iPhone 5s: AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile – Which Carrier is Best?

The iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c are coming to Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile later this month and a U.S. Cellular iPhone is on the way at some point, just not on the main iPhone 5s release date it seems.

This is not the first iPhone with 4G LTE, but thanks to rapid 4G LTE additions by the top carriers and a T-Mobile iPhone 5s available at launch, plus new family share plans and quick upgrade programs it is a good time to compare iPhone 5s carriers.

Apple offers the iPhone 5s starting at $199 on a two-year contract across Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Apple only sells the T-Mobile iPhone unlocked and contract free for $649 to $849, but T-Mobile should offer a cheaper down payment plan with monthly payments on the iPhone 5s release date.

Read: 15 iPhone 5S Features You’ll Actually Care About

We know that the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c are coming to the four major U.S. carriers on September 20th, but there is another new option on the horizon. A U.S. Cellular iPhone 5s is reportedly in the cards for 2013, but we may see Apple and U.S. Cellular delay the release for a month or so, similar to the Cricket iPhone 5 launch in 2012.

The iPhone 5s is available on four carriers on release day. Here's what you need to know to pick between AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.

The iPhone 5s is available on four carriers on release day. Here’s what you need to know to pick between AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.

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Apple offers a carrier comparison tool that will let users quickly look at all the plans offered by T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, but simply comparing the price of a plan is not enough when it comes to picking an iPhone 5s carrier.

Read: iPhone 5S Unleashed: Familiar Design, Countless Upgrades

We’ll look at the cheapest iPhone 5s plans, the most expensive plans and the average iPhone 5s plans in the comparison below. We’ll also look at carrier pros and cons as well as coverage and show you how to compare carrier coverage for your home, work and favorite places using the iPhone.

Compare iPhone 5s carrier coverage with 3G, 4G and 4G LTE with this app.

Compare iPhone 5s carrier coverage with 3G, 4G and 4G LTE with this app.

The quickest way to compare the coverage and 4G LTE connectivity in your city is to buy the Coverage? iPhone app for $2.99. This affordable app compares AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon coverage for your current location or specific addresses. Users can compare 3G, 4G and 4G LTE for each of the carriers. If you are thinking of switching carriers this is a great investment in picking the right carrier.

Why You Want a Verizon iPhone 5s

The Verizon iPhone 5s is a good choice thanks to a finished 4G LTE network.

The Verizon iPhone 5s is a good choice thanks to a finished 4G LTE network.

Verizon recently completed their 4G LTE rollout which means an overwhelming number of Verizon customers can now use the faster 4G LTE at home, work and when they travel. This even includes parts of Alaska. Verizon 4G LTE covers 99% of the company’s 3G network and 95% of the U.S. population, offering fast speeds to nearly 300 million people.

Verizon's 4G LTE coverage.

Verizon’s 4G LTE coverage.

Verizon ranks highest across all regions in the latest J.D. Power ratings for network quality. The carrier came in second in terms of customer care.

Verizon customers who want to upgrade to the iPhone 5s and keep unlimited data will need to pay full price for the iPhone 5s, between $649 and $849 depending on the storage capacity. New Verizon customers switching for a larger 4G LTE network will need to start a family share plan or use the hidden Verizon iPhone plan for $70 a month.

While it is not confirmed at this time, the Verizon iPhone 5s will likely be sold unlocked, which means a user could pop out the Verizon SIM card and put one form AT&T or T-Mobile in to start using it on a new carrier, or even with a pre-paid carrier down the road. The Verizon iPhone 5s does support AT&T and T-Mobile LTE.

Verizon 4G LTE speeds and coverage vary from block to block, but the video below shows an example of a Verizon 4G LTE speed test.

Verizon iPhone 5s plans

Verizon offers a wide range of iPhone 5s plans, but even the hidden $70 a month iPhone plan that is not on a Share Everything plan is more expensive than the competition. Verizon hopes the larger 4G LTE network and quality is enough to justify the cost.

  • Cheapest plan: $70.00/month ($1,680 over 2 years) – 450 minutes, 2GB data, Pay per text.
  • Average plan: $100.00/month ($2,400 over 2 years) – Unlimited talk and text, 2GB data.
  • Most Expensive Price: $415/month ($9,960 over 2 years) – Unlimited talk and text, 50GB data.

The average plan and most expensive plan are part of Verizon’s Share Everything plans which includes a free personal hotspot service to connect other devices to your Verizon connection such as a laptop or game system.

Why You Don’t want an iPhone 5s on Verizon

  • Verizon’s 4G LTE network is complete, so if you don’t have LTE yet, look elsewhere.
  • There is no option for unlimited data and buying a new iPhone 5s on contract means giving up unlimited.
  • It looks like another year of no talking and surfing, unless Apple and Verizon surprise us.

Why You Want an AT&T iPhone 5s

AT&T is a excellent iPhone 5S choice thanks to a growing 4G LTE network.

AT&T is a excellent iPhone 5S choice thanks to a growing 4G LTE network.

If you’ve been a longtime AT&T detractor, it’s time to take a second look at AT&T as an iPhone 5s carrier. AT&T expanded their 4G LTE network dramatically since 2012 and it also offers a speedy 4G network that is faster than Verizon 3G in many areas which helps support the still growing 4G LTE expansion.

AT&T 4G LTE coverage.

AT&T 4G LTE coverage.

AT&T 4G LTE is available in 396 markets while the slower 4G network covers 288 million people. AT&T came in Second to Verizon on the J.D. Power network quality ranking, but beat the competition in terms of customer care.

AT&T offers family share plans and individual plans, which means users have a bit more choice than on Verizon. Users wih multiple lines should check out the AT&T Mobile Share plans, which do include free tethering.

The video above shows the a speed test on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile 4G LTE, to let users get a look at how speeds compare.

AT&T lets iPhone 5s users talk and surf at the same time, something Sprint and Verizon customers cannot do on the iPhone 5. We are waiting on confirmation, but it looks like the iPhone 5s may also not allow it on those carriers.

AT&T iPhone 5s Plans

For AT&T we look at individual and Mobile Share plans, AT&T includes rollover minutes, which are not found on other carriers.

  • Cheapest plan: $59.99/month ($1,439.76 over 2 years) – 450 minutes, 300MB of Data and pay as you go texting.
  • Average plan: $95/month ($2,280 over 2 years) – Unlimited talk and text, 2GB data.
  • Highest plan: $530/month ($12,720 over 2 years) – Unlimited talk, text and 50GB of Data.

AT&T offers cheaper mobile share plans that start at $70 a month with a free personal hotspot, but the 300MB data limit is so small that it is not a good deal for many users.

Why You Don’t want an iPhone 5s on AT&T

  • AT&T is known for poor network performance in major metropolitan areas like New York City and San Francisco.
  • AT&T constantly comes in behind Verizon for Network performance.
  • No nationwide 4G LTE yet. Major cities are covered but smaller ones only have 4G, not 4G LTE.

Why You Want a Sprint iPhone 5s

The Sprint iPhone 5S comes with options for unlimited data.

The Sprint iPhone 5S comes with options for unlimited data.

If you are switching carriers and you want a 4G LTE Unlimited data plan, the only real option is Sprint. This is great news for some users, but there is limited appeal thanks to the smaller Sprint 4G LTE network.

Sprint's 4G LTE coverage.

Sprint’s 4G LTE coverage.

Sprint 4G LTE is available in 151 markets thanks to expansions in the middle of the summer, and plans to expand further are in the works. Still, there is a good chance Sprint 4G LTE is not available where you live.

Sprint 4G LTE speed test.

Sprint 4G LTE speed test.

Where Sprint 4G LTE is available, user can expect speeds that are close, but in our test in NYC, Verizon beat out Sprint.

Sprint iPhone 5s Plans

Sprint still offers unlimited data, which makes it an attractive service even with a smaller 4G LTE network.

  • Cheapest plan: $70/month ($1,680 over 2 years) unlimited talk and text 1GB data.
  • Average price: $109.99/month ($2639.76 over 2 years) Unlimited everything 5GB hotspot.

Sprint offers a new, and slightly confusing family plan with multiple data plan options per line that lets users customize data and price options.

Why You Don’t want an iPhone 5 on Sprint

  • Sprint 4G LTE coverage remains below the competition.
  • Sprint 3G speeds are slower than the competition in many tests.
  • If you don’t use a lot of data there are better deals at AT&T or T-Mobile.
  • The Mobile Hotspot feature is an extra charge for some plans and is only 5GB on the My All-In plan.
  • It looks like another year of no data and voice at the same time.

Why You Want a T-Mobile iPhone 5s

T-Mobile is selling the iPhone 5s on release day for the first time in Apple history, and while it is not the first iPhone on the carrier, it is a big deal.

T-Mobile doesn’t do service contracts anymore opting for phone contracts that require a down payment and monthly smartphone payments. This new plan lets users upgrade faster with a trade in program.

T-Mobile offers the iPhone 5s with no contract.

T-Mobile offers the iPhone 5s with no contract.

 

T-Mobile has a very small 4G LTE network, one they take pains to hid any maps of on their website. T-Mobile claims it cover 150 million people with 4G LTE, but make sure to look at coverage closely before picking T-Mobile.

T-Mobile does offer HD Voice on the iPhone 5, and we assume on the iPhone 5s, which is good news for users that make a lot of phone calls and want a better sounding experience, assuming the person on the other end of the call also has a T-Mobile phone that supports 4G LTE.

T-Mobile iPhone 5s Plans

T-Mobile’s plans are cheaper, but keep in mind they aren’t subsidizing the cost of the iPhone 5s, so you’ll be paying about $20 a month for it unless you buy it outright.

  • Lowest plan: $50.00/month ($1,200 over 2 years) – Unlimited talk and text, 500MB of 4G LTE data.
  • Average plan: $60.00/month ($1,400 over 2 years) – Unlimited talk and text, 2.5GB of 4G LTE data.
  • Highest Price: $70/month ($1680 over 2 years) – Unlimited talk and text, Unlimited 4G LTE data.

Why You Don’t want an iPhone 5s on T-Mobile

  • T-Mobile offers low 4G LTE coverage areas.
  • T-Mobile’s unlimited 4G LTE data plan only offers 2.5GB of hotspot use.
  • While there are no wireless service contracts there is a device contract to pay off the Phone 5s over two years.
  • T-Mobile offers a smaller coverage area with more gaps than AT&T, Verizon and Sprint – especially in rural areas.

Read: iPhone 5S Coming to Retailers Soon

  

Comments

  1. Joe Frusci says

    Will I be able to keep my unlimited AT&T data plan when I upgrade from the 4 to the 5S?

    • Stuffiness says

      There is no such thing with “unlimited” AT&T data plan.

      I received this message in July “ATT Free Msg: Your data usage has reached 3GB this month. Using more than 3GB in future billing cycles will result in reduced speeds. You can use Wi-Fi to help avoid reduced speeds. Visit http://www.att.com/datainfo or call 866-344-7584 for more info.”

      And yes I also have the “unlimited” data package. I’m done with AT&T when my contract is over next month.

      • Zeke says

        The data is still unlimited. You do not get charged extra for going over, but your connection is slow down a little. AT&T does that to prevent unlimited users from excessively using too much data, and overloading the whole network, giving everyone else (especially users that don’t have unlimited) slow speed.

        AT&T users with 3G phones and the “unlimited data” get 3GB of high speed data, after that connection is slow down, to 2G speeds.

        AT&T users with 4G and 4G LTE phones and the “unlimited data” get 5GB of high speed data, after that connection is slow down, to 2G speeds.

        2G speeds are fast enough for turn by turn GPS, radio steaming, basic web surfing. and more than likely it will be too slow to watch videos with.

        P.S Did you know what is mentioned above will not affect 95% of AT&T’s wireless users. The average heavy smartphone user uses about 3 to 5 GB of mobile data each month. Using WIFi when available does not count against your mobile usage.

      • Chris says

        For what its worth, an AT&T rep told me “with the iPhone 5s (and I believe any LTE enabled phone) the throttling threshold has been increased to 5GB of data.”

  2. Kapil says

    Joe- Your unlimited data plan is grand fathered. You will be able to upgrade 5s with same plan if you want on Att. Few of my friends did same when the upgraded to iphone 5 last year.

  3. Travis says

    While T-Mobile doesn’t have the most LTE there fall back network is definitely the fastest. Their HSPA +42 network can crank out speeds comparable to LTE speeds. While Sprint and Verizon 3g speeds are unbearable. AT&T HSPA+21 is a good fall back network, but obviously not as fast as T-Mobile ‘s.

  4. 9yearsatechrep says

    Not sure where you got your information about the verizon 4g rollout being complete. That’s absolutely false. Also, your non-corporate informant is giving you bad information about the 450 minute plan.

  5. JRM says

    “AT&T is known for poor network performance in major metropolitan areas like New York City and San Francisco.”

    Uhhh. The video you linked comparing speeds (in San Fran) show quite the opposite.

    ??????

  6. CDawg says

    After using the carrier comparison tool on Apple’s website and a little math on my own, I plan to switch to TMobile (no contract) from Verizon (2-year contract). For 2 new iPhones in my household over a 24 month period, I’ll save a little over $1,000 with TMobile vs. Verizon, and that’s even with the higher price for TMobile’s unlocked phone. Not to mention the resale value of my new unlocked phone will be higher than Verizon’s iPhone when I ultimately switch in a few years to get the latest and greatest iPhone available then!

  7. Medicgirl says

    I have had the “unlimited” data plan with AT&T since the 1st iPhone came out, only my number has it. When my husband bought his iPhone 4 and we moved him to my plan 2 years ago, they would not give him unlimited data as they no longer had that plan. Though I get to keep my unlimited as long as I stay with AT&T we have moved to southeast GA and the service for AT&T here is horrendous! I’m not sure if my best option is change to Verizon and lose my unlimited data and pay more a month or just get a small cheap no contract phone to use at work. I want the new iPhone since my 4G one is acting up but I haven’t been under contract with mine for 2 years but don’t want to lose my unlimited plan either….not sure which is best option….?

  8. Brian says

    Would the new iPhone 5s work with T-Mobile’s $30 prepaid plan (100 minutes talk | Unlimited text | First 5 GB at up to 4G speeds)?

  9. Ron B says

    Wow! Great article and good replies, but a lot of consumers only have it half right. Here’s the other half! What if your favorite mobile service provider gave you FREE unlimited 4G service and also paid you? That’s right, I mean gave you a check! Now that would be something that all of us can hoot about. Well your favorite mobile service provider does just that, BUT through a MVNO company. Check it out friends go on YouTube and search: 1. What is Solavei 2. Solavei San Diego News 3. Solavei Tulsa News then goto: solavei.com/rbtelecom and let me show you how it’s done.

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