Sprint, T-Mobile and, to a lesser degree, Verizon all want your business. So, who's the best iPhone 5 carrier? Probably not AT&T.

Whereas Verizon and Sprint will allow iPhone users to use the FaceTime video chat app over cellular, AT&T is forcing some of its oldest customers to sign up for more expensive “shared” data plans for the privilege of using Apple’s otherwise free video chat service. Ma Bell is likewise nickeling and diming iPhone users over iMessages and hotspot sharing. So, who’s the best iPhone 5 carrier? Probably not AT&T.

Apple and its partners began taking pre-orders a bit after midnight Friday, September 14, yet it was clear before the end of business that day that the iPhone 5 was already a huge hit. In fact, Apple’s new handset will likely become the fastest selling smartphone in history with at least 5.5 million units (vs. the iPhone 4S’ 3 million) over its first weekend of sales.

So, if you’re shopping for an new iPhone — $0 iPhone 4 (HSPA+), $99 iPhone 4S (HSPA+) or $199 and up iPhone 5 (LTE) — you have to thinking hard about which carrier to choose.

For what it’s worth, AppAdvice is clear about which carrier you shouldn’t choose, AT&T, and it’s all about the higher prices and restrictions Ma Bell enforces on iPhone users.

For example, Verizon and Sprint don’t charge extra for FaceTime, coming in iOS 6 (September 19). For its part, AT&T is force marching anyone on grandfathered “unlimited” data plans to shared data, which is almost always a more expensive option.

Similarly, AT&T charges extra for (iPad) hotspot sharing and, again, forcing anyone on a grandfathered unlimited plan to quit that for more expensive shared data. Verizon and Sprint, Ma Bell’s primary competitors, don’t.

Best iPhone 5 Carrier? You Have Choices

Fundamentally, if you don’t need hotspot sharing or plan to use FaceTime video calling, then AT&T and Verizon will cost you the same every month for 2GB data and throttling thereafter — about $110 every month. Sprint, by my reckoning, will set you back $90 a month, but that’s for truly unlimited data.

Lest it be forgotten, Verizon has one feature that none of the other vendors can match — LTE coverage with more than 300 metros and markets or about 75 percent of the carrier’s total service area. Yeah, there’s that.

See also: Lumia 920 vs. iPhone 5: Choose the Right Smartphone

However, where Sprint and, for that matter, T-Mobile really begin to shine is when you consider an older iPhone (4, 4S) prepaid data. If you plan to pay cash for a new iPhone or already own an out-of-contract iPhone, plans start at about $70 a month and get even cheaper when you factor in Sprint’s MVNO partners, like Cricket and Virgin Mobile.

The catch with T-Mobile is that you need to live in a coverage area where 1900MHz band service (i.e. HSPA+) service is available — get unlimited text and talk with 5GB data for $70 a month.

Additionally, though T-Mobile is way behind with its LTE rollout, the carrier will offer iPhone 5 compatible micro SIM cards starting in October. Again, if you live in the right area, the savings could be big.

Not to belabor the point, but AT&T and its many iPhone-specific restrictions and not-so-subtle ways to make you pay more make it perhaps the worst possible iPhone 5 carrier — you will need to shop around to find the deal for you…

What’s your take?

7 COMMENTS
  1. We switched the family to the shared plan, it was cheaper for us and we now share 6GB which was more than before. I added my iPad for just $10 a month which is cheaper than buying data for it by the month. V may have the better service. I travel all over the country on business. I find AT&T adequate in most major cities and airports. Friends with V sometimes have problems so it is not perfect. In some areas I can see four bars but Internet is glacial so signal strength alone is not the issue. Back end support is Important as well.

  2. I have already preordered my iPhone 5 with Verizon. And a little FYI for everyone upgrading, there is no longer a code for unlimited data for people grandfathered in. That means if you use your upgrade to get the iPhone 5 from Verizon, you will be forced in to a limited data plan. Your only option to keep it, is if you use mass amounts of data and limiting you will cause certain overages. Then they can send it up to corporate and get you approved. Just letting you know.

  3. We recently swapped two iphone data plans over to Verizon (were with At&T prev.). I was a little shocked to be charged $99 + tax on full retail value for an iphone 4 (not 4s). I remarked to the woman on the phone that I had read/heard from multiple sources that the 4 was free with new contracts – she replied by asking if I had seen this on a verizon website… which I then realized I hadn’t. Don’t know what the deal is, since multiple news sources reported that at&t (which is offering that deal) and verizon had dropped their pricing. I feel sorta ripped off… (and we had kinda been looking forward to switching over previously). Anyway – just wanted to warn anybody who was looking to grab a low-end deal with Verizon…

  4. The iphone4 costs $500, verizon breaks that into a payment plan which is why you sign a 2 year contract with an early termination fee. You pay $100 upfront, Verizon advances you $400 which you pay back over the 2 year contract.

  5. You didn’t upgrade, you signed a new 2 year contract in which Verizon pays for the majority of the device cost

  6. How is this? you pay for it over a 2 year contract? I have 2 separate lines of service at Verizon. 1 line I got the iPhone 5 subsidized… the other iPhone 5 I paid the full entire price for upfront. And both lines are the exact same cost each month. 1 line is not more expensive than the other. So, in the end, I pay the exact same prices even though I paid for 1 phone entirely, and the other I paid $199. And both lines are still $350 ETF, with $10 coming off each month of service.

  7. In your situation, you choose to spend $400 more then you had to by forfeiting the contract discount and paying out of your own pocket instead. Not very smart…good luck to you in the future

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