Comparison of iPhone ownership cost on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile

By , Mar 27, 2013

iPhone 5 coming April 12 to T-Mobile

With yesterday’s announcement that Apple’s iPhone 5 will finally start selling through T-Mobile on April 12, we can now compare the total cost of ownership across the nation’s four largest wireless carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.

A bunch of outlets ran their spreadsheets to assess the current landscape, including Zagg, best known for its line of protective coverings for consumer electronics.

In figuring out how much one saves on T-Mobile over two years versus other carriers, Zagg concluded that T-Mobile’s contract-free iPhone 5 comes in at a very cool $580 cheaper over two years. However, the difference evaporates if you switch your significant other or an entire family of four to the nation’s fourth-largest carrier…

Zagg in a blog post cautions that its math assumes T-Mobile’s unlimited data tier (the carrier offers three tiers of data: 500MB, 2GB and unlimited).

Sprint by default offers only unlimited option and claims not to throttle data.

Verizon and AT&T, as you know, no longer have unlimited data so Zagg used the current pricing for their respective Share Everything and Mobile Share plans, each offering four gigabytes of cellular data per month.

Based on these terms, T-Mobile’s no-contract iPhone 5 at a total of $2,259.99 over two years comes in at a $580 cheaper than the total cost of owning the subsidized iPhone 5 with the obligatory two-year service agreement with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, each coming in at the same $2,389.99.

Here’s your chart.

iPhone ownership cost (Zagg chart)

Should you opt for two gigabytes of data instead of T-Mobile’s unlimited tier, you’ll be saving an additional $240 over the two years, resulting in the total saving of $820 – just nine bucks short of the 64GB cellular iPad 4.

John Brownlee of Cult of Mac notes that there’s one carrier that is cheaper than T-Mobile: Walmart’s in-house Straight Talk.

Basically, the iPhone 5 gets cheaper and cheaper to have for 24 months the smaller the carrier gets. Cricket, Straight Talk and Virgin are still cheaper options if you don’t mind buying your iPhone 5 for full price at the start of your contract.

On the downside, LTE doesn’t work on Straight Talk.

T-Mobile yesterday formally flipped the switch on LTE in Baltimore, Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Jose, and Washington DC. The Deutsche Telekom-owned telco is shooting for a hundred million LTE customers by mid-2013 and 200 million people nationwide by year’s end.

The Verge ran more complex calculations involving families.

If you along with your significant other plan on switching to T-Mobile, you’ll save a tiny amount over two years compared to Verizon and AT&T.

While there’s no denying that T-Mobile’s new plans are the cheapest around, it’s not the slam-dunk the carrier would have you believe.

For a couple of two, it’s about $4,000 for shared data on Verizon and AT&T, or the same price with unlimited data on T-Mobile. 

They produced this handy comparison chart.

iPhone ownership cost (The Verge chart)

Whichever way you look at it, T-Mobile is the cheapest of the bunch, for individuals.

In considering your choice of carrier, you should remember that Verizon’s and AT&T’s LTE coverage is much larger than T-Mobile’s. On the other hand, there’s no escaping from those two-year deals at AT&T or Verizon.

By comparison, T-Mobile lets you cancel your service anytime your want, though you’ll of course have to pay up for the remaining monthly installments.

“T-Mobile customers have to make up the difference between what they’ve paid so far and their old phone’s retail value if they want to try a new device,” notes the publication.

As a reminder, T-Mobile sells the iPhone 5 with its new Simple Choice Plan for $99.99 down and $20 per month for 24 months. The devices is not sold tied to a service contract – that’s why the cost of the hardware is spread across monthly installments plus that $99.99 up front payment.

That goes against the industry’s practice of  subsidizing the hardware by requiring people to sing a long-term service agreement. In a way, T-Mobile is basically giving you interest-free financing for the hardware and lower service cost than rival telcos.

If you look at the total cost of the iPhone 5 hardware at T-Mobile, you’re paying a total of $580: $99.99 down payment + $20 per month over the next 24 months. This is actually $69 cheaper compared to Apple’s asking price for the unlocked iPhone 5 ($649) through its online store.

The carrier’s no-contract iPhone 4/4S is a $75/$1 cheaper versus the online Apple store. T-Mobile is also the first major U.S. telco to support HD Voice (or Wideband Audio) on the iPhone 5.

Unfortunately, their tremendously useful WiFi Calling feature which routes voice calls through nearby WiFi hotspots, in turn saving cellular voice minutes, won’t be available on Apple’s device at launch.

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  • Chan-Li Chan Prayitno

    each coming in at the same $2,839.99.*

  • King

    These prices are a rip off compared to what we paid in the UK,
    I can get Unlimited Data, Calls & texts for only £16 a month which is about $24

    • https://twitter.com/MrElectrifyer MrElectrifyer

      Lucky you…you guys probably have tonnes of competition in your wireless market, here in Canada, there’s just the big three with multiple nicknames.

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com Sebastien

      It’s the same in France. You can have a great plan for $25. I pay three times that for my own plan on AT&T. A rip off but there is unfortunately no other option

    • http://twitter.com/Jack_maredit Jackson Grong

      In Croatia internet is even cheper, I’m paying 15$ for 20 gb of Internet via the iPad. And internet speed is pretty great, around 8-14 mb/s.

  • Anon

    It’s a shame how they took away unlimited data. It’s the only reason I have Sprint. Average iPhone app is like 20 – 40mb. And on LTE you are going to eat away that data in a week. I know I will. Just go to your app usage look at all that data! I need unlimited. May switch to T-Mobile ;)

  • Jose Gonzalez

    Now add in Straight Talk’s unlimited plan. I pay $48 a month. That’s $576 a year and $1,152 for two years of continuos service. Comparing that to at least T-Mobile’s offering, it’s a cool $1,107 savings. That’s why I’ll stay with Straight Talk.

    • http://www.facebook.com/colin.popoviciu Colin Popoviciu

      can you use iPhone 5 with Straight talk or just the 4 and 4s? thanks

      • Jose Gonzalez

        Yes you can.

  • http://www.sk1wbw.wordpress.com/ Wayne Williams

    This has nothing to do with “iPhone ownership” and everything to do with rate plans, which I am sure apply to phones with Android installed.

    • http://twitter.com/digitalfeind Dani Hayes

      Agreed, but this is an iPhone/idevice website.

      • chjode

        Sometimes.

      • http://twitter.com/digitalfeind Dani Hayes

        Samsung articles counts because they copy the Apple, lol.

  • Hannes Flo

    Wow thats really expensive..

  • http://www.facebook.com/DRHomeGrown Juan Herrera

    Not completely true. I have 3 lines on sprint unlimited everything and pay $160 a month. They have $110 a month up there for the monthly cost for just one user

    • John

      Unlimited everything, or unlimited data with limited minutes and any mobile?

      • Kaptivator

        unlimited text, data, mobile to mobile calls (any network) while on Sprints Network and 450 min to land lines. For 79.99..(edited to add pricing info)

    • Greg .

      I agree someone has it out for Sprint with this write up. I pay $200 for 4 iPhone’s and unlimited data and 1500 min. So $2400 per year not 10k. Thanks for the propaganda though Chris…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Hart/1553850615 James Hart

    Why is Straight Talk left out of this comparison?

    Cost Item
    ———————————————————–
    $ 710 iPhone 5 16GB unlocked (from Amazon’s Unlocked Fones store)
    $1152 ($45/month unlimited text/talk/data + $3 month tax) x (24 months)
    $1862 TOTAL COST

    Straight Talk’s total cost is well below the total cost of any of the other plans listed, and at any point during the two years you can walk away from Straight Talk since your service is only a month at a time.

  • Christopher Fusco

    where are these fools getting thier data for sprint from, 1500 data plan( 4 phones unlimited data 210$) a month=5040$ over 2 years. And for a single person 80$ a month(no body goes on the unlimited plan @ 110 a month for sprint, i know this becasue i work for them maybe 1 person every 3 months) so single line is 1920$(2year)+199=2120 not to mention discounts or promos that sprint constantly runs.

    Love how the go with the cheapest possible plans for all other carriers and most expensive one for sprint. GG trolls

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

    hmmmm so you save a few hundred but not much so if the service suffers at all its not gonna be worth it so i will wait fro reviews

  • Ernie Marin

    You know people could save like I do by just switching their plans to a cheaper one. I only pay about $70 on at&t

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

      i have the cheapest plan for my needs and i pay $90 for unlimited everything

  • Albort

    Tmobile iPhone 5 is $69 cheaper than apple store… question is, T-Mobile iPhone 5 are locked or unlocked…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002090550614 Kash Gummaraju

      Unlocked

      • Paul March

        It is unlock after the Phone is completely paid for. So if you pay $99 up front and $20 a month for two years, it would be unlocked after 2 years. If you paid the full $580 up front the phone should be unlock when you get it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002090550614 Kash Gummaraju

        T-mobile wont be giving you the option to buy it locked anymore. It’s straight up unlocked now and it’s going to be $99 for a little while and when t-mobile decides its time to end the on contract stuff. The next customers going to t-mobile will have to buy the unlocked iPhone or any phone with a cheaper plan

    • Rodney Coleman

      Locked until the person pays it off then you can request a unlock. But Even then most people will sell the iPhone and it will get blacklisted lol

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

      locked

    • http://www.facebook.com/colin.popoviciu Colin Popoviciu

      a friend bought an S3 from T-Mobile and it is locked

    • http://www.facebook.com/DRHomeGrown Juan Herrera

      locked until you pay the phone off

  • http://www.facebook.com/arnoldoreyesjr Arnold Reyes Jr.

    Where does $70 for data come from? last time I checked AT&T has 3gb for $30

  • Juan

    WOW according to this sprint is the most expensive. Yes if they use the unlimited plan but who needs unlimited voice plan when any other plan has unlimited mobile to any mobile.

  • Cody Cutrer

    Strength in numbers. I’m on AT&T on a mobile share plan with my entire family (parents, siblings, and their spouses). 10 iPhones, 10GB shared (including tethering), unlimited minutes and messaging. $456.90/month tax included. That means I’m paying $45.69 per month, with $199.99 for the phone per line. $1,296.55 for 2 years blows any of the numbers on this page out of the water.

    • http://twitter.com/hydrophonics J. Rockwell

      I think you should buy 20 more iPhones and “Save” even more money!

      • Cody Cutrer

        Actually, I’d add iPads to the plan, but AT&T maxes out at 10 lines :).

      • Miguel Meza

        10 gigs of data would go fast for my wife and myself

  • http://twitter.com/Network305 SoBe

    those figures can’t be right for Sprint I pay $69 a month before taxes for 500 minutes, unlimited text & data for a total of 24 months of $1656 + $200 for the phone for a total of $1856 for 2 years

  • http://www.facebook.com/Makavelli.1 Joseph A. Ahmad

    So basically, highway robbery. I guess you could argue better coverage though, blah blah blah.

  • http://twitter.com/Jsal017 Javier Salinas

    When I had AT&T I could upgrade my phone every 20 months. Do they not have that anymore and if they do shouldnt the cost of ownership be spread over 20 months and not 24?

    • Rodney Coleman

      But phones cash….

  • Rodney Coleman

    Greg your a liar. I paid 180 on sprint with 2 iPhones… Liars pls don’t post here

    • chris

      hes not lying he just has a monthly discount on his plan its very possible. i have 5 phones @ about 260ish with 3 having insurance too.

  • intelxtreme

    or u can get tmobiles 30 dollar 100 minute 5 gig at 4g speed than after 2g speed

  • http://www.facebook.com/AKChris82 Chris Williams

    We pay WAYYYY less then this. We have 2 iPhones & a Galaxy all on LTE & All with unlimited EVERYTHING!!!! & Out total bill monthly is about $209 which sums up to about $2500 which is cheaper than the Two People & the Family of Four.