AT&T Tweaks Unlimited Data Plan To Better Compete With Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

It’s been two weeks since Verizon’s surprise announcement that it was bringing back unlimited mobile data plans kicked off a huge flurry of activity, with all four national carriers introducing or improving their own offerings. But a point-by-point comparison of all four left many folks wondering: Is AT&T even trying? AT&T apparently wondered that too, and so is tweaking their plan once more.

Starting on Thursday, March 2, AT&T is dropping the prices on its unlimited data offering, and adding some features.

Today, AT&T’s unlimited offering begins at $100 for one line, then adding $40 per line thereafter. Subscribers who put four lines on their plan can receive a credit, knocking it down to $180 per month.

AT&T’s simplifying that, dropping the first line for Unlimited Plus to $90, then selling two for $145, three for $165, and four for $185. It’s also now letting customers use their mobile devices as portable hotspots, allowing customers to tether their laptops, tablets, or other devices to an internet connection via their phones. (Previously, it was the only carrier banning tethering on its unlimited plan.)

Though AT&T dropped its requirement that unlimited data subscribers also be DirecTV or Uverse subscribers earlier this month, it’s still trying hard to work that corporate synergy. Subscribers to Unlimited Plus get a $25 monthly credit toward use on DirecTV, Uverse TV, or the DirecTV Now streaming service.

As you would expect, any AT&T-owned TV you consume as one of their wireless customers is zero-rated — meaning it doesn’t count against the data cap you, as an unlimited data customer, theoretically don’t have anyway. That includes anything you watch through the DirecTV, DirecTV Now, or Fullscreen apps, according to AT&T.

AT&T is also adding a second tier of unlimited data service, called Unlimited Choice. Those consumers don’t get access to tethering or HD video streams, and their connection is capped at 3Mbps. (Your regular 4G LTE connection can run as high as 100 Mbps, and in many cities during peak hours averages around 15-30 Mbps.)

However, Unlimited Choice is $30 per month cheaper than Unlimited Plus, starting at $60 for the first line and running up to $155 for a set of four.

Both plans are available to any new or existing AT&T customer, the company stresses — yes, even the ones who just signed up for a new plan last week.

With those changes, a comparison of the highlights of all four major carriers’ unlimited plans now looks something like this:

Verizon AT&T T-Mobile Sprint
Cost for one line: $80 $90 $70 $50
Cost for two lines: $140 $145 $100 $90
Cost for four lines: $180 $185 $160 $90
Possible throttling point: 22 GB 22 GB 28 GB 23 GB
Tethering included? 10 GB 10GB 10 GB 10 GB
HD video included? Yes; by default Yes; must enable Yes; must enable Yes, up to 1080p
E-billing required?* Yes Yes Yes Yes
Auto pay required?* Yes Yes Yes Yes
Extra taxes / fees? Yes Yes No Yes
New or existing customers? Both Both Both New only

*Note: You can subscribe to many of these plans without using automatic debit or e-billing, but the prices will be $5 or $10 higher.

Each carrier — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint — does still apply different terms and conditions to their plans. Each also prices connections for wearables, cars, and tablets differently, and some specific offers may be promotional or a limited-time offering. So read offers carefully and check the small print if you’re planning to switch.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.