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AT&T vs. Sprint: Which wireless carrier is better?

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Allconnect

Aug 6, 2020 — 6 min read

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  • Phone prices are cheaper through AT&T
  • AT&T’s least expensive plan ($35/line) is about half the price of Sprint’s cheapest plan
  • AT&T’s download speeds crush Sprint’s download speeds, but T-Mobile merger should close the gap
  • Sprint has international data and texting included in its plans. AT&T does not offer international data

AT&T and Sprint are two of the most recognizable cellphone companies worldwide. AT&T is the largest provider of mobile telephone services, the world’s largest telecommunications company and the largest provider of home telephone services in the U.S. AT&T is also the parent company of WarnerMedia.  

Sprint, on the other hand, is now a part of the new T-Mobile for internet and wireless services. Founded more than 200 years ago, Sprint is the fourth-largest mobile provider in the U.S., currently servicing more than 54 million customers. 

AT&T offers much better speeds and coverage. Sprint will have the benefit of T-Mobile’s customer service and coverage. AT&T is a bit less expensive than Sprint overall, but even with the added coverage when the merger with T-Mobile happens, AT&T still holds the lead for speeds and coverage when compared side-by-side.

Plans, pricing and perks

Now that Sprint has merged with T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint have similar plans and pricing, ranging from about $60 to $85/mo. for one line of unlimited data. Both carriers offer some pretty sweet deals for signing up, too.

Right now, AT&T is offering unlimited data, HD streaming, 30GB of mobile hotspot data and HBO Max on its Unlimited Elite plan. Not to be outdone, Sprint offers customers unlimited data, talk and text nationwide. You’ll also get free text and basic data with global roaming in 200 worldwide destinations, Hulu, and on its most expensive plan, TIDAL, Lookout and Amazon Prime, too. 

Sprint’s unlimited data plans are cheaper on average than AT&T’s by about $11/mo. — especially if you’re adding more than one line. If you’re looking for the lowest price possible, go with Sprint.

Winner: Sprint

Cheapest unlimited plans

At first glance, the cheapest unlimited plan comes from AT&T. But, you get a mobile hotspot and 5G with Sprint’s basic plan. Add in Hulu, Amazon Prime, Tidal and Lookout, and Sprint might be worth the higher price for some customers. 

Both carriers offer unlimited talk, text and data and 480p video streaming. Neither offers premium data, which can be throttled at any time. But, if you’re strictly shopping for the lowest price, Sprint has the edge.

Top-tier unlimited plans

At the higher end, AT&T is a bit more expensive than Sprint, which also includes perks like Hulu and Amazon Prime. Both carriers offer similar access, video streaming quality and premium data. But, Sprint’s most expensive plan offers a 100GB mobile hotspot. 

Family plans

When it comes to family plans, Sprint offers much better discounts for adding multiple lines. Unfortunately, both carriers stop discounting their plans after four lines. If you have a bigger family, both T-Mobile and Verizon extend their discounts to five lines.

Phone deals

You can get good deals on new phones through both AT&T and Sprint. But, AT&T beats out Sprint for overall cost. We compared 15 of the most popular smartphones available through both AT&T and Sprint, with promotions factored in. We also broke it down to monthly payments and actual phone cost — and AT&T still won out with average phone prices $300 less than Sprint.

Winner: AT&T 

Coverage and speed

We checked five sources to find high-level overviews of AT&T and Sprint coverage and speed. AT&T scores well with RootMetrics, Ookla and OpenSignal, and matches Sprint in Consumer Reports for Data and Reception scores. Readers of Consumer Reports rate Sprint slightly higher than AT&T, with AT&T at the bottom in all categories: value, customer support, data, reception and telemarketing. 

In J.D. Power’s U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study, 2020, AT&T won out only slightly over Sprint in every study category. 

Speedtest Intelligence, however, reports that AT&T was the fastest mobile provider for Q2, 2020 in the U.S. with a Speed Score™ of 41.23. T-Mobile was the second fastest and Sprint came in third. When Sprint and T-Mobile complete their merge, these numbers may change significantly.

Winner: AT&T

5G

As mobile users demand more data and crowd the network, the radio wave highways have become jammed up with cellular traffic. To counteract the congestion, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and other providers are expanding to the higher frequencies of 5G.  

Right now, most AT&T and Sprint customers continue to use 4G, as 5G has seen a somewhat slow introduction. Having launched trial 5G service in late 2018, AT&T has technically been offering 5G for more than a year. But, because of the lack of hardware support and few connection points throughout the country, most AT&T customers can’t use it even if they wanted to. Still, AT&T claims its 5G service reaches more than 200 million customers across the U.S., and at no additional charge. 

Sprint currently has the slowest 5G speeds. T-Mobile is next in line. Even so, 5G is the next wave and delivers data rates that are 10 to 100 times faster than current 4G networks.

Winner: AT&T

Customer service

At some point, you may need to call customer service — whether it’s a billing issue, your cellphone got washed with your jeans, it broke because it fell off the roof of your car, or it simply stopped working. When bad things happen to good phone owners, you’ll want to know AT&T and Sprint customer service are there to help.

Winner: AT&T

AT&T vs. Sprint: Which one should you get? 

For most people, AT&T is a slightly better option. You’ll get better 4G and 5G coverage and data speeds than Sprint, slightly better pricing on its unlimited plans and similar cellphone pricing. Customer service is a wash, but with the impending T-Mobile/Sprint merger, things could get much better for the company… or they could fall to new lows. 

However, Sprint offers perks like Hulu with its cheapest unlimited plan, whereas AT&T offers no perks at that level. Switch to Sprint’s Premium Unlimited Plan and you’ll get Hulu, Amazon Prime, Tidal and Lookout, plus 100GB mobile hotspot per line. With AT&T’s Elite Unlimited plan you’ll get HBO Max and 30GB mobile hotspot. 

Even so, AT&T and Sprint are similar, with highs and lows for both. Monthly phone plans are somewhat cheaper overall with AT&T, and if you want to upgrade to a new smartphone, AT&T has Sprint beat hands-down. 

By Kathryn Pomroy