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Is Unlimited Data Really Unlimited?

Do I need unlimited data?

What does unlimited data mean?

Ever since unlimited data plans re-entered the wireless market in 2016, the big four providers - AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon - have been pushing these pricey plans at the expense of other options.

Why does that matter? Don't you want as much data as you can possibly buy? The short answer is no.

COMPARE NOW: Cheap Unlimited Data Plans starting at $40

There are better options that can save you 50% over your current cell phone bill, without sacrificing service quality or changing your usage habits.

In this guide, we'll look at how the big four carriers may be ripping you off and what you can do about it. I'll also tell you how to save over half on your wireless service - without leaving the network you love.

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Do You Really Need Unlimited Data?

The fact is that most people don't need unlimited data. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) the average mobile data usage in the United States is just about 3 GB per month.

This gap between what you need and what you're paying for highlights several problems with the big four providers:

  • Major wireless carriers are only giving you a couple of options (and in some cases just one!).

  • Those choices are pricey.

  • Pushing unlimited plans allows them to charge premium rates.

  • Despite the high pricing, you're likely only using a tiny fraction of your available data.

The other thing to remember is that unlimited data doesn't mean unlimited 4G data. The major carriers give you between 22 and 50 GB of high-speed data before throttling your speeds in times of network congestion.

Look at it this way - the pressure to buy expensive unlimited wireless plans is similar to cable television. More and more people are ditching cable and going to streaming TV services instead because they don't want to pay for 300 channels when they only watch a few.

Do you need unlimited data? Your best bet is to calculate your needs using our data usage calculator and then shop around for a plan that only charges you for what you actually use.

Alternatives to the Big Four Carriers

So how do you avoid overpriced unlimited plans without giving up the reliable service you know and love? It's simple - go with an MVNO.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) are smaller wireless carriers that lease space on the big four networks and sell it to you at a lower cost. Without the marketing and overhead expenses of the name brands, MVNOs can give you prices that are up to 50% less or even cheaper.

Benefits of MVNOs

There are several reasons to choose a smaller cell phone provider:

  • Service on the same reliable 4G LTE networks

  • Cheaper prices - 50% or more off your bill

  • Custom plans that let you choose what you want to pay for

  • No contracts or overage charges

  • Great customer service

  • Easy to bring your own phone and number

  • Switching is simple by ordering a SIM card online

There are MVNOs for each of the four major wireless networks. The beauty of this option is that even if you determine that you really need an unlimited data plan, there are some MVNOs that offer those as well. And they cost less than most of the traditional providers' charge.

AT&T Unlimited Data Plan Alternatives

If you're asking yourself "Are AT&T unlimited plans worth it?" consider this: the average AT&T unlimited plan customer uses just 4 GB of data per month (Strategy Analytics). Yet, the carrier's unlimited plan costs more than twice what you'll pay with an MVNO.

Instead of shelling out $500 extra per year, consider going with an AT&T MVNO:

Red Pocket Mobile

  • Custom plans between .5 GB and 10 GB of data

  • 5 GB of data for less than 50% of what AT&T's unlimited plan costs

  • Unlimited talk and text with most plans

  • Data-only tablet plans available

Consumer Cellular

  • Options from 250 MB to 20 GB of high-speed internet access

  • Unlimited texting included with all plans

  • Family plans available

  • AARP discount

T-Mobile Unlimited Data Plan Alternatives

The average T-Mobile plan customer uses a bit more than the other carriers' unlimited plan customers, at 6 GB per billing cycle. So, are T-Mobile unlimited plans worth it? We don't think so.

You can still save oodles over this major carrier by going with an affordable T-Mobile MVNO.

Mint Mobile

  • Service sold in bulk for maximum savings

  • Largest plan costs a third of the AT&T unlimited plan

  • Three data options - 2 GB, 5 GB, or 10 GB

  • Mobile hotspot usage

  • Add-ons like international service and more data


  • Service alternates between cellular network and Wi-Fi to save data

  • Ad-supported free plan available

  • Cheap international service

  • TextNow unlimited data plan is nearly half AT&T's price

COMPARE NOW: Cheap Unlimited Data Plans starting at $40

Sprint Unlimited Data Plan Alternatives

Sprint unlimited plan customers use about 5 GB of data per month, making it simple to save hundreds per year with a smaller plan from one of the following Sprint MVNOs.

Are Sprint unlimited plans worth it? Not for most smartphone users.


  • Cheap cell phone plan options with as little as zero data

  • Unlimited talk and text with all plans

  • Mobile hotspot usage

  • International service available


  • Data plans up to 10 GB a month

  • Unlimited global texting with all plans

  • Mobile hotspot use permitted

  • Introductory discount for new customers

Verizon Unlimited Data Plan Alternatives

Verizon unlimited plans - are they worth it? Big Red is known for its high prices and confusing plans. With three Verizon unlimited data plans available - all of them expensive - you'll find it easy to save hundreds of dollars per year with one of our favorite Verizon MVNOs.

US Mobile

  • Extreme flexibility - almost 400 combinations of plan choices

  • Three speed options on unlimited plans

  • 24/7 customer service

Red Pocket Mobile and Twigby also offer service on the Verizon Wireless network.


Keep in mind that you're not going to sacrifice call quality by going with one of the alternative providers reviewed here. They all run on the exact same equipment and towers as the big guys, without the outrageous prices.

Don't forget, in addition to saving over half on your wireless bill when you compare cell phone plans from cheaper providers, you can also save over 50% off MSRP when you compare cell phone prices and buy a refurbished phone!

Rob Webber
Rob Webber

Rob has 15+ years experience in the US and UK running price comparison sites for cell phone plans, smartphone deals, TV, and internet. He loves thinking outside of the box to build tools that empower consumers to make more informed decisions.

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