AT&T was the only carrier to offer Apple's iPhone when it was first released, forcing many users to switch to this new carrier in order to snag the most advanced phone of the time. Since then, the iPhone has slowly come to each of the three other major carriers, widening the iPhone consumer base and giving customers a choice of carrier.
Unfortunately, the differences between different carrier plans and pricing can make this choice overwhelming. Since every company seems to be offering a slightly different amount of voice minutes, texts and data, we did the math to find out which company gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
T-Mobile has recently strayed from the pack, ditching the subsidy model and separating the phone cost from the service plan cost. With this new model, new users can purchase an iPhone 5 for $149.99, with additional payments of $20 per month for 24 months. This brings the total cost of the phone to $629.99, which is the same price that the iPhone 5 would cost from T-Mobile if it was paid in full.
An individual plan from T-Mobile with a healthy 2.5 GB of data and unlimited talk and text costs $60 per month. Add in the cost of the device, and you'll end up paying a total of $2,070 over the course of two years. Unlimited 4G costs just $10 more, or $70 per month, which is $2,309 after two years when you include the device. These plans operate month to month, so you're not locked into a two-year contract, but if you cancel early, you'll be required to pay off the remaining balance of the iPhone.
Verizon and AT&T
If you were to purchase the iPhone 5 from Verizon for $199 and opted for a 2GB plan, you'd pay $100 per month over two years (for the line access fee and shared data plan). That comes out to $2,600, or $530 more than you'd pay on T-Mobile for its 2.5GB plan. The total for a 1GB Mobile Share AT&T plan would be $2,276 (or $206 more than T-Mobile), while the 4GB plan would run you $2,876.
Those new to Sprint get to pay just $99 for the iPhone 5 while unlimited voice and data costs $109.99 monthly. Total after two years: $2,740 vs $2,309 for T-Mobile. If you can live with 450 voice minutes, though, you can pay just $79.99 per month for unlimited data for a total of $2,020. That's cheaper than T-Mobile's 2.5GB plan with unlimited voice.
4G LTE Coverage
Of course price isn't everything, so you'll have to weigh these prices against the value of call quality and download speeds. Verizon currently has the largest 4G LTE network with AT&T in second place. Although these two companies are the current front runners, T-Mobile has the least about of 4G LTE coverage, but is quickly expanding and has less congestion than AT&T and Verizon but to fewer customers. Sprint is in the middle, offering 4G LTE in 16 markets across the nation. You'll need to check the specific coverage in the locations where you spend most of your time to figure out which company will provide the best coverage.
For many people, the low price and lack of contracts with T-Mobile would make this company the ideal choice. However, if T-Mobile coverage is spotty in a particular area, paying more for an AT&T or Verizon account may provide the most value.
Is it worth the extra money to have faster download speeds or better coverage? And how much is that extra reliability worth? No one can answer that question but you. But it's smart to explore the different options when you have the freedom to take advantage of better deals.
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