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Best wireless deals: Comparing AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, page 2

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Marni Walden, Verizon Wireless EVP & COO, photographed at Verizon's opening of the Verizon Destination store (with Selena Gomez) on November 20, 2013, Bloomington, Minnesota.
Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Verizon's new "More Everything" smartphone plans cost $80 per month for 1 gigabyte of data plus voice and text. One gigabyte ("GB") is probably not enough for users with newer smartphones. It's $15 per GB each month you go over your planned amount and only $20 per month to go to the 4 GB level. Verizon has the most towers and the most 4G LTE coverage and says they cover 97% of Americans. AT&T and T-Mobile have added substantially in recent months and each advertises they cover 96% of Americans. All that matters to you is that you have a provider with service you can use wherever you need it. Easier said than done.

AT&T: If you still have an unlimited data plan, as all the first iPhone buyers were grandfathered into back in 2007 and 2008, that is probably worth keeping. AT&T's latest offering is the Mobile Shared Value plan, a family plan with 10 gigabytes of shared data usage per month plus unlimited talk and text. That may be more data than most people use at a higher monthly price than most people pay: $130 for 2 smartphones plus $15 extra for each additional smartphone up to ten phones. Check your current usage to determine whether you need all those gigabytes, and think very hard before you give up an unlimited data plan.

T-Mobile: Most of the low cost plans that T-Mobile advertises assume you buy your phone separately, while many of the other carriers' plans give you a new phone every two years for about $200. T-Mobile service costs only $50 a month, for unlimited data, talk and text if you buy the phone separately. $80 gets you unlimited everything for two phones. Additional phones are $10 each per month. To see whether T-Mobile service is present where you need it, you'll check the T-Mobile map which asks you to enter a street address, and indicates the level of coverage in that location. Also note that T-Mobile's map shows areas where the service is slower 2G rather than the latest 4G speed coverage. A big bonus from T-Mobile that no one else matches: Free texts and free data usage while traveling outside the U.S.

Sprint: The new "Framily" plan allows up to 10 friends and family members to combine forces and receive a discount. Members can choose to receive individual bills. It's about $70 per month for an individual plan with 1GB of data, unlimited voice and unlimited text. The second line costs $60 per month, third line $50, remaining lines $40 per month. Sprint also offered "Unlimited Everything for Life" plans in 2013; if you have one of those and are happy using it, think very hard before switching to a new plan.

Bottom line: If you're buying new service for a family of 3 or more with fairly heavy data usage, AT&T's 10 GB per month plan is worth checking. Verizon plans usually cost a little more per month than the other carriers and offers the most extensive high-speed (4G LTE) coverage. The T-Mobile and Sprint plans are likely to be cheaper than AT&T and Verizon, but check their coverage areas before buying, and the best way to do this is to talk to people who use the service in the areas you need it. Remember that with many of the T-Mobile plans you need to pay for a phone that may cost you $500 or more. T-Mobile has the best plan for people traveling overseas often; Verizon's More Everything plan gives free texting outside the U.S. which is a good start but nowhere near as good as receiving both text and data at no extra charge while traveling overseas, as T-Mobile offers.

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Copyright © 2014 Susan J. Walker. Subscribe above to receive an email whenever Susan Walker publishes on Follow @WalkerSusanJ on Twitter.

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Copyright © 2014 Susan J. Walker. Subscribe above to receive an email whenever Susan Walker publishes on Follow @WalkerSusanJ on Twitter.

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