- January 22, 2018 - We’ve updated this review to reflect new promotions and pricing changes to AT&T’s 4G plans. We’ve also reformatted our information in order to showcase our research more clearly. We’ll be taking a fresh look at 4G mobile broadband options in the coming months, so stay tuned for further updates.
Our AT&T Review
With download speeds up to 12 Mbps, AT&T consistently ranks as one of the fastest 4G networks around. While Verizon does score higher in most neutral tests, AT&T’s added several perks recently to make it a more attractive option for cord cutters. You can get $15 off your monthly DirecTV Now bill, as well as a free HBO subscription ($15 a month on its own) when you sign up for one of their unlimited plans. It’s not the cheapest carrier around, but if you plan on using these benefits, the savings could make it a great option.
|Plan||Base Price||Speed Caps|
|1 GB||$25||12 Mbps|
|5 GB||$50||12 Mbps|
|10 GB||$75||12 Mbps|
|20 GB||$100||12 Mbps|
|Unlimited Choice||$60||3 Mbps|
|Unlimited Plus||$90||12 Mbps|
AT&T’s main claim is a bold one: the nation’s best data network, bar none. More specifically, they promise “flexibility, great service, and reliability that exceeds 99%,” an assertion that they say is backed up by third party data.
Is It True?
Not really. While pretty much every internet company claims they have the fastest speeds, this is a pretty easy one to debunk. Rootmetrics, an independent network testing firm, named Verizon the fastest network in their most recent July 2017 report with AT&T a close second. And that’s confirmed by a number of other sources as well: PC Mag and Tom’s Guide both rated Verizon as the fastest carrier in their testing. But that’s not to say AT&T is slow by any means. They scored 92.9 in Rootmetrics’ testing, a hair behind Verizon’s 94.5 and well ahead of third place Sprint at 87.9. It’s not the fastest 4G internet you can get, but it’s really close.
Another small asterisk in AT&T’s unlimited plans is that they reserve the right to slow down your speeds after 22 GBs of data are used per line in a month. This is fairly common among mobile providers — Verizon slows down speeds during any network congestion for their cheaper plans — but it’s worth taking into consideration if you think you’ll be using this much data consistently.
One of the biggest factors you’ll need to consider when deciding on AT&T is the cost. While it appears to be slightly cheaper than competitors like Verizon, there are some hidden charges that effectively bring up the price. The advertised prices already include a $5 per month autopay and paperless billing discount ($10 for multiple lines), so don’t be surprised when your bill is initially more than you expected. Additionally, AT&T charges a $20 per month fee for every additional line added. You won’t have to pay this if you only get one line, but if you’re looking for a family plan, be sure to factor this into your budget.
While those are significant costs, AT&T also has some of the best perks we saw for customers looking to slash their cable bill. On both unlimited data plans, they offer a $15 per month discount on DirecTV Now, a subscription cable streaming service owned by AT&T. With their most basic plan starting at just $35 per month, this discount could nearly cut your cable bill in half. And for customers interested in traditional DirecTV service, AT&T applies the same $15 per month discount if you sign up for the Unlimited Plus plan. We also loved how AT&T includes a free subscription to HBO with all of their unlimited data plans. This would cost $14.99 per month on its own, so it could be a difference maker if you can't live without Game of Thrones.
A Closer Look at Features
|In Business Since||1983|
|Best For||Heavy internet users/cord cutters|
|Not For||Those looking for cheap family plans|
|Customer Ratings||55.9% would recommend (from a customer sample size of 15,183)|
|States and Territories Served||50|
What Others Are Saying
Rootmetrics summed up AT&T’s status well in their 2017 report: “It was a story of across-the-board improvement for AT&T at the state level in the first half of 2017. AT&T won or shared 140 state-level RootScore Awards in the first half of 2017, an increase from 92 in the second half of 2016. AT&T’s award tally was the second-highest total among all networks behind only Verizon, which earned 268 total awards. Moreover, AT&T was the only network that improved its award total in every category during the first half of 2017.” Still, they remain something of a little brother to Verizon when it comes to speed and area of coverage. “AT&T once again finished as a strong number-two performer in state-level testing behind Verizon,” Rootmetrics reported, also noting that “AT&T’s award tally of 140 was much higher than that of either Sprint (31) or T-Mobile (21).”
- Verizon: The closest competitor to AT&T, Verizon is generally accepted as the leader in 4G speed and reliability. The prices are pretty comparable to AT&T, but Verizon doesn’t offer any additional perks like DirecTV Now and HBO. If those aren’t important to you, though, you’re better off opting for Verizon’s slightly better coverage.
- T-Mobile: The data plans are generally a little slower and cheaper than AT&T, but T-Mobile is a great choice for people living in cities, as that’s where their coverage is strongest. They’ve been known to struggle in rural areas, but that reputation has started to shift in recent years. As PC Mag reported in June 2017, “Our studies show that you don't need to worry about that anymore, unless you're in Wyoming or a few other rural areas.” We loved how they added in a free Netflix subscription, too.
- Sprint: If you’re looking for the cheapest family plan around, it’s hard to beat Sprint’s current promotion: Through March 2019, you can get five lines for only $100. You will have to deal with Sprint’s inconsistent speeds (even in cities), but it’s worth considering as a budget option.
The Bottom Line
AT&T is a close second to Verizon when it comes to 4G speeds and availability, and while it’s not significantly cheaper, some of the added perks like DirecTV Now and HBO might put it over the top for some consumers.