Demystifying Unlimited Data: How to Pick the Best AT&T Plan for You

Hey there! As smartphones have evolved from a luxury to a necessity for most of us, choosing the right wireless carrier plan is more confusing than ever. We‘re here to help make sense of one of the most popular modern plan options: unlimited data. Below we‘ll unpack everything you need to know about the past, present and future of unlimited data before showing you how to determine the best unlimited deal AT&T has for your needs and budget.

The Path to Truly Unlimited Data

It‘s easy to take unlimited wireless data for granted in 2023, but it represents a total shift in strategy from mobile carriers over the past 15 years. Rewind to the early days of iPhones and Androids when every bit of cellular data you used counted against a stringent monthly cap measured in megabytes or just a few gigabytes. Go over your limit without purchasing expensive top-up data and your phone would become practically useless!

However, between network capacity expanding from 3G to 4G LTE and new competitive pressure from budget carriers like T-Mobile/Sprint, the concept of unlimited data started taking hold around 2014 with caveats like reduced video resolution or slowed data speeds after using a set threshold of data. By 2018 all major wireless carriers offered unlimited data plans to keep up with consumer demand for all-you-can-eat data to power modern smartphone activities like streaming hi-def video and music.

Here in 2023 with 5G providing even faster peak data speeds and more robust network capacity, unlimited data plans have gone mainstream. In fact, OpenSignal‘s 2022 report on the state of U.S. unlimited data revealed 80% of new Verizon and AT&T smartphone plans are now unlimited.ev

AT&T‘s Approach to Unlimited Data

AT&T offers unlimited data plans in the form of three distinct tiers suitable for different usage needs and budgets:

Unlimited Starter ($65/month)

Unlimited Extra ($75/month)

Unlimited Premium ($85/month)

While all three provide unlimited talk, text and data on AT&T‘s nationwide 5G and LTE networks, limitations apply in areas like video resolution, data priority status after exceeding monthly thresholds, hotspot tethering amounts, and perks like streaming service discounts or international roaming data. We‘ll break down exactly how they compare below.

Plan Comparison Tables

Monthly Pricing

PlanMonthly Price (1 Line)Discounts Available
Unlimited Starter$65Multi-line, military, first responder, teacher, nurse, doctor
Unlimited Extra$75Multi-line, military, first responder, teacher, nurse, doctor
Unlimited Premium$85Multi-line, military, first responder, teacher, nurse, doctor


PlanData Priority StatusVideo QualityMobile Hotspot DataInt‘l Roaming Data
Unlimited StarterSlowed during congestion480p SD3GB then slowed unlimitedNone
Unlimited Extra50GB high-priority720p HD15GB then slowed unlimitedTalk, text & 5GB high-speed data in Canada/Mexico
Unlimited PremiumUnthrottled4K UHD50GB high-speedUnlimited talk, text & high-speed data in Canada/Mexico/210+ countries

Perks Compared

While all AT&T unlimited subscribers enjoy basics like spam/fraud call filtering, access to fast 5G connectivity and no overage fees, certain extras make some plans stand out:

  • Unlimited Premium includes an HBO Max subscription, unlimited international roaming data in 210+ countries, and up to $180/year for streaming service reimbursements
  • Unlimited Extra offers a 6 month Netflix subscription (Standard plan, 2+ screens)
  • Unlimited Starter doesn‘t include additional perks

The Takeaway

Unlimited Premium pulls out all the stops to justify its higher monthly cost for heavy data users including globe-trotting travelers and streaming fanatics. Unlimited Extra strikes an appealing balance for most use cases withHD video and 15GB of full-speed mobile hotspot data. Budget-focused light data consumers can save money with Starter‘s limitations without risking overage fees down the road.

Making the Right Choice for You

Rather than overwhelm you with any more plan details, let‘s talk through what really matters when choosing your unlimited plan:

Current Data Usage – Take a close look at your previous wireless bills, or usage info through your carrier account. How much cellular data do you actually consumer per month on activities like video/music streaming, web/social media browsing, map navigation and tethering other devices? If you‘re under 3-4GB go Starter. Between 5-50GB Extra should suffice. Over 50GB monthly Premium makes more sense.

Data Speed Prioritization – All AT&T unlimited plans are subject to reduced speeds during times of local network congestion after passing certain thresholds: 3GB on Starter or 50GB on Extra/Premium. Note this is not throttling but rather deprioritization behind other users if the tower you‘re connected to maxes out capacity. Premium data stays fast no matter how much you use each month.

Video Streaming Quality – Are you frequently streaming shows, movies or YouTube/TikTok videos on the go? Starter limits video quality to 480p standard definition that will look obviously pixelated. Step up to 720p HD with Extra or up to crisp 4K UHD streaming on Premium plan.

Affordability Priorities – If keeping your cell phone bill ultra low is imperative, Unlimited Starter delivers on unlimited data without breaks while cutting some corners on mobile hotspot amounts and video resolution. Extra lands at a pleasing price point balancing useful features. Premium offers cutting edge perks and unthrottled speeds for a premium.

Mobile Hotspot Usage – Do you regularly use your phone‘s hotspot feature to get other devices online like a laptop, tablet or gaming system? Stick with Premium‘s generous 50GB allotment or Extra‘s 15GB before throttling kicks in for the best experience tethering multiple devices. If you rarely tether devices, Starter should suffice.

We‘ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to demystifying AT&T‘s unlimited data plans! Here‘s hoping you now feel better equipped as a smart shopper to pick the plan that ticks all the right boxes for YOUR needs and budget. We‘re always here to provide more personalized advice and insider tips if you have any other questions come up around getting the most of your wireless service.

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