We’re diving into the detailed AT&T plans comparison and much more.
AT&T has the third largest postpaid wireless subscriber base in the country. This scale allows AT&T to target its overall customer base with bundled wireless service offerings. Unlike with their competitors, however, perks such as video and music streaming services are not bundled with their plans. One area where AT&T sets itself apart is the expanded set of profession-related offerings for members of the medical profession and first responders, which not only include discounts but which can include enhanced service quality. This makes evaluating AT&T about more than just comparing the numbers associated with data caps or other core service features, but incorporating your existing media services, and potentially your job, as factors in a decision.
Before we take a deeper look at the different AT&T unlimited data plans and the options available to you, it’s important to note a couple of the key ingredients that differentiate one plan from another. At a high level, there are five things to think about when you’re evaluating plans (before you get to the sticker price of the plan you want):
Unfortunately, just because a plan says “unlimited” doesn’t always mean the data you use is truly unlimited. You should be aware of three different types of data: premium data, deprioritized data, and 3G data. Here’s how they’re different:
Premium data: also called priority data or high-speed data, gives you the best 5G or 4G network speed a carrier can deliver wherever you are. With premium data, you’ll get the very best network coverage AT&T can deliver without worrying about your speeds and coverage dropping for any reason other than poor signal.
Deprioritized data: also called basic data, means you’ll have access to 5G and 4G network speed like premium data, but if the network gets too congested (too many users on the same network at the same time), you’ll experience temporarily slower data speeds. This can slow your data speeds by up to 30% until the network you’re on frees up, but for most people, this drop in speed is actually unnoticeable.
3G data: also called 600kbps data, means that your data has access only to 3G network speed (or the equivalent). 3G network speed is very slow and most people would recognize it immediately.
Carriers don’t make it easy to know which type of data is available for each plan. The general rule of thumb is that the more premium data a plan offers, the more expensive it will be. The top-of-the-line plans that give you truly unlimited premium data offered by the big three (AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) are:
Other unlimited data plans offer a mixture of premium data and deprioritized data. Typically that means you’ll have an allotment of premium data (say 25GB each month) and, after your premium data is spent, you’ll get unlimited deprioritized data for the rest of the month. For example, Verizon’s 5G Do More plan provides 50GB of premium data followed by an unlimited quantity of deprioritized data.
Keep in mind that most wireless customers use less than 10GB of data per month and that the vast majority of people won’t know the difference between premium and deprioritized data.
The cheaper unlimited data plans offer only deprioritized data. For example, Verizon’s 5G Start plan offers users unlimited deprioritized data 100% of the time. But there are a few unlimited data plans providing an allotment of deprioritized data each month and, if you use up that allotment, the rest of the month you’ll be on unlimited 3G data. For example, Xfinity’s Unlimited plan offers 20GB of deprioritized data, followed by unlimited data at the equivalent of 3G speeds.
Each unlimited data plan is a mixture of either premium data, deprioritized data or 3G data.
Most users could not tell the difference between premium data and deprioritized data. But most users could tell the difference between premium data or deprioritized data and 3G data.
Most users (95%) consume less than 10GB of data per month.
Carriers’ unlimited data plans support different levels of video resolution, from as high as 2160p down to 480p. The top-of-the-line plans (T-Mobile’s Magenta MAX, Verizon’s 5G Get More and AT&T’s Unlimited Premium) offer users video resolution at the 2160p level. Most lower end unlimited data plans offer users video resolution at the 480p level.
If you use your phone to watch movies (or you are a gamer), you might want to consider a plan that supports video resolution at the 720p level or higher.
For most other users a lower video resolution will be sufficient.
Hotspot data allows consumers to connect a computer or other WiFi capable device to the Internet through their smartphone and their wireless carrier. Most users do not need any hotspot data, but that is changing as more and more people recognize its benefits.
Carriers offer hotspot data at 5G, 4G or 3G speeds. Keep in mind that 3G hotspot data speed is equivalent to “dial up” from the 1990s (and is really not a practical option).
Carriers that offer 5G and 4G hotspot data cap the amount that a user can consume each month. Of course, the more expensive unlimited data plans offer the largest hotspot data allotment.
Since most people don’t use hotspot data very often, it is difficult for them to know what, say, 50GB of hotspot data really means. Typically, 50GB of hotspot data would allow a user to surf the web from their desktop computer (through their phone) for about 100 hours.
All 5G and 4G hotspot data is capped – so you should know how much you’re likely to use a hotspot.
Hotspot at 3G speed is vastly inferior.
While most wireless users do not have a need for a hotspot, it is becoming more popular as people see the benefit of having it as a part of their unlimited data plan.
Depending on the type of unlimited plan you choose, you’ll likely get access to added features and perks that are bundled into your unlimited data plan. These might include subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix, international connectivity like being able to make calls and text and have access to the internet while you’re traveling abroad, and, in some cases, odd additions like meal delivery services and data protection services. The most common add-on services are streaming services.
For some consumers, Add-On Features (especially streaming services) could offer a way to save $10 per month or more.
For business travelers, international calling features could also save significant amounts of money.
Some carriers include taxes and fees in their advertised “top line” price and others do not. Taxes and fees will generally add 10% to the overall cost of your plan if it’s not integrated into the plan’s “top line” price. For example, T-Mobile’s Magenta MAX has a “top line” price of $85/month for a single line, and that price is inclusive of the taxes and fees. Conversely, AT&T’s Unlimited Premium has a top line price of $85/month for a single line plus taxes and fees making the real price more like $94 per line, depending on where you live.
“Top line” advertised price can include or not include taxes and fees. Be aware of this if you are trying to compare plans on an equal basis.
The most important consideration of an unlimited data plan is having the right amount and the right type of data. Everyone wants to feel confident that they will not run out of 5G or 4G data or face unexpected charges from their carrier.
For the vast majority of users, deprioritized data is more than sufficient to provide a high-quality wireless experience. If you’re a gamer or you stream movies on cell phone all the time, then you might opt for an unlimited data plan with an allotment of premium data and one with 720p or higher video resolution.
All the other elements of an unlimited data plan, such as streaming services or hotspot data, are very specific to an individual’s unique needs. So, while they’re important in their own right, they are best thought of as tie breakers.
AT&T follows much the same model as the other carriers in providing a tiered set of plans which offer a range of services across multiple price points. The following is a list of currently available plans, including only those plans which do not limit data usage and are ordered by the relative price/feature set.
All these plans have some common baseline features:
For those of us who are quite satisfied with “just phone service, please,” this entry-level plan provides the basics for an individual subscriber – talk, text, and not much else. As such, it is the most economical of AT&T’s offerings, at $50/month per line. The “per line” here really just means “per account,” because, unlike other plans which have different pricing structures and potentially different benefits for multi-line accounts, the Value Plus plan is limited to a single user.
So, if you’re not looking for much in the way of streaming, video calling, or heavy browsing and want to save some money, this may be just the right fit.
While Value Plus may be a perfectly adequate “starter” plan for many users, for those of us with families or other groups who want to share a plan, Unlimited Starter introduces multi-line discounts, where Value Plus is limited to a single-line. It’s not a great deal for a single subscriber, since the only thing you get for an extra $15/month is some hotspot data which many entry-level customers don’t use. Once you hit the 3-line level, you’ll start saving money (and getting that hotspot data to benefit, should you use it). Otherwise, this plan is quite basic and targeted toward people who aren’t looking to do much streaming, video calling, or heavy browsing.
The big jump when moving from Unlimited Starter to Unlimited Extra is high-speed data. Unlike the lower tier plans, where all data usage is subject to throttling, an allowance of 50GB/month makes this plan a good fit for those who do much more on their phones than talking and texting. 50GB goes a long way if you’re limiting video to standard definition quality and otherwise using music streaming services or doing some heavy Web browsing.
Depending on your own usage patterns, this cap may be insufficient because any usage over that cap may be throttled, but it’s a good plan, to begin with, and you can always upgrade if you find you’re consistently going over the cap. High-speed data capabilities of this plan also include 15GB of hotspot data, which can be useful when you want to connect on the go from other devices, and Wifi isn’t an option.
While most of the plan structure basically aligns with the other carriers, AT&T is interesting in that it offers competitive pricing for core features like talk, text, and data, but does not bundle any other perks in with any of its plans. Users who want to watch their Netflix shows or stream their Spotify tunes on their devices are on their own, though the other carriers’ bundled services can be of limited value for users who already subscribe to them through other channels.
On the other hand, users with certain professions, like physician assistants and first responders, will find some advantageous pricing here. So evaluating AT&T against itself and its competitors may hinge on some external factors, beyond the core mobile services delivered.