October 06, 2011, 7:36 PM — When the iPhone 4S hits the streets next Friday, it will do so with a feature no previous model has possessed on launch day: competition. For years, AT&T had the iPhone all to itself in the U.S., but earlier this year Verizon joined the iPhone family and, with the iPhone 4S launch, Sprint is jumping on the bandwagon as well.
That means those looking to snap up the latest version of the iPhone have a choice unavailable to any that have gone before them. To help you make the savviest decision possible, here's our breakdown of the carriers' voice, data, and messaging plans. But be warned: These plans are constructed differently at each company, so it is sometimes difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
As was already the case, AT&T and Verizon are neck-and-neck on their introductory plan for individuals, starting at $40 a month for 450 minutes and ratcheting up to $70 a month for unlimited calling.
Newcomer Sprint would seem to get the worst of this comparison, at least at first blush. The company requires the purchase of a Sprint Everything plan with an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S. Those plans start at $70 a month for 450 minutes--the same as the unlimited minutes price on the other two carriers--and tops out at $100 a month for unlimited minutes. But don't count the company out just yet: Sprint has advantages in other categories, as we'll see below.
There's more disparity between all three companies when it comes to the family voice plans. AT&T's family plans starts at $60 a month for 550 minutes of talk; Verizon's basic plan is $70 a month for 700 minutes of talk; and Sprint charges $130 a month for 1500 minutes. Each carrier requires two lines for the family plan, in most cases with a maximum of five lines.
Text messaging plans
Here is where Sprint starts to look less expensive. Those Sprint Everything plans that are mandatory with the iPhone purchase include unlimited texting as part of a $10-per-month fee for unlimited data.