The Big Four cell carriers’ pricing practices can be so convoluted that you almost need an advanced degree in math to decipher them.

Prices on cell-phone plans vary widely with the number of lines you need and the amount of data you’re purchasing. There are different thresholds for data throttling, international service, hot-spot usage, and speed, and some plans have perks such as free content from streaming services.

Carriers further complicate matters with special short-term offers to lure customers from rivals.

We omit most of these specials when we evaluate offers because of their extremely short life span and their fragility. The benefits often vaporize when a customer buys a new phone or makes other changes. Here, we take a look at unlimited and more modest plans from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

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To make sure your needs are covered, the tables below present the service-cost breakdowns for one to five family members, for both light and heavy data use.

All you need to do is figure out how much data your family needs and what you’re using it for the most. Some carriers are now making you pay extra if you want high-definition-quality video streaming or high-speed mobile hot-spot service. And, in some cases, adding their recently, or soon-to-be, launched 5G services will either require you to sign up for a premium plan, or even cost you extra on top of one.  

Some carriers also make you buy a more expensive plan if you want overseas service included. Check our buying guide for cell phones and services for tips on choosing a plan.

We focus on the Big Four because they dominate the market. But consumers looking for a good deal or great customer service should also check out smaller companies. Our ratings of about 20 providers are based on the experiences of approximately 100,000 Consumer Reports members. The Big Four are all near the bottom of the chart, though T-Mobile rates somewhat higher than its competitors. (Ratings are available to CR members.)

AT&T

With AT&T there isn't much of a middle ground, anymore. You're forced to choose between a little data and a lot. 

If you want a plan that offers a set number of gigabytes, you have the choice of 3GB or 9GB. That's not much data to go around for lots of families, especially if you have four or five devices tied to the plan.

One phone line with unlimited talk and text and 3GB of data will cost you $60. Or you can pay $10 per month more and jump up to the 9GB package.

Spreading those amounts of data over more devices may not be practical for many people, but it will keep your costs low. A 3GB plan covering four phones will run you $140, or $35 per phone, and jumping up to a 9GB package will cost you $160, or $40 per phone.

Note that these are bare-bones plans. They don't include access to AT&T's live TV channels, and streaming is at standard definition.  

On the upside, if you do have any data left at the end of the month, you can roll it over to the next month.

Meanwhile, AT&T has left the pricing of its unlimited plans unchanged. It updated them last year to add the TV content obtained through its acquisition of Time Warner.

The lower-tier plan, Unlimited &More, still starts at $80 for one smartphone line. As you add more lines, your per-phone rate drops: $145 for two lines ($72.50 per phone), $165 for three ($55 per phone), $180 for four ($45 per phone), and $215 for five ($43 per phone).

The live TV channels you get access to include AMC and CNN. You can binge-watch a lot of old stuff, too, from Time Warner’s library of 15,000 movies and TV shows.

And you’re not stuck doing it on your tiny phone screen. AT&T will let you use your favorite streaming device. Need help finding one? Check our ratings of streaming media players.

For those who don’t mind missing out on local channels and sports (sorry, no ESPN or Fox Sports included), this plan could go a long way toward helping you save money by dumping your cable TV service.

There are a few big catches. As with the Mobile Share Plus plans, video streaming is limited to standard-definition quality. And, unlike those other plans, this one doesn’t include mobile hot-spot capabilities, so no tethering your computer to your phone.

People who subscribe to the cheaper unlimited plan also don't get free HBO or access to AT&T's other premium content.

So if you want to use your AT&T service to watch past episodes of “Game of Thrones," not to mention to provide you with HD-quality video streaming and tethering, you’re going to have to pay for AT&T's Unlimited &More Premium plan.

That plan lets you pick one of a handful of premium movie, music, or entertainment offerings. In addition to HBO, options include Amazon Music Unlimited, Pandora Premium, Showtime, and Starz.

Those plans start at $90 for one phone and $170 for two. And they include 15GB of mobile hot-spot service per line. If you use that up, AT&T will limit your hot-spot speed to 128 kilobits per second. 

And as with Verizon’s higher-end unlimited data plan (see below), AT&T might reduce data-connection speeds for any user who consumes 22GB of data in any given billing cycle. With AT&T’s cheaper unlimited plan, the company reserves the right to slow speeds any time it wishes.

With all of these plans, if you sign up for automated payments and paperless billing, you get a $10 monthly discount for one line and $20 for two or more lines.

Number of People3GB of Data Shared Between Phones9GB of Data Shared Between Phones

Unlimited &More1

Unlimited &More Premium2

1

$60

$70

$80


$90

2

$100

$120

$145

$170

3

$120

$140

$165

$190

4

$140

$160

$180


$210

5

$160

$180

$215

$245

  1. AT&T reserves the right to slow data speeds at any time.
  2. After 22GB of data usage on a line during any billing cycle, AT&T reserves the right to slow data speeds.

Sprint

After trying to position itself as the cheapest carrier for a few years, Sprint has resorted to offering multiple tiers of unlimited service—just like everyone else. That means you’re going to have to pay more if you want perks such as HD video streaming and faster music streaming.

The cheapest option—Unlimited Basic—starts at $65 for one line and $110 for two. As you add more phones, the per-line cost falls. But video streaming is limited to DVD quality, music streaming is capped at a speed of 500 kilobits per second, and gaming streaming speeds are limited to 2 Mbps. 

High-speed mobile hot-spot usage is included, but it’s capped at 500 megabytes per month. After you use up that data allotment, you get unlimited hot-spot service at 3G speeds. 

The plan still features Hulu. It also offers unlimited talk and text in Canada and Mexico, along with 5GB per month of high-speed data service in these countries.

The next step up, Unlimited Plus, will cost you $10 more per line, per month. It includes HD video streaming, music streaming at 1.5 Mbps, and gaming speeds of up to 8 Mbps.

The plan also offers 15GB of high-speed mobile hot-spot service—plus unlimited 3G service—and both Hulu and the Tidal music streaming service. Just like the basic plan, this one delivers unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada, but your monthly data allowance in these countries doubles to 10GB. 

Sprint's newest plan, Unlimited Premium, will run you $10 per line per month more than Unlimited Plus. So we're talking $85 per month for one line or $150 for two. That may seem like a lot, but these plans include an Amazon Prime subscription, which normally would cost you $119 per year, or $13 per month.

You also get data security services from Lookout, your mobile hot-spot allowance gets doubled to 100GB, and you get unlimited talk, text, and data in Canada and Mexico.

This plan also will include access to Sprint's 5G service, which is slated to come to several markets this year.

Just a heads-up—at least for the time being, you're also going to need a LG V50 ThinQ phone to use Sprint's 5G. The phone, which starts selling for $1,152 in Sprint's first four 5G markets on May 31, will be the only 5G model compatible with the network until Sprint gets Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G, currently a Verizon exclusive, later this summer.      

Heavy data users, beware: Like its competitors, Sprint reserves the right to cut your speeds when data demand is high, regardless of what tier of service you shell out for. In this case, that applies to customers who use more than 50GB per month—which, admittedly, is a lot of data.

Don’t need unlimited data? Sprint still has a 2GB plan that will run you $45 per line per month.

And Sprint will give you a $5-per-line discount each month, regardless of which plan you pick, if you sign up for AutoPay. That discount isn’t reflected in the table below.

Number of People2GB of Data per PhoneUnlimited Basic

Unlimited Plus

Unlimited Premium

1

$45

$65

$75

$85

2

$90

$110

$130

$150

3

$135

$115

$145

$175

4

$180

$120

$160

$200

5

$225

$125

$175

$225

T-Mobile

In a nod to its perpetually pink color schemes, T-Mobile is phasing out its T-Mobile One and One Plus plans and rebranding them as Magenta and Magenta Plus. Existing customers aren't required to switch.

T-Mobile says monthly prices will stay the same, but the new plans are a little different. And, it's worth noting that the move comes as the company awaits rulings from federal regulators deciding whether to approve a proposed $26 billion merger with Sprint. As part of that deal, the companies have promised to freeze prices for consumers for three years. 

On the upside, the new plans include 3GB of high-speed hot-spot access, along with unlimited 3G hot-spot access after that. T-Mobile One doesn't include any hot-spot access.

But as a result of Netflix's recent price hikes, the Magenta plans will include only a Netflix Basic subscription, which now retails on its own for $9. T-Mobile One plans that cover two or more lines currently include a Standard Netflix membership. The cost of those recently rose by $2 to $13 per month.

So if you're going to stick with T-Mobile One and want to keep that Standard Netflix subscription, T-Mobile is going to start charging you an additional $2 per month starting on July 5 to cover the price increase. You also have the option of turning off T-Mobile's Netflix service and keeping your monthly price the same.

Otherwise the plans remain unchanged. They'll run you $75 for one line or $130 for two. Additional lines are $25 each. Taxes and fees are included.

You also still have the option of the company's more stripped-down plan—T-Mobile Essentials.

Like the pricier plans, T-Mobile Essentials includes unlimited talk, text, and data. It starts at $65 for one line—$10 less than Magenta or T-Mobile One. You can add a second line for $35, and lines three through six are an additional $20 each.

But, in this case, taxes and fees aren't included, and neither is any kind of Netflix subscription.

Essentials customers also fall to the bottom of the priority list for data speeds during heavy traffic times. And Essentials customers who use more than 50GB per month may see their speeds dip even further.

That's a lot of data, though, even for families who love to stream video.

For Magenta and T-Mobile One customers, the company will throttle your data speeds only if you go over that 50GB-per-month threshold.  

Travel outside the country much? Essentials customers get unlimited talk, text, and 2G data in Mexico and Canada. Texting is unlimited in more than 210 destinations around the world.

By comparison, Magenta and T-Mobile One customers get unlimited talk, text, and 5GB of high-speed data per month in Canada and Mexico. In addition to unlimited texting in those 210-plus destinations, Magenta and T-Mobile One also include unlimited 2G data use.

And, just a heads-up: Under all three plans, video typically streams at DVD quality. And though there’s no extra charge for using your phone as a hot spot with T-Mobile One or Essentials, speeds are capped at 3G.

Want more? You can pay an additional $10 per line per month above the Magenta or T-Mobile One price and upgrade to Magenta Plus or T-Mobile One Plus. That'll get HD-quality video streaming, a standard Netflix subscription (assuming you have two or more lines), and other extras to your service.

Number of People1GB of Data per Phone T-Mobile Essentials1

T-Mobile One/Magenta2

1

NA

$65

$75

2NA

$100

$130

3NA

$120

$155

4NA

$140

$180

5NA

$160

$205

  1. Taxes and fees are extra.
  2. Taxes and fees are included.

Verizon

Last year, Verizon updated its offers to add a third set of pricing for its unlimited data plans.

The two lower-priced plans haven’t changed. Go Unlimited starts at $80 for one phone, gives you DVD-quality streaming, and restricts your mobile hot-spot usage to a speed of 600 kilobits per second. And the company reserves the right to slow your data speeds any time the network gets busy.

For $10 more per month for a one-phone plan, the company offers its Beyond Unlimited plan. That plan offers sharper, HD-quality streaming and 15 gigabytes per line of full 4G LTE mobile hot-spot use. (After that, your speeds are capped at 600 Kbps.) And Verizon promises not to throttle your data speeds until you use 22GB of data during a given month.

And for $10 more, you can get an Above Unlimited plan. Its big carrot is that Verizon lets you use a whopping 75GB of data per month before throttling kicks in. You also get an extra 5GB of high-speed mobile hot-spot usage, for a total of 20GB, along with 500GB of storage in Verizon’s cloud.

And though talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada are included in all three unlimited plans, Above Unlimited also gives you five Verizon TravelPasses per month. The passes, which normally cost $10, allow you to use your phone for a day in 130 countries.

That's not bad, but as mentioned above, T-Mobile includes unlimited texting and data (calls cost extra) in more than 210 destinations as part of its T-Mobile One plans.

Another note: If you plan on signing up for Verizon's 5G service, you'll need to have either a Beyond Unlimited or Above Unlimited plan. The carrier plans on eventually charging an additional $10 per line per month on top of that but is currently waiving that charge.

Right now, Verizon's 5G network is up and running only in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis. And it works only with Motorola's Z3 and Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G models.  

Looking for something not as fancy and a little cheaper for your kids? Verizon now offers a Just Kids plan starting at $60 for one line per month. Just like with the adult plans, if you add more lines, the per-line price comes down. The catch is, these have to be additional lines tied to at least one phone on a regular unlimited plan.

For that price, your child gets unlimited talk and text to and from up to 20 contacts, 5GB of high-speed data, and DVD-quality streaming. There are also parental controls built in. 

But if you think about it, this isn't that great of a deal. Say you add a kid's line to a family plan set up for two adults. You'd be paying $55 for each of the adult lines and $50 for the child's, for a total of $160. But if you just signed up for three regular lines, your monthly cost would be $165.

Don't need unlimited data? Verizon still sells plans with shared bundles of gigabytes. Right now, your options are 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB. We've priced those out in the table below, as well. 

Also, note that Verizon will give you a $5-per-device discount each month if you set up automatic bill payments. That discount isn’t reflected in the rates listed in the table.

Number of People2GB of Shared Data

4GB of Shared Data

8GB of Shared Data

Go Unlimited per Phone1

Beyond Unlimited per Phone2

Above Unlimited per Phone3

1

$55

$70

$90

$80

$90

$100

2

$75

$90

$110

$140

$170

$190

3

$95

$110

$130

$165

$195

$225

4

$115

$130

$150

$180

$220

$260

5

$135

$150

$170

$225

$275

$325

  1. Verizon reserves the right at any time to "prioritize usage behind other customers in the event of network congestion."
  2. After 22GB of data usage on a line during any billing cycle, Verizon reserves the right to "prioritize usage behind other customers in the event of network congestion."
  3. After 75GB of data usage on a line during any billing cycle, Verizon reserves the right to "prioritize usage behind other customers in the event of network congestion."