Want to be as free as the open road when it comes to your data? Same.
What’s not to want, right? With unlimited data you never have to worry about overages, you can stream endlessly, and you can be anywhere. You could even be on a long road trip. And when the beauty of nature and open road become too earthy and burdensome, you can turn on Dr. Who. (Just kidding. Be free! Look at the road! Be one with nature!) But when you’re done, you should finish that movie you started earlier in the day.
Unlimited data is a big deal. For most people, having unlimited data is more important than texting or talking. With VoIP systems like WhatsApp and Skype (apps that allow talk, text, and video communication over your cell carrier’s data plan), there is nothing more important than having dependable data. When you do find yourself wanting that sweet comfort of data, go all in for an unlimited data plan.
Here’s where we at WhistleOut have done the heavy lifting, deep digging, and analyzing for you. Compare unlimited data plans and choose the one best for you.
Here’s why you’ll want unlimited data in the first place:
You stream music constantly. If you’re someone who automatically turns their phone on in the morning and streams Spotify or Pandora throughout the entire day, you’ll need unlimited data without interruptions.
You generally use more than 6GB a month. The average person uses about 2GB of data a month per device. If you are anything but average and want to stream constantly (or want the idea of always being able to stream constantly) then unlimited might be for you.
You travel and need constant access to your emails and websites. Tethering and hotspots galore. Never ask anyone what their WiFi password is again. Ever.
How to Buy Unlimited Data Plans
There was a strange moment in time when carriers stopped offering unlimited data plans. Unless you were grandfathered into an unlimited data plan, you were kind of stuck with tiers. Unlimited data plans are making a comeback. But here's a secret: there’s a limit to your unlimited data plan. You just never reach it. So you've got that going for you, which is nice. (Caddyshack, anyone? No? Let's just keep going.)
Here are some options to be aware of with unlimited data plans: postpaid, prepaid, or mobile hotspot.
Postpaid plans are great for those of us who want to use a lot of data and don’t really want to do any math about gigabytes. With carriers like Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile offering postpaid options for those already in the know about what kind of data user they are, it makes sense to go this route. Sprint seems a bit more affordable than the rest at $60 for their Unlimited Freedom plan. This plan gives you unlimited text, talk, and data with 5GB for tethering. Verizon doesn’t offer unlimited data but you can get 4GB starting at $70. Again, you can get data with any carrier. Just be aware of how much data you actually need.
Prepaid unlimited data plans are affordable if you can shell out for your phone and prepaid plan all at once. The great thing is that you don’t have a contract, you don’t need to do a credit check, and you don’t have to pay an activation fee. The only negative thing about the prepaid option is that you’d have to pay cold hard cash at the time of purchase while postpaid allows payments (comes in handy when buying a new phone). Some great options are MetroPCS, Booth, and Cricket.
Mobile hotspots are growing in popularity as more people want to avoid jumping on WiFi that seems a bit dodgy (prisoncantholdme666 is an available network but do we want to use it?) Unlimited data options are great for those who just want more WiFi without having to ask a barista what the password is. T-Mobile has a pretty good plan called One. You get unlimited data with 10GB of 4G LTE speed for hotspot. Sprint offers mobile hotspots with unlimited data for $60. See below for details on more carriers.
Is Unlimited Data Really Unlimited?
The truth is there is always a limit. It’s just that the technical threshold is so far out there in the universe of data that it feels unlimited. But in reality, getting to that threshold occurs more often and more quickly than you'd think. And when you do reach that "unlimited" data cap (varies from carrier to carrier) something called de-prioritization happens. That's when you are able to stream, but not in HD and not as fast. So, you’ll never actually reach the absolutely-no-streaming-at-all limit of your unlimited data plan. This is why they call it unlimited.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when it was actually unlimited. Here’s the backstory:
In 2010 carriers ended up selling way more smartphones than they could have imagined. They didn’t think they’d sell as many so the unlimited data plans they offered grew to be more unlimited than even they could have envisioned. They initially thought, “Sure. Unlimited data. No big deal. LOL. No one is going to use it all that much.”
Turns out, everyone wanted to use it. All. That. Much.
That’s when carriers began to pull back on the unlimited data plans, offering tiers of data with caps and overage charges. Some people are still grandfathered into these old school unlimited data plans with carriers honoring them. If you sign up with a carrier today, however, you’ll be able to choose from unlimited data plans with certain restrictions. The reason for this is the above mentioned limit on unlimited. That is to say that everyone deserves the super fast speed they pay for, so if you go over that threshold that we do not speak of, carriers will slow down speeds and prioritize users in order to keep the flow of data free of congestion.
Heard enough? Go here now to compare unlimited data plans.
Best Unlimited Data: T-Mobile
Why we like it: T-Mobile is our pick for best but it was a close one. On their ONE plan, you get unlimited data, calls, and texts--with HD streaming included. The cost is $70 and includes taxes and fees. Sprint offers similar features with their Unlimited Freedom Plan for $60 but this doesn't include taxes and fees. With most carriers, overage fees are all but gone completely. Just know that streaming is optimized to 480p after a certain data threshold is reached.
Best Prepaid Unlimited Data: The People's Operator
Why we like it: Their Infinity Plan offers you unlimited data, no credit check, and you can bring your own (CDMA) phone. Boost was a strong second for us with this one but because you can't bring your own phone, we had to go with The People's Network.
Cheapest Unlimited Data: Sprint
Why we like it: With recent changes to increase the video streaming to HD and to increase the hotspot amount to 10GB per line, Sprint's $60 price is the cheapest of the Big 4 carriers. And, their plan often gets a wicked price discount down to $50/mo during promotions.
Best Unlimited Data for Hotspot Tethering: T-Mobile
Why we like it: T-Mobile One plan nails it. Why? The best kept secret of T-Mobile One's Binge-On feature which allows you to tether high quality video (HBO and Netflix included) without it counting towards your mobile hotspot data allotment. End result: very happy tethered devices with access to streams and streams of video at yes, standard definition, but we checked it out and the picture's great.
It's also worth noting here that Sprint got dinged right away because it drops you down to 2G speeds ( which would make anything beyond texting and emailing painfully slow) once you've gone over your mobile hotspot allotment, and Verizon and AT&T both charge more for their plans for just offering plain vanilla hotspots.
Check out the full list of unlimited data plans and their current prices below. Click on the jump here for more information on prepaid unlimited data plans.