Verizon’s fast data speeds and amazing coverage are hard to beat, but AT&T comes close with cheaper prices and more data
Verizon Wireless vs. AT&T Wireless Review 2023
AT&T and Verizon are two household names in the mobile industry. But which one offers better cell phone plans? It really depends on what you want.
Verizon is the most expensive wireless carrier, but it offers unparalleled coverage, fast data speeds, and robust perks that are worth the price for many people. AT&T is slightly cheaper than Verizon and offers more high-speed data on its premium cell phone plan, but its data speeds tend to be a bit slower.
Read on for an in-depth analysis of these phone carriers’ plans, prices, data performance, coverage, and customer service.
What to look for in a cell phone plan
Choosing the perfect cell phone plan begins with knowing what you want. Before we jump into the meat of this review, here are a few plan features that we think are important to consider.
- Data: You need 4G LTE/5G data for everything from sending picture messages to scrolling through TikTok. Make sure you have enough to support your daily habits.
- Price: Use price comparison tools to make sure you’re getting the best deal. There may be a very similar cell phone plan that another carrier offers for less.
- Coverage: The three big carriers—AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon—all have pretty good 4G coverage in cities. But it’s a different story for rural areas and emerging 5G networks. Look at the Verizon and AT&T coverage maps to be sure you’ll get the service you need.
- Perks: Extra features—like HD streaming and hotspot data—are really important for some users. Read the fine print on your plan to be sure it has what you want.
How much data do you actually need?
If you’re trying to figure out whether you really need that unlimited plan or not, our handy guide might be able to help.
Verizon vs. AT&T plans and pricing
We’ll just come out and say it upfront—AT&T and Verizon offer very similar plans. The difference between the two often comes down to a $5 price difference or a small perk.
If you’re having a hard time choosing, be sure to look at the coverage and data sections further below, where the differences between the carriers are often more stark.
In this section, we’re going to focus on unlimited data plans, because neither carrier offers much in terms of limited-data plans at all. So it’s go big or go home (or go get yourself a cheap limited-data plan from one of these other carriers). Let’s dive in.
First-tier unlimited data plans
At the cheapest end of the spectrum we’ve got Verizon’s Unlimited Welcome plan and AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan. That’s not confusing at all. (Is it so hard to come up with a more original plan name?)
Both plans are unlimited, but they come with significant drawbacks that we’ll cover in a moment.
The biggest problem with both of these unlimited plans is that they are always subject to deprioritization.
Deprioritization happens when the network is busy and your carrier needs to slow down some customers’ speeds to keep everything running smoothly. On these plans, you’ll be one of the first customers to see data speeds drop. Not ideal for those who work, game, or stream often.
Speaking of streaming—AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan will peg your video streaming at 1.5 Mbps and Verizon will peg it at 480p. Basically, in both cases you’ll get standard definition video and nothing more.
If these plans are sounding basically exactly the same, that’s because they are. It really comes down to small differences in price and perks.
That’s about it for these bottom tier plans. Let’s move on to tier two.
Top-tier unlimited data plans
If you want the best of the best then your best options are the Verizon Unlimited Plus plan or the AT&T Unlimited Premium plan.
In this case, Verizon is actually cheaper than AT&T, which is a sentence I don't think I've ever written before.
There are also some more subtle differences between these two plans. With Verizon you’ll choose from various $10 perk packs that include streaming, music, and shopping discounts, while AT&T doesn't offer any additional freebies or discount perks.
Both top-tier plans come with limited international perks, like free talk and text in Mexico and Canada. AT&T offers a bit more hotspot data, 50 GB, while Verizon only offers 30 GB.
Verizon vs. AT&T family plans
There’s nothing like getting the whole family together to parse out who still needs to pay for their portion of the phone bill. But seriously, you can save a bunch of dough if you bundle up with your kids, siblings, and other relatives in a family plan.
Both Verizon and AT&T have family plan deals that just get better with every line that you add. We’ll take a look at Verizon first.
Verizon’s family plans are essentially identical to its individual unlimited plans, except a lot cheaper. You’ll get the same features and benefits that we outlined above on every single line that you add.
So, just how good are the cost savings? Let’s just say you could save enough to buy a PS5 after three or six or seven months. For example, if you go with the Unlimited Welcome family plan it will cost you $120 a month for three lines.
If you were to buy each of those four lines individually, it would cost you a clean $195! So that’s $75 in savings every single month!
There’s got to be a catch, right? The only real drawback that we’ve found is that you have to pay a one-time “line activation” of $35 per line when you start your plan (sad trombone noise).
Well, that covers Verizon. What about AT&T?
Yet, again, AT&T’s plans are very similar to Verizon’s, but just a little bit cheaper. The main differences in service are the data caps.
You will still get that awesomely high 150 GB data cap on the Unlimited Premium family plan, so you can stream Yellowstone in HD while your kids stream PAW Patrol (or the other way around, we won’t judge). That’s twice as much data as Verizon’s priciest plan.
In the family plan department, the other differentiator that gives AT&T a slight edge over Verizon is that the company will waive the line activation fees (which cost $35 on Verizon) when you bring your own phone and activate it online. Well played, AT&T.
Verizon vs. AT&T data
If you’ve ever sat next to a friend while you both tried to pull up the same YouTube video then you know that no two phones have the exact same data speeds. That’s especially true if the phones are on different networks.
So, which carrier has the fastest speeds?
Our proprietary data from over 100,000 mobile customers shows that Verizon has faster data speeds than AT&T (though both are slower than T-Mobile).
Of course, this is just average speeds on a 4G LTE network. There will be some variation depending on your location, plan, and other factors. And, if you surpass your data cap your speeds will go down, no matter what network you’re on (which is why we love AT&T’s higher data cap).
Even though it’s slower than Verizon, AT&T’s average data speeds are almost 30 Mbps, which is plenty for watching videos, playing games, and scrolling through social media.
What about 5G data?
AT&T and Verizon have a different approach to rolling out 5G network infrastructure. While AT&T has quickly rolled out “low-band” 5G across the nation, Verizon has focused on specific cities, where it’s rolling out a much faster “high-band” 5G that can reach speeds of 200+ Mbps!
So, AT&T customers will probably get 5G coverage in more areas (for example, I get 5G coverage all over Salt Lake City on my AT&T phone), but it won’t be much faster than 4G LTE coverage.
Meanwhile, Verizon customers will see more limited 5G coverage, but it will be faster than most people’s home internet connection.
Does Verizon or AT&T have better coverage?
That awesome new unlimited data plan isn’t going to be worth much if you don’t have any service (or if you’re just getting a single bar). While both AT&T and Verizon have great coverage in most metropolitan areas,
Verizon’s rural 4G coverage is simply better.
Take a look at these two coverage maps to see the differences between Verizon and AT&T network coverage.
Verizon coverage map
AT&T coverage map
When it comes to 5G coverage (which you can see in the maps above if you click on just the “5G” box), AT&T has slightly better coverage in many areas. But, as we explained above, Verizon’s wide-band 5G is much faster than AT&T’s low-band network.
Verizon vs. AT&T customer service
We’re not going to sugarcoat things here: the entire telecommunications industry has a customer service problem, including AT&T and Verizon. While these two companies are more likely to respond to your call (or email or chat) than some of the smaller MVNOs like Mint Mobile and Visible Wireless, are probably not going to be an amazing experience.
If you do have a question or a problem to bring up with Verizon or AT&T, here are the best ways to get in touch.
AT&T customer service
Verizon customer service
Recap: Which carrier is better?
Verizon boasts fast data speeds and unparalleled coverage, but AT&T’s plans offer more data and a cheaper price point.
So we can’t choose an outright winner here. But we can recap what we’ve gone over in this review so that you can decide for yourself.
- Plans: Verizon and AT&T plans are very similar on the surface, but offer different perks. Neither providers have freebies included with their plans, but you can choose between $10 perk packs with Verizon for discounts on streaming, shopping, music, and more. Surprisingly, Verizon's top plan costs $5/month less than AT&T's plan.
- Family plans: You can save a ton of money with both carriers by bundling them together in a family plan. AT&T sweetens the deal even more by waiving activation fees for additional lines. Either way, you should definitely get a family plan.
- Data performance: This is where Verizon’s higher price starts to make sense. It outperforms AT&T when it comes to download speeds on both 4G LTE and 5G networks.
- Coverage: Again, Verizon’s higher prices mean better quality. You’ll see more rural coverage and a stronger 5G network from Verizon. But AT&T’s coverage is still pretty darn good in most places.
This review was informed by years of tracking the plans, prices, and performance of AT&T and Verizon.
We used the latest plan information from both companies, customer reviews, hands-on testing, and our own proprietary data from over 100,000 customers to evaluate the pros and cons of each carrier.
Our hands-on experience using AT&T helped bolster our analysis of its family plans, data speeds, and 5G network. A close look at coverage maps from both the carriers themselves and WhistleOut helped us reach our conclusions about coverage.
We hope that this review has helped you find the perfect plan. Let us know (using the comments section below) if there’s something we could have done better.
AT&T’s coverage is respectable, especially in metropolitan areas. But Verizon’s is still better.
Verizon beats both AT&T and T-Mobile when it comes to nationwide 4G LTE coverage. Even in the western states—like Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah—where other carriers have big coverage gaps, Verizon tends to do alright.
When it comes to emerging 5G technology, Verizon also tends to be ahead of the curve. It’s high-band 5G network is going up in major cities throughout North America, offering incredible data speeds.
Verizon and AT&T both have prepaid plans. The reason we didn’t cover these plans in this article is because they’re just not that great. Just take a look for yourself.
There are several disadvantages to these plans: you have to pay upfront, you don’t get the same great perks, and the prices aren’t very competitive. If you want to look at some prepaid plans that actually are pretty great then we suggest Mint Mobile or Visible Wireless.