There’s almost no way to own a smartphone and not have a business or professional relationship with one of the four largest wireless carriers in the United States. AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint are the only networks in town, the only companies that offer coast-to-coast nationwide coverage with the best phones and competitive plans. Verizon is the biggest network around and Sprint has the least amount of subscribers. Sandwiched between those two are the GSM carriers, T-Mobile and AT&T.
T-Mobile and AT&T often offer the same smartphones and use the same GSM technology for their networks. Lately, that’s been all that they’ve had in common. AT&T’s bigger network offers nationwide coverage on a grand scale, but their monthly plans aren’t considered the industry’s most competitive offerings. T-Mobile has settled on quickly building out its network infrastructure and rolling out Wi-Fi calling to fill in gaps when it’s absolutely necessary. An ever-changing line-up of customer-friendly deals, world-wide roaming and killing data overages have made it the carrier to be on for frequently travelers and data hogs.
Here’s how AT&T and T-Mobile compare based on plans, device line-up and pricing.
AT&T vs T-Mobile: Plans & Pricing
AT&T sits at the top of the wireless network heap alongside Verizon Wireless. The network has millions more users than the smaller two national carriers. In recent years, the company has focused on offering widespread coverage and the best line-up of smartphones available of any American carrier.
Purchasing a smartphone on contract from AT&T requires that you have a Mobile Share Value Plan. Like modern plans from other carriers these voice, text and data bundles focus on internet access instead of the amount of time users spend talking on their smartphone. Every plan has unlimited calling and texting. Differences in data are what make up the differences in price.
300 MB of data is available to anyone for $20, but the more mainstream offerings start at 2GB of data for $30 a month. 5GB of data costs $50 a month. More expensive plans, like the 15GB option for $100 a month, offer Unlimited Talk and Text to Canada and Mexico. What data package you get is very important, because AT&T does charge users $15 for every gigabyte of data that you exceed. The data that subscribers don’t use does rollover for two months before disappearing.
AT&T Mobile Share Value Plans
- Separates cost of devices from monthly bill.
- Possible to get overage charges.
- Unlimited Calling & Texting.
- Activation fees apply. $20 for Bring Your Own Device & Two Year Contracts. $15 Activation fee for AT&T Next plans.
- Upgrade fees of $20, even if you own the phone already.
- $325 ETF with contracts.
- Device Access Charges can add up.
Not included in its pricing for plans are what AT&T calls Device Access Charges. AT&T offers to lease phones to users for a monthly payment on top of their wireless bill. Mobile Share Plans can be used for an entire family of devices, not just a single device, saving some users a bit of money. AT&T Next for an iPhone 6s $21.60 but doesn’t require a down payment.
Adding a tablet or smartwatch to a Mobile Share Plan costs $10. Adding a notebook PC is $20. Access charges for adding another smartphone are 25GB a month on plans with 5GB of data or less and 15GB on Mobile Share Value Plans that have 15GB of data or more.
AT&T has Early Termination Fees of $325 for users that are still on contracts. This fee decreases by $13.54 each month the contract is paid. Those that take advantage of AT&T Next users aren’t charged an ETF but do need to pay the remaining balance left on their phone purchase.
It was T-Mobile that inspired AT&T’s Share Value Plans, it’s believed. Certainly the carrier was the first of the larger four to split the cost of buying a phone from the cost of having services. On T-Mobile, users pay for the smartphone and service separately, at any time they can pay the remaining balance due on their smartphone and end up with a lower bill.
T-Mobile’s main offerings for post-paid customers are called Simple Choice Plans. Unlike AT&T, there are no overages with Simple Choice. T-Mobile’s plans are separated by high-speed data buckets. Users that run out of high-speed data on a plan aren’t charged an overage. Instead, T-Mobile simply slows down the user until the end of the billing cycle.
The cheapest Simple Choice Plan at T-Mobile costs $50 and includes 2GB of data. There’s a 6GB plan for $65, a 10GB plan for $80 and an unlimited LTE plan for $95. Again, T-Mobile splits the cost of service from phones themselves. As such users have to factor in monthly payments for their device.
T-Mobile Simple Choice Plans
- Separates cost of devices from monthly bill.
- No data overages.
- Unlimited calling & texting
- No activation fees.
- Unlimited texting & data in 120 countries. Calls are $.20 per minute.
- Does charge $15 for a SIM card.
- No contracts on service.
- No Early Termination Fee.
T-Mobile says in its advertising that it doesn’t offer contracts with termination fees. Technically, that’s true. Users who decide to leave T-Mobile aren’t charged for breaking their wireless contract because they’re free to leave at any time. Users are charged the amount of payments left on their smartphone though, which some say amounts to a contract breaking penalty.
Announced recently, Binge On takes some guess-work out of the data equation for T-Mobile users. With a toggle online, T-Mobile users can configure their account so that streaming from video services doesn’t impact their data plan. This feature works on Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu, YouTube and more.
AT&T vs T-Mobile Phones
AT&T Next allows users to skip the Early Termination Fee and pay for their device in installments. What’s more, users get to update to their devices, if they’re prepared to trade-in their current one. Shorter AT&T Next terms push the monthly payments higher.
- iPhone 6s with 16GB of storage: $0 Down Monthly Payments of $21.67 with AT&T Next 24.
- Samsung Galaxy S7 with 32GB of storage: $0 Down, Monthly Payments of $23.17 with AT&T Next 24.
- LG G5 with: $0 Down, Monthly Payments of $22.97 with AT&T Next 24.
With AT&T Next, it’s very important to look at the amount of monthly payments associated with each plan. For example, though it’s called AT&T Next 24, it’s called that because users can upgrade to a new device in 24 months if they trade their first device in. To pay the phone off takes 30 monthly payments, longer than a two-year contract would normally last.
T-Mobile’s situation requires some investigation. It splits things between its Jump On-Demand plans and what it calls EIP or Equipment Installation Plan.
Equipment Installation Plan examine credit scores, then assign a down payment based on on that score. Regardless of down payment, what users are doing is financing the total cost of their smartphone. The balance of an EIP can be paid in monthly installments with a bill or whenever a subscriber is ready. The phone is then there’s to keep.
Jump On-Demand is similar to AT&T’s AT&T Next in that they are both essentially leasing programs. With a Jump On-Demand, T-Mobile owns the device that you’re paying monthly payments on. When you’re finished with the allotted monthly payments, you can then choose to pay the phone off completely or trade-in the device for something newer. Jump On-Demand offers 3 upgrades to subscribers a year. When users cancel their service with T-Mobile and have signed up for Jump On-Demand their remaining payments become due, according to T-Mobile. Also they have to return the smartphone purchased through the plan.
- iPhone 6s with 16GB of storage: $294 & 24 monthly payments of $14.94. With Jump On-Demand its $0 with 18 payments of $5 a month and a trade-in.
- Samsung Galaxy S7 with 32GB of storage: $59.99 Down, 24 monthly payments of $30 with EIP.
- LG G5 with: $0 Down, 24 monthly payments of $26.25.
T-Mobile is placing a very, very heavy emphasis on Jump On-Demand instead of the EIP program. Right now, its website isn’t capable of offering Jump On-Demand purchases. For that, users have to go to a store or call in.
Bring Your Own Device
Both AT&T and T-Mobile are required to unlock their phones for use on each other after the terms of a contract are fulfilled. Both carriers also allow users to skip purchasing new phones and stick a new SIM card in a compatible phone.
For a limited time, T-Mobile is giving away SIM Cards. Normally, they’d cost $20. AT&T is giving them away too.
AT&T vs T-Mobile What You Need to Know
T-Mobile is most wildly known the world over from making consumer-friendly moves. Streaming music from Apple Music, Groove Music, Google Music, Spotify and Pandora doesn’t count against user’s data-caps. Streaming from Netflix and other popular video services doesn’t count against data caps either, provided that users have enabled the free — but optional — Binge On add-on. DataStash lets users keep the LTE data they’ve paid for a year, up to 10GB. The carrier dives into that data when subscribers have used up their monthly allotment.
AT&T doesn’t offer any of these extras besides being able to hang on to unused data for two months. What they do offer is a huge selection of devices with lower up front costs than what T-Mobile is offering online right now.
They also offer better coverage in remote areas. Coverage wise, T-Mobile is improving a lot, but it’s still not as good as AT&T, which had a huge head start. T-Mobile partners with other carriers in areas where its network is lacking. AT&T also offers something else that T-Mobile can’t match yet; it’s part of a large conglomerate that allows users to bundle services for lower deals.
AT&T Vs. T-Mobile: Which Should You Buy?
T-Mobile is clearly the carrier to keep an eye on. In situations where the carrier has great coverage, it’s the obvious choice.
Other times, it’s more complicated than that. Users that aren’t comfortable with leasing a phone from their carrier won’t be too happy with the relatively high cost of buying a phone without Jump On-Demand at T-Mobile. To it’s credit, the carrier often offers temporary sales and credits for switchers, but that savings counts as a bill credit, not actual cash that users can keep in their pockets.
AT&T and T-Mobile both offer high-profile devices, but T-Mobile loses out with some less well-known devices. Everyone’s situation is unique, but T-Mobile wins out I’d say.