AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile: Which Cellular Provider Is Best for You?

Pricing, data, 5G—oh my! Here's how to decide between AT&T and T-Mobile.

  • Best for speed
    • Unlimited plan prices: $65.00–$85.00/mo.*
    • Family plans: $30.00–$75.00/mo. per line for 2–5 lines
    • Video streaming: SD, HD, 4K UHD
    • High-speed data: 50 GB/mo.–Unlimited (none for Unlimited Starter)
    • Wireless standard: 4G LTE, 5G (mm-wave, C-band, sub–6 GHz)
    • Hotspot data: 15–40 GB
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  • Best for 5G
    • Unlimited plan prices: $60.00–$85.00/mo.** (for 1 line)
    • Family plans: $24.00–$70.00/mo. per line for 2–5 lines
    • Video streaming: SD, HD, 4K UHD
    • High-speed data: 50 GB–Unlimited
    • Wireless standard: 4G LTE, 5G (sub–6 GHz)
    • Hotspot data: 5–40 GB

Compare AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile head-to-head

T-Mobile and AT&T both offer cellular plans with unlimited data and 5G access. T-Mobile and AT&T also both offer truly unlimited cell phone plans for American cellular customers—T-Mobile’s Magenta Max and AT&T’s Unlimited Elite both put no caps at all on premium, high-speed data.

But T-Mobile squeaks ahead in this race because it has a bigger 5G network and slightly lower prices on two of its unlimited plans.

Pro tip:

Internet speeds can be inconsistent on cell phones because you’re working over a wireless network, but you can always take a speed test to see how much bandwidth you have.

Taking a speed test lets you know if you’ll have the firepower necessary to do something complex on your phone, like attending a Zoom meeting or downloading a large file.

Pros and cons: AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

Pros:

  • HBO Max™ included with Unlimited Elite plan
  • C-band 5G access

Cons:

  • Slower 5G speeds
  • No premium data on Unlimited Starter plan

 

Pros:

  • Truly unlimited data plan
  • Cheaper plan options

Cons:

  • Limited hotspot data on most plans
  • Slightly smaller US network

Want to see what kinds of internet you can get in your area? Enter your zip code below.

Unlimited plans and pricing: AT&T vs. T-Mobile

AT&T and T-Mobile both offer unlimited cellular plans—by far the most popular kind of phone plan you can get. An unlimited plan gives you unlimited text and voice all month long, along with unlimited data (although your speeds are usually slowed down once you hit a certain limit).

What you get is more or less the same from both providers, but there are some crucial differences—for example, some of T-Mobile’s unlimited plans cost a little less while giving you more premium data.

What is premium data?

Premium data is internet data that runs over 4G LTE and 5G networks, giving you speeds in the range of 30–100+ Mbps. While most of these plans are technically unlimited, the truth is that your speeds will slow down to a snail’s pace once you use your premium data for the month.

The only exceptions to this rule are with T-Mobile’s Magenta Max plan and AT&T’s Unlimited Elite plan, both of which put zero restrictions on premium data use. You’ll get premium data all month long with no slowdowns whatsoever.

AT&T Wireless unlimited plans and pricing

PackagePricePremium dataHotspot dataVideo streamingDetails
AT&T Unlimited Starter$65.00/mo.N/A (speeds can be deprioritized during network congestion)N/ASD
AT&T Unlimited Extra$75.00/mo.50 GB (afterwards speeds can slow during network congestion)15 GB (then reverts to 128 Kbps speeds)SD
AT&T Unlimited Elite$85.00/mo.Unlimited40 GB (then reverts to 128 Kbps speeds)HD, 4K UHD

We think AT&T’s Unlimited Extra plan is the best of these three because it comes with a solid amount of premium, high-speed data without breaking the bank. You also get a nice amount of hotspot data, which you can use to tether Wi-Fi devices to your phone’s data connection.

But we’ve got eyes for the Unlimited Elite plan too, which will really be useful if you’re a heavy data user. It gives you totally unlimited premium data—this is the plan for you if you’re posting to TikTok and Instagram Reels three times a day or more. It also comes with a subscription to HBO Max at no extra cost.

We’re more hesitant about the Unlimited Starter plan because it doesn’t give you any fixed amount of high-speed data. That means your internet speeds can slow down whenever there’s network congestion in the area—effectively disabling your internet at times when you may need it the most, like when you’re trying to hail a rideshare at the airport after a six-hour flight.

T-Mobile unlimited plans and pricing

PackagePricePremium dataHotspot dataVideo streamingDetails
Essentials$60.00/mo.*50 GB (afterwards speeds can slow during network congestion)Unlimited 3G data (max 3 Mbps)SDView Plan
Magenta$70.00/mo.100 GB (afterwards speeds can slow during network congestion)5 GB (and then 3G speeds)SDView Plan
Magenta Max$85.00/mo.Unlimited (speeds will never slow)40 GB (and then 3G speeds)Up to 4K UHDView Plan

We’ve gotta say, T-Mobile has an edge on AT&T when it comes to unlimited plans. Its two lower-tier phone plans both cost five dollars less per month compared to AT&T’s corresponding plans. You also get a fixed amount of premium data on the Essentials plan, which you don’t get with AT&T.

But the real star here is the Magenta Max plan—it comes with completely unlimited, premium data at 4G LTE and 5G speeds, with no caps and no slowdowns. Not everyone will need a plan like this, but it’ll come in handy if you spend a ton of time using the internet on your phone to do things like attending Zoom meetings, posting video to social media, or playing online games.

Want to see what kinds of internet you can get in your area? Enter your zip code below.

Family plans and pricing: AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

You can turn any one of AT&T and T-Mobile’s unlimited plans into a family plan by simply adding more lines. The more lines you add, the more the price goes down per line—giving customers an incentive to add friends and family to the cell phone party.

AT&T Wireless family plans and pricing

PackagePriceDetails
AT&T Unlimited Starter with two or more lines$30.00–$60.00/mo. per line
AT&T Unlimited Extra with two or more lines$35.00–$65.00/mo. per line
AT&T Unlimited Elite with two or more lines$45.00–$75.00/mo. per line

The cheapest AT&T family plan (Unlimited Starter with five lines) costs $30 per month per line, while the most expensive one (Unlimited Elite with two lines) costs $150 per month total. Adding more lines to an AT&T plan gives you more flexibility to upgrade to a better plan, since you’ll generally pay less by adding more lines.

You get a full $10 off per month per line by adding just one more line to an AT&T Unlimited Elite plan. That’s a nice savings while still getting you premium service and an unlimited supply of premium data.

T-Mobile family plans and pricing

PackagePriceDetails
Essentials with two or more lines$24.00–$45.00/mo. per lineView Plan
Magenta with two or more lines$32.00–$60.00/mo. per lineView Plan
Magenta Max with two or more lines$40.00–$70.00/mo. per lineView Plan

T-Mobile has AT&T beat on family plans. All of its family plans are cheaper, and in some cases, the per-line price deals are even more generous. We’re especially impressed with the pricing of the Magenta Max plan when you add on more lines—throw on just one extra line, and the price gets $15 lower per line. And if you throw on more, you can bring it down to as little as $40 per line.

That’s a great offer for completely unlimited, premium-quality, 4G LTE and 5G data with speeds of 30 Mbps and up.

Want to see what kinds of internet you can get in your area? Enter your zip code below.

Prepaid plans and pricing: AT&T vs. T-Mobile

Prepaid is the way to go if you want a simple plan at a cheap price. You also won’t have to worry about overage fees, and you can get a prepaid plan without a credit check. You’ll also get unlimited talk and text and some minimal perks to go with it, such as a small amount of hotspot data.

You won’t always get unlimited data, but let’s be real—do you actually need unlimited data? Not all phone customers do: one report from June 2021 found that phone customers worldwide use an average of just 10 GB of cellular data per month.1

AT&T Wireless prepaid plans

PackagePriceData capCan the data be used for a hotspot?5G access?Details
AT&T PREPAID 8 GB$30.00–$60.00/mo. per line8 GB (then speeds slowed to 128Kbps)YesNo
AT&T PREPAID 5 GB$35.00–$65.00/mo. per line5 GB (then speeds slowed to 128Kbps)YesNo
AT&T PREPAID 15 GB$45.00–$75.00/mo. per line15 GB (then speeds slowed to 128Kbps)YesNo
AT&T PREPAID Unlimited$50.00/mo. w/ AutoPay§Unlimited (speeds can be slowed due to network congestion)Yes (add-on required)No
AT&T PREPAID Unlimited Plus$50.00/mo. w/ AutoPayUnlimited (includes 22 GB premium data, after that speeds can be slowed due to network congestion)10 GB included for hotspotYes

AT&T has a wide range of prepaid plans to pick from. You’re probably better off sticking with the cheaper plans, but there are unlimited plans if you want. They come with fewer perks than AT&T’s lowest-tier, postpaid unlimited plan—you don’t get 5G access and there’s less hotspot data—but they’re $15 per month cheaper.

T-Mobile prepaid plans and pricing

PackagePriceData capCan the data be used for a hotspot? Details
T-Mobile Connect$15.00/mo.*2.5–5.5 GBYesView Plan
Simply Prepaid 10 GB$40.00/mo. (for 1 line)10 GBYesView Plan
Simply Prepaid Unlimited$50.00/mo. (for 1 line)Unlimited (speeds can be slowed during network congestion)Yes (unlimited data at 3G speeds)View Plan
Simply Prepaid Unlimited Plus$60.00/mo. (for 1 line)§Unlimited (speeds can be slowed during network congestion)Yes (includes 10 GB premium data, then reverts to 3G speeds)View Plan

T-Mobile Connect is an utterly bare-bones cellular plan, and it’s dirt cheap (at least as mobile plans go). You can’t go wrong with that if you’re on a tight budget. Otherwise you can get a pretty solid deal with the Simply Prepaid plans, which offer decent data and hotspot options.

Just bear in mind that if you get the Simply Prepaid Unlimited Plus plan, you’ll be paying the same amount as T-Mobile’s Essentials unlimited plan—just with no fixed premium data and fewer perks. Cue the sad trombone.

Get part of your prepaid bill covered with the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program

Beginning December 31, 2021, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) will help low-income families afford an internet connection by subsidising the cost of their internet bill. The ACP provides $30 per month toward a household’s internet bill, though households on Tribal land or high-cost areas might be eligible for enhanced support of up to $75 per month.

To qualify, someone in your household must be enrolled in certain social programs (Lifeline, SNAP, WIC, National School Lunch Program, and others)—or you can qualify based on your income. This program replaces the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program that was instituted in 2021 to help those dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Want to see what kinds of internet you can get in your area? Enter your zip code below.

Devices: AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

PhonePriceStorageConnectionDisplayGet it
iPhone 12$884.00–$1,034.0064 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB4G LTE, 5G6.1" Super Retina XDR DisplayView on Amazon
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G$699.99128 GB, 256 GB4G LTE, 5G6.2" 120 Hz Adaptive DisplayView on Amazon
Google Pixel 4A 5G$514.99128 GB4G LTE, 5G6.2" 60 Hz Full HD+ OLEDView on Amazon
OnePlus Nord N200 5G$239.99128 GB4G LTE, 5G6.49" 90 Hz Full HDView on Amazon

AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile both support the finest cell phones available today. The most popular phone by far is iPhone 12, which has a top-of-the-line camera and water resistant body. Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is also a top contender, with a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset and eye-catching design.

Most phones coming on the market now work on 5G wireless networks. While prices for 5G phones were pretty high at first, nowadays you can get affordable options like OnePlus’ Nord N200—although the budget phones won’t always get you the fastest 5G speeds possible.

Pro tip:

Want to know more about 5G phones? Take a look at our best 5G phones guide for all the prices and specs.

5G availability: AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

Carrier5G availability (% of time customer is on 5G)View plans
AT&T Wireless16.5%
T-Mobile35.4%View Plans

When it comes to 5G—the much-talked-about new wireless phone standard—T-Mobile takes the lead. On a T-Mobile plan, you’re more likely to experience 5G’s faster internet speeds and lower latency.

5G is so new that you won’t get it 100% of the time—more often you’ll be on a providers’ 4G LTE network. But a recent study shows that T-Mobile customers who have access to 5G spend about a third of their phone time actually on 5G networks.2 By comparison, AT&T customers with 5G can access 5G speeds less than a quarter of the time.2 So you’ll have a lot more face time with 5G if you go with T-Mobile.

Pro tip:

If you’re not sure what 5G is or what makes it important, then take a look at our 5G page for all the info you’ll need on speeds, pricing, devices, and availability.

4G LTE and 5G speeds: AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

Avg. 4G LTE speedsAvg. 5G speedsView plans
AT&T Wireless35.3 Mbps49.1 Mbps
T-Mobile54.1 Mbps150.0 MbpsView Plans

When it comes to download speeds, T-Mobile beats out AT&T on both 4G LTE and 5G networks. If you’ve got a 4G phone and you’re using T-Mobile, you’ll be hitting average speeds of about 54 Mbps, whereas you’ll get only about 35 Mbps with AT&T. That’s a significant difference, and every Mbps counts when you’re in the middle of an intense PUBG game.

T-Mobile also delivers much faster 5G speeds on average compared to AT&T. You can get internet speeds of around 150 Mbps over a 5G phone when you’re on T-Mobile’s network, as opposed to just 49 Mbps on AT&T. Having a download speed of 150 Mbps pushes your phone’s performance into a new level entirely. With that speed, it’s much easier to download files, stream video content, play online games—or do multiple things at once on one phone.

4G LTE and 5G connectivity: AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

5G frequency bandsView plans
T-MobileSub–6 GHzView Plans
AT&T WirelessSub–6 GHz, millimeter-wave, C-band

While T-Mobile has a larger 5G network and faster 5G speeds, AT&T has one technical advantage in that its 5G network supports a wider range of radio channels to support 5G phones. And in the coming year, that may give AT&T the ability to vault past T-Mobile in terms of speed and performance—at least in some areas.

5G operates over a wide range of radio frequencies, including sub–6 GHz bands that deliver 4G–like speeds over a wide range and millimeter-wave bands that give your phone impressive, gigabit-plus speeds but only in relatively contained areas (like stadiums).

T-Mobile mostly has built up sub–6 GHz 5G, and it’s performed great so far in doing so.   But beginning in 2022, AT&T has begun slowly rolling out C-band channels across its 5G network. C-band (3.7–4.2 GHz) is considered by wireless experts to be the ideal channel for 5G performance, because it can deliver incredibly fast speeds (upwards of 100 or 200 Mbps) over a relatively wide area.

At the start of 2022, AT&T’s C-band availability was limited to just a handful of cities, but it’s expected to expand to dozens more by the end of the year.4 T-Mobile meanwhile won’t have C-band available until the end of 2023—so while it’s leading the 5G pack now, you may end up with better performance on AT&T if you live where C-band is near.

Take a look at our explainer on C-band 5G for a more detailed breakdown of how different 5G types work and why C-band can give you faster speeds.

Data caps and premium data: AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

A lot of cellular providers—not just AT&T and T-Mobile—boast having “unlimited” cell phone plans, which give you unlimited talk and text along with other perks. But when it comes to internet data, usually there are limits hidden in the fine print.

Indeed, while most unlimited phone plans technically give you all the data you want, in reality you’ll usually have a cap on what’s usually called “premium data”—data that comes over 4G LTE and 5G networks. Once you’ve used up that premium data, then your phone will revert to sub–3G speeds, slowing your downloads and uploads to an all-but-useless crawl.

This isn’t something you have to worry about much if you’re an average phone user who just checks email, posts to social media, and calls in for the occasional Zoom meeting. But you’ll want a more generous amount of premium data if you’re using your phone to stream movies, download giant files, play online games, or use a hotspot.

T-Mobile generally hooks you up with more data compared to AT&T. But T-Mobile and AT&T both give you totally unlimited premium data with their highest-tier plans: T-Mobile’s Magenta Max and AT&T’s Unlimited Elite.

AT&T premium data caps

PlanData capPriceDetails
AT&T Unlimited StarterN/A (speeds can be deprioritized during network congestion)$65.00/mo.
AT&T Unlimited Extra50 GB (afterwards speeds can slow during network congestion)$75.00/mo.
AT&T Unlimited EliteUnlimited premium data (speeds will never slow)$85.00/mo.
AT&T PREPAID 8 GB8 GB (then speeds slowed to 128Kbps)$25.00/mo.
AT&T PREPAID 5 GB5 GB (then speeds slowed to 128Kbps)$30.00/mo.
AT&T PREPAID 15 GB15 GB (then speeds slowed to 128Kbps)$40.00/mo.
AT&T PREPAID UnlimitedUnlimited (speeds can be slowed due to network congestion)$50.00/mo. w/ AutoPay
AT&T PREPAID Unlimited PlusUnlimited (includes 22 GB premium data, after that speeds can be slowed due to network congestion)$50.00/mo. w/ AutoPay

AT&T’s Unlimited Extra and Unlimited Elite plans are the way to go if you really need a nice juicy hunk of premium data to work with every month. All the other plans either have strict data caps or wishy-washy, non-cap caps  in which your speed can be slowed at any time the provider deems fit.

T-Mobile premium data caps

PlanData capPriceDetails
Essentials50 GB (afterwards speeds can slow during network congestion)$60.00/mo.View Plans
Magenta100 GB (afterwards speeds can slow during network congestion)$70.00/mo.View Plans
Magenta MaxUnlimited premium data (speeds will never slow)$85.00/mo.View Plans
T-Mobile Connect2.5–5.5 GB$15.00/mo.View Plans
Simply Prepaid 10 GB10 GB$40.00/mo. (for 1 line)View Plans
Simply Prepaid UnlimitedUnlimited (speeds can be slowed during network congestion)$50.00/mo. (for 1 line)View Plans
Simply Prepaid Unlimited PlusUnlimited (speeds can be slowed during network congestion)$60.00/mo. (for 1 line)View Plans

As we’ve said before, T-Mobile’s Magenta Max plan gives you honest-to-goodness, when-we-say-unlimited-we-really-mean-unlimited  premium data. Pick that plan if you see yourself using your phone to stream lots of online content, attend 10 Zoom meetings a day, and post large video files to social media on the regular.

Otherwise you can pretty much get away with any of these other plans. The 100 GB you get from the Magenta plan is a ton of data—maybe not for a home internet plan, but definitely for a cell phone. While AT&T does have some solid data options, T-Mobile steps things up a notch in the data game.

Coverage: AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

AT&T and T-Mobile both have nationwide network coverage. T-Mobile’s is a lot bigger than it used to be thanks to a recent merger with Sprint. But AT&T’s coverage maps show it still has more 4G LTE network saturation in western states like California, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah, whereas T-Mobile is a bit patchier in those areas. However, T-Mobile definitely has AT&T beat on 5G coverage.

If you’re not sure whether you can get either of these providers where you live, just head to AT&T’s coverage map or T-Mobile’s coverage map and search your address or zip code.

Final call: AT&T vs. T-Mobile

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either of these cellular providers. Both offer unlimited plans with generous data allowances and hotspot data. Both have unlimited plans with completely unlimited premium data (albeit at a higher price). You can get price breaks for family plans, and there’s plenty of cheaper prepaid options to choose from too.

But if we really had to choose, T-Mobile would be the leader here. It’s got more data on its top-tier plans, a bigger and faster 5G network, and some dirt-cheap prepaid options if you’re on a mega budget. For a cellular customer, those are all core areas of interest. So we say if you have to choose, then go with T-Mobile.

FAQ about AT&T Wireless vs. T-Mobile

Is T-Mobile coverage better than AT&T coverage?

T-Mobile’s 4G LTE coverage isn’t better than AT&T’s 4G LTE coverage, but it does have much wider 5G coverage.

Both cellular companies have nationwide network coverage, but AT&T has a larger presence in western states like California, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah, where T-Mobile’s network isn’t as large. However, T-Mobile has a larger 5G network, with more customers getting 5G speeds compared to AT&T.

Is T-Mobile slower than AT&T?

T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network is slightly slower than AT&T’s 4G network, but its 5G network is considerably faster. While AT&T hits average 4G download speeds of 33 Mbps, T-Mobile’s average 4G speeds land around 29 Mbps. On the other hand, T-Mobile’s 5G network reaches average speeds of 71 Mbps, whereas AT&T gets average 5G speeds of 55 Mbps.

Sources

  1. Ericsson, “Ericsson Mobility Report,” pg. 13, June 2021. Accessed August 11, 2021.
  2. Francesco Rizzato, Opensignal, “5G User Experience Report,” January 2022. Accessed February 14, 2022.
  3. Federal Communication Commission, “Wireline Competition Bureau Seeks Comment on the Implementation of the Affordable Connectivity Program,” November 18, 2021. Accessed November 30, 2021.
  4. Chloe Albanesius, PC Mag, “AT&T C-Band Rollout Begins in 8 US Cities,” January 19, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2022.

Author -

Peter Holslin has more than a decade of experience working as a writer and freelance journalist. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008 and went on to contribute to publications like Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on covering 5G, nerding out about frequency bands and virtual RAN, and producing reviews on emerging services like 5G home internet. He also writes about internet providers and packages, hotspots, VPNs, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting.

Editor - Rebecca Lee Armstrong

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.