AT&T phone for less than half the cost of new.
- Sell your old phone for cash.
Want to see just how much you could save by changing cell phone plans? Find out in seconds with our cell phone plan savings calculator.
COMPARE NOW: AT&T cell phone plans starting at $10 per month