Updated 4/8/14: Verizon radically reduced its Edge Share Everything service plans to bring its offerings more in line with the other recently reduced plans from other carriers—particularly chief rival AT&T. So, how did it do? As the revised table below shows, both carriers now often tie or beat each other by a few dollars, depending on the amount of data purchased and the number of phones tapping into it. Verizon's new pricing formula is a bit convoluted: When you purchase 10 or more gigabytes of sharable data per month, it charges you an additional $15 a month for each smart-phone line tapping into it. But if you buy less data, it charges you $30 for every smart phone using it.
Updated 3/11/14: The carrier wars continue, as AT&T revamped its phone plans over the past weekend, slashing rates for data and making its early-phone-upgrade Next plans more enticing. The new plans could appeal even to people not interested in upgrading early, since they make it possible to purchase the phone over time via an interest-free loan.
The net result is significantly lower service costs that approach and sometimes beat archrival T-Mobile, the reigning king of bargains among Telecom's Big Four. As our updated tables show, AT&T plan prices actually tie with T-Mobile in some instances. And that may be more than enough to draw smart-phone shoppers to AT&T, which in our consumer surveys was rated better for 4G data service than the other major carriers. AT&T will gain even more of an edge later in March, when T-Mobile will reportedly raise the price of its unlimited data plan by $10 per phone line.
AT&T data charges have dropped significantly. For example, AT&T used to charge $45 for 1GB of data. Now it offers 2GB for only $40. But the big savings come with a no-contract plan. You can either pay full price for a phone up front, or make 20 or 26 interest-free monthly payments. For example, on the Next plan, a $650 iPhone 5s can be yours after 20 monthly payments of $32.50 or 26 monthly payments of $25, essentially an interest-free loan. AT&T also cuts the monthly charge for every phone tapping into its data plan from $40 to $25 each when the data bucket you share is less than 10GB. If you're divying up 10GB of data or more, the charge per phone drops to $15. In addition, for a limited time, all subscribers, current and new, who sign up for a Next plan also get a $100 per line credit for any phone they add (up to 10).
Of course, comparison shopping between carriers isn't easy. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon—the Big Four--have done their best to complicate apples-to-apples comparisons. They charge different rates for additional phone lines, break data allowances into chunks that don't match the competitions', and provide differing discounts for multiple phones.
To help you find the best deal, we’ve figured out the service-cost breakdowns for one to five family members for light, medium, and heavy. data service. (Read "How Much Service Do You Need?") As the tables below show, each carrier stands out for different reasons:
- T-Mobile offers the best prices, and it was a solid performer in our recent cell-service survey of 58,000 subscribers in 23 metro areas. The carrier recently announced a plan to lure customers from rivals AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon by paying off the early-termination fees
- In our survey, Verizon was the most satisfying among the Big Four, and it was a standout for data service and resolving customer-support issues.
- Also according to survey, respondents, AT&T offered the most problem-free high-speed 4G data service, something to consider if you're a heavy data user.
- Sprint's Framily plans are good deals for groups of people living at different addresses—five people in one "Framily" would each pay just $55 a month for unlimited, voice, texts, and data. But the carrier ranked near the bottom in many of the metro areas of our survey.