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

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Aug 7, 2020 — 5 min read

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  • AT&T’s unlimited plans cost $75 per line on average, compared to $72 for T-Mobile
  • Phone prices are cheaper on average through AT&T than T-Mobile
  • AT&T scores better in most coverage and speed tests
  • Netflix or Quibi are included with T-Mobile’s two Magenta unlimited plans
  • HBO Max comes with AT&T, but only its most expensive plan

AT&T and T-Mobile — two of the largest cellphone companies available — are comparable when it comes to good coverage and pricing for unlimited plans. However, AT&T offers lower phone prices and 5G access with its two higher-priced unlimited plans, while T-Mobile includes 4G LTE with all of its unlimited plans. 

On its two Magenta plans, T-Mobile includes taxes and fees in the overall price plan, which could provide additional savings over AT&T. If you plan to get a new phone, though, AT&T’s smartphone deals could result in more savings.

In addition, both carriers offer streaming promotions for new customers. Both of T-Mobile’s Magenta unlimited plans include subscriptions to Netflix or Quibi, while AT&T’s most expensive unlimited plan comes with a subscription to HBO Max

Plans, pricing and perks

AT&T and T-Mobile have similar unlimited plans and prices, ranging from $60/mo. for one line up to $85. However, if you’re looking for the fastest network, AT&T offers 5G access with its two higher-priced plans while T-Mobile comes with 4G LTE with all of its unlimited plans. 

Each carrier includes some bonus perks to encourage you to sign up, such as T-Mobile Tuesdays, featuring free stuff, discounts and more with the T-Mobile Tuesdays app. The company also offers a free subscription to either Netflix or Quibi with its two Magenta unlimited plans ($70 or $85/mo. for one line). AT&T subscribers with its most expensive unlimited plan ($85/mo. for one line) can receive a subscription to HBO Max. 

Although initial pricing may be comparable with the first line, T-Mobile’s plan pricing drops substantially if you add one or more lines. For instance, a three-line plan with AT&T starts at $135/mo., while a three-line plan with T-Mobile is $90/mo. Therefore, we give the edge to T-Mobile. 

Winner: T-Mobile 

Cheapest unlimited plans

Initially, AT&T and T-Mobile’s cheapest unlimited plans share similar features: unlimited text, talk and data, no 5G access and no streaming subscriptions. However, unlike AT&T, T-Mobile does offer a mobile hotspot. 

AT&T costs $5 more per month but provides slightly better coverage and speed, which could be worth it for many users if a mobile hotspot is not an important asset. 

Top tier unlimited plans

For the most expensive unlimited wireless plans, AT&T provides better perks with 5G access and premium data of up to 100GB each month before the company starts throttling your speeds. However, if you like to watch a lot of video, T-Mobile’s 1080p offers a better experience. 

The main difference is which streaming service you prefer. Given it has a higher price point, the HBO Max subscription savings will be more than that of Netflix or Quibi. However, Netflix or Quibi may provide more variety in programming than HBO Max. 

Family plans

Regardless of carrier, pricing for unlimited wireless plans decreases as you add more lines. However, with T-Mobile, the savings are substantially greater than those at AT&T, and could save a family of four as much as $348 per year. Unlike AT&T, which caps the number of lines it offers at four, T-Mobile offers up to eight lines, although the lowest discounts stop at plans with six lines. 

Phone deals

Both AT&T and T-Mobile offer good deals on new smartphones, but your savings usually are greater with AT&T. In comparing phone deals between both companies, excluding trade-in promotions because actual phone values vary, we evaluated prices with all promotions factored in. 

To receive discounted phones, all carriers require you to jump through a few hoops. With these deals, you’re required to commit to a new unlimited plan for a specific contract period — 30 months for AT&T and 24 months for T-Mobile. 

Winner: AT&T

Coverage and speed

In evaluating overall performance as well as coverage and speed, AT&T has a clear advantage over T-Mobile. However, when looking at Consumer Reports’ evaluation of data and reception performance, T-Mobile outperforms AT&T. 

In J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study, Volume 1, AT&T and T-Mobile are pretty equal when it comes to network quality. When looking at these ratings from a variety of sources, the very slight edge goes to AT&T. 

Winner: AT&T

5G

Although not available in all areas, AT&T offers 5G access with its two higher-priced unlimited plans. T-Mobile, on the other hand, offers only unlimited 4G LTE data on its network with its unlimited plans. However, both require a compatible device to make a 5G connection. 

When connecting on a 5G connection, AT&T had the fastest Speed Score of 78.68, while T-Mobile had just 64.26, according to Ookla’s Speedtest Intelligence®. So, AT&T is the better choice when it comes to speed.

Winner: AT&T

Customer service

Dealing with customer service to answer a question or resolve a problem is an experience most people try to avoid. Unfortunately, at some point, you probably will need to make that call. If so, T-Mobile is more likely to make that experience less troublesome than AT&T. 

While both T-Mobile and AT&T received similar scores from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), T-Mobile fared much better with Consumer Reports’ readers, which rated the company’s customer service as “very good” as opposed to AT&T’s “poor.” The company also did much better in J.D. Power’s customer care score, based on nearly 13,000 customers’ ratings, earning a score of 848. AT&T came in lower with a 793.

Winner: T-Mobile

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

For many people, AT&T is the superior choice, thanks to its more reliable network, faster performance and better phone deals. However, T-Mobile offers less expensive unlimited plans and much better customer service. Both offer free streaming subscriptions when you opt for a more expensive plan. 

Deciding which is best for you comes down to your preferences. If you want a great deal on a new smartphone with a lot of speed, AT&T probably will be the right fit for you.

By Karon Warren