If you're a heavy data user you know the pain of running out. It's especially annoying when it happens just as you need to send that important email or want to stream the next episode of your favorite show.
Sure, unlimited data plans are back after falling off the map for a few years, but they're expensive. Does it have to be that way? Stay tuned for an overview of what's out there as far as the best and cheapest unlimited data plans. I'm going to show you how to save money on your wireless service and your device.
Key Considerations When Choosing an Unlimited Data Plan
Choosing a plan isn't just about how much data you're getting - there are other factors to consider before making your final decision.
What are the restrictions?
- Will your data speeds be throttled after a certain amount is used?
- Are you stuck streaming videos in DVD quality or will you pay a premium for high definition?
- Do you need to tether to your other devices? Make sure it's permitted.
- Can you use your data in other countries?
Essentially, it all boils down to reading the fine print as you compare unlimited plans.
Do You Actually Need Unlimited Data?
Before hitting that buy button, you should figure out whether you actually need an unlimited plan. You know that feeling when you realize you're paying for 200 TV channels but you only actually watch five of them? It makes sense to avoid doing that with your cell plan.
Unlimited data may be the right choice if:
- You often stream music and/or video away from WiFi
- You need frequent access to email and the web for work on the go
- You find yourself paying too many overage charges.
- You're sharing data with additional lines.
If you're not sure, use our convenient data usage calculator. You can also track your data use in the settings of your Android or iPhone.
The thing to remember is that most average smartphone users don't need unlimited data. Most people can save a bundle with a smaller plan - for example, you can get 5 GB for about $20 per month. Compare cell phone plans now.
Consider a MVNO: Big Coverage For a Small Price
An easy way to get a cheaper unlimited data plan - beyond checking out our review of the cheapest unlimited data plans - is to go with an alternative carrier. MVNOs, which stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operators, are smaller mobile phone service providers that offer discounted rates on the big four networks. Some also offer unlimited plans.
Benefits of MVNOs:
- The same reliable service on the nation's largest 4G LTE networks
- Lower prices - savings of up to 50% or more over the big four
- Great customer service - highly rated support often available 24/7
- Custom plans that give you more options to pay for only what you need
- Most are prepaid plans with no credit checks, contracts, early termination fees, etc.
- Easy to switch - order online, swap SIM cards
- Keep your phone number and device
Competition among MVNOs is fierce in today's market, which means you benefit with virtually unlimited choices and great rates.
Verizon Unlimited Data
If you're a fan of Big Red you're in for some of the highest unlimited prices in the industry. Verizon unlimited costs $75 for an individual plan with basic unlimited data. That doesn't include HD video streaming. If you want better than DVD quality you'll shell out $85 a month.
AT&T Unlimited Data
While AT&T recently lowered its unlimited data plan prices they're still pretty high: $65 in monthly charges for standard definition video with no hotspot allotment, $80 for HD video streaming and 15 GB of mobile hotspot data.
Sprint Unlimited Data
Sprint unlimited data will run you $60 a month. This comes with 10 GB of hotspot data and unlimited HD video. Not bad, but you can probably still do better by choosing an alternative Sprint provider.
T-Mobile Unlimited Data
The T-Mobile ONE unlimited plan comes in at $70 per month for a single line, including all taxes and fees. If you want hotspot data and HD video streaming included you'll pay $80 a month.
One big benefit of switching to the T-Mobile network is that there are a ton of T-Mobile MVNO options with amazing cell phone plan rates. Many MVNO plans include international service. You can call and text to over 140 countries, just as with T-Mobile.
All of these plans from the big four include unlimited talk and text.
Pro Tip: The prices outlined above from the big four major carriers are the rates with an autopay discount. If you don't enroll in autopay you'll typically pay $5 more per month.
Is Unlimited Data Really Unlimited?
Unlimited 4G LTE data is a misnomer. The term doesn't literally mean unlimited high-speed data. What it means is that you get a bigger high-speed mobile data allotment than with other plans, and once you hit a ceiling your speeds may be deprioritized during times of network congestion. When that happens you'll drop to 3G speeds or lower.
What's the cutoff for high-speed data limits? That depends on the network you choose. Most sit around 22 - 26 GB. Again, read the terms and conditions carefully.
Best Unlimited Data Plan: US Mobile
We love US Mobile as the best unlimited cell phone plan because it's super flexible. You can choose from three different data speeds and three different plan options (including unlimited talk, texting, and data), making for nine possible combinations.
Prices range from $46 to $79 per month and there's even an uncapped data speed option which can reportedly run as fast as 150 Mbps (we agree with the name US Mobile gives this plan - it's "Ludicrous"!). You can buy as many lines of unlimited data as you need.
Check out our unlimited data plans comparison to see your options.
Great Ways to Save on Your Next Smartphone
We've been programmed to believe that we "need" a smartphone upgrade every one to two years. If you're changing plans as a way of saving money on your monthly bill, you can add to your savings by avoiding that expensive - and typically unnecessary - purchase.
Here are two better options:
- BYOP: Bring your own phone to your next carrier. If you stay on the same network you don't have to do anything. If you change networks you just need to unlock your phone.
- Buy a used smartphone: If your device is on its last legs or it isn't compatible with your new carrier, you'll save over 50% if you buy a used or refurbished device. If you opt for this route don't forget to sell your old phone for extra cash.
The takeaway: you no longer need to pay premium prices for unlimited data on the most reliable networks in the wireless industry. Even better, there's no reason to shell out $900 for a smartphone or tie yourself to a carrier because of device payments. Choose your network, your plan, and your price from our cell phone plans comparison chart - boom, done!