Wireless Providers Compared: What You Need to Know Before You Buy

We completed reviews of the wireless service and early upgrade plans offered by each of the major wireless carriers. Those reviews (all of which can be found here) include the 2-year cost of ownership with each provider.

So how do the prices compare among wireless providers?

Let’s compare costs and see if we can save some money on our next wireless purchase.

How We Compared the 2-Year Cost of Ownership

We are comparing the two year cost of ownership with each of Sprint (read our complete review), AT&T (check out our review), Verizon (read our review), and T-Mobile (read the review).

Here is a summary of what we looked at:

  • ​For individuals, we looked at the 2-year cost of ownership for a 5 GB data plan (or closest plan available) with the purchase of a new 16 GB iPhone.
  • For families we examined the two-year cost of ownership for a 10 GB data plan (or closest available option) with the purchase of two new 16 GB iPhones.

Obviously, each of the plans has some fine print on early upgrades and other matters that you will want to know about. But if you want to start with the wireless carrier that will cost you the least amount of money, and allow you to upgrade as frequently and cheaply as possible, here is what you need to know.

One last note: we do not subtract out the money you can get from re-selling your used phones because the carriers require you to trade in your old phone to take advantage of upgrade incentives whether you own or lease the device. So most customers will not have a phone to re-sell regardless.

Also, carriers seem to price their plans to disincentive phone ownership, so being able to re-sell a phone for $200 after two years does not seem to offer any cost savings over the long or short term.

Lastly, prices reflect current promotional offers from T-Mobile and Sprint for ​their leasing programs, and assume you will trade in an eligible paid-off smartphone to take the maximum  discount available for those programs.

You can read the individual provider reviews for more details on how much you will be paying ​for the privilege of buying or being able to trade in your phone with that carrier.

Individual Plans Compared

Remember, each of these cost of ownership includes the purchase of a new 16 GB iPhone as a point of comparison.

Sprint: Unlimited Text, Talk & Data

As you will see, Sprint offers the lowest cost option for individuals, while providing a truly unlimited plan (including 4G LTE data).

On top of that, the Sprint leasing program currently allows you upgrade upgrade your smartphone to the latest and greatest device when a new version is released.

Purchase Option

Phone Cost

Mo. Data Cost

2 Year Cost


$0 down, $15/mo$60$1,800

Easy Pay

$0 down, $27/mo$60$2,090

Subsidized Contract

$200 down, $0/mo$85$2,240

Full Price/No Contract

$650 down, $0/mo$60$2,090

FYI, the Sprint lease assumes you trade in an existing smartphone to get the annual upgrade plan for only $15/month (normally $22/month). If you trade in an iPhone 6, they will reduce that cost to $1 per month! 

Shop Sprint Today

AT&T: Unlimited Text, Talk and 5 GB Data

AT&T does offer early upgrade plans through its Next program. Compared to most of the competition, these plans provide a great value. Plus, you get the benefit of the AT&T network.

Purchase OptionUpfront CostMonthly Cost2-Year Cost
Next 24$15$97$2,335
Next 18$15$102$2,465
Next 12$15$108$2,595
Next w/ Down Pymt$210$91$2,400
2 Yr Contact$245$90$2,405
No Annual Contract$665$75$2,465
Shop AT&T Today

T-Mobile: Unlimited Text & Talk with 5GB of LTE Data

T-Mobile offers several plans, including its Jump! early upgrade plans. T-Mobile’s 2-year cost of ownership will be similar to AT&T and Verizon.

With T-Mobile, you do get unlimited data. You just pay for the amount you want of 4G LTE high speed data. You can save by getting a lower amount of data and not worrying about expensive overage ​charges (though you will need to endure slower speeds if you frequently exceed your LTE cap).

The real benefit of T-Mobile is that its early upgrade program allows you to make multiple upgrades every year. This is the way to go if you want to try out the latest devices from different smartphone manufacturers (including Apple and Samsung).​ We prefer the Jump On Demand early upgrade program, which for $10/month also includes handset protection if your smartphone is lost or damaged.

Purchase OptionUpfront CostMonthly Cost2-Year Cost
Simple Choice$15$97$2,345
+ Jump$15$107$2,585
+ Jump On Demand$15$100$2,415
+ Score$665$75$2,465
No Contract$665$70$2,345
Shop T-Mobile Today

Verizon Plan: Unlimited Talk and Text with 3 GB of Data

Verizon just simplified all its plans by introducing the Verizon Plan. But this simplification came at a cost.

So, while you appear to save a little but compared to AT&T and T-Mobile, this is because Verizon does not offer a 5 GB data plan option. You only get 3 GB of data (which are options for AT&T and T-Mobile, by the way).

And you do not even get an early upgrade option for that cost. 

Still, some people will accept no compromise to the Verizon network.

Purchase OptionUpfront CostMonthly Cost2-Year Cost
2 Year Contract$0$92$2,210
Shop Verizon Today

Family Share Data Plans Compared

When reviewing shared data plans below, remember total costs include two new 16 GB iPhones as a basis of comparison.

Sprint: Unlimited Talk & Text with 10 GB of Shared Data

Once again, Sprint is our winner on price. You get plenty of data, you get to upgrade frequently and at a reasonable (or no!) cost, and you get to save money!

Purchase Option

Phone Cost

Mo. Data Cost

2 Year Cost


$0 down, $30/mo$100$3,120

Easy Pay

$0 down, $54/mo$100$3,700

Subsidized Contract

$400 down, $0/mo$140$3,760

Full Price/No Contract

1,300 down, $0/mo$115$4,060
Shop Sprint Today

Verizon: Unlimited Talk and Text with 12 GB of Shared Data

Verizon moves up the ranks in the family shared data analysis thanks to its strong network and pricing for 12 GB of shared data. It is, however, still hurt by a lack of an early upgrade program.

Purchase OptionUpfront CostMonthly Cost2-Year Cost
2 Year Contract$0$174$4,180
Shop Verizon Today

AT&T Mobile Share: Unlimited Talk & Text with 15 GB of Shared Data

AT&T comes in second place thanks to its Next early upgrade program, monthly data costs, and strong network.

Purchase OptionUpfront CostMonthly Cost2-Year Cost
Next 24$30$173$4,190
Next 18$30$184$4,450
Next 12$30$195$4,710
Next w/ Down Pymt$420$163$4,320
2 Yr Contact$490$180$4,810
No Annual Contract$1,330$130$4,450
Shop AT&T Today

T-Mobile: Unlimited Talk and Text with 2 Lines with 5 GB of LTE Data Each

With T-Mobile, you do not share data. Instead, you price out the amount of LTE data you want to make available for each line.

This does allow for customization of your plan. And it keeps you from losing LTE data to someone else on the plan.

An added bonus is even when you go over your LTE data cap with T-Mobile, you will not pay extra. Instead, you will just experience slower network speeds.

When you add T-Mobile’s generous early upgrade plan to the mix, this seems like it will make a lot of sense.

Purchase OptionUpfront CostMonthly Cost2-Year Cost
Simple Choice$30$174$4,210
+ Jump**$30$194$4,690
+ Jump On Demand**$30$180$4,350
+ Score**$1,300$130$4,450
No Contract$1,330$120$4,210
Shop T-Mobile Today

Next Step

Read Provider Reviews.  If you are not ready to jump in and buy a new phone today, we recommend checking out individual reviews for the wireless plans you think will serve you best. You can find those reviews by clicking here.

Find Current Sales and Promotions.  Alternative, you can check out our promotions page to see if there are any limited time offers you may be interested in. Find those hot deals here.

Tips to Save Money

Overall, we found that smartphone ownership costs seem to be declining, while users have better plans options.

We call that a win.

But there still are a couple ways to save even more money on your wireless service. Here are just a few:

  • ​Buy a plan with less data (and stick to that lower cap).
  • Don’t pay for an early upgrade plan, and then try to upgrade every 3 years or so.
  • Don’t overpay for a network. If your reception works well in your house and your neighborhood, that is what matters. And Sprint and T-Mobile are spending a ton of money right now to upgrade their network speeds and reliability.
  • Upgrade or switch carriers when your carrier of choice is offering a great promotion. (You can find the latest promotions here.)
  • Look into prepaid plans. (You can find a comparison of prepaid plans here.)

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