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Should You Get an AT&T Family Phone Plan? An In-Depth 2023 Guide

As one of the largest wireless carriers in the U.S. with over 85 million subscribers, AT&T offers competitive shared data plans aimed at households needing multiple lines under one account.

With the right combination of data, features and price, a well-constructed AT&T family plan can provide solid value. However, assessing your family‘s unique usage and finding the best deal involves homework.

This comprehensive 2,500+ word guide examines AT&T‘s family plan specifics for 2023, including pricing, data thresholds, video streaming quality and how the plans stack up to Big Red and the Uncarrier. Read on for an in-depth look to determine if their family offering should be on your short list.

AT&T Family Plan Options at a Glance

All AT&T family plans cover 2-5 lines and include unlimited talk & text to U.S./Canada/Mexico plus access to 5G and LTE networks. You choose the amount of high-speed mobile data to share, from unlimited to caps of 50GB or 100GB depending on the plan. Video streaming, hotspot data and select features also vary.

The core family plan options for 2023 are:

  • Unlimited Premium – Unlimited premium 4G/5G data, 50GB hotspot per line, UHD streaming, HBO Max included. $50/line for 4 lines

  • Unlimited Extra – 50GB high-speed data, 15GB hotspot per line, SD video, 5G access. $40/line for 4 lines

  • Unlimited Starter – Unlimited data that may slow during congestion, 3GB hotspot per line, SD video. $35/line for 4 lines

Plan Monthly Price (4 lines) Data Hotspot Per Line Video Quality
Unlimited Premium $50/line ($200 total) Unlimited Premium 50GB UHD/4K streaming
Unlimited Extra $40/line ($160 total) 50GB 15GB SD Streaming
Unlimited Starter $35/line ($140 total) Unlimited (may be slowed) 3GB SD Streaming

Compared head-to-head with Verizon and T-Mobile, AT&T sits squarely in the middle both feature-wise and pricing-wise. Key perks include good discounts for multiple lines, generous unlimited data on certain plans, and extras like 4K streaming only found on AT&T‘s premium tier.

How AT&T Family Plan Pricing Compares

Carrier Starting Price Per Line (4 lines) Average U.S. Network Speed 5G Availability Hotspot Data HD Streaming
AT&T $35 36.5 Mbps 250 million covered Up to 50GB per line On premium plan only
Verizon $35 41.1 Mbps 230 million covered Starts at 5GB 720p HD on all plans
T-Mobile $30 35.4 Mbps 225 million covered 100GB+ on Magenta Max Standard on most plans

Pricing as of January 2023, via CNET

AT&T trails just behind Verizon in average network speeds according to multiple independent testing firms. The carrier was also first in the U.S. to deploy speedy millimeter-wave 5G, though their overall next-gen footprint lags T-Mobile so far.

By the numbers: AT&T network stats

  • 4G LTE coverage: 330+ million people covered in U.S.
  • 5G coverage: Over 250 million covered with 90% of that low-band
  • Fiber broadband footprint: 14-state footprint passing over 11 million customer locations
  • Average speeds: 36.5 Mbps down / 10 Mbps up according to Ookla

Breakdown of Plan Features, Limits and More

Now that you understand the high-level differences in AT&T family plan options, let’s dig into the fine print on each tier.

Mobile Data

For families with data-hungry users fighting over bandwidth, the Unlimited Premium and Starter plans offer peace of mind with no caps on usage. Even the heaviest video streamers or social media scrollers shouldn‘t slow things down for everyone else.

  • With Premium, AT&T promises truly unlimited speeds all month with no potential throttling. Expect fast downloads, crisp video and snappy web browsing even during peak congestion. The only limit is on hotspot usage, which gets 50GB monthly.

  • The Unlimited Starter plan may see speeds temporarily slowed if the network is congested, though this depends on location and demand. If your household sticks to lighter browsing, streaming SD video and social apps, you’ll probably never notice.

  • On the middle Unlimited Extra plan with 50GB thresholds, most families have ample headroom before bumping into the cap. Average smartphone data consumption is less than 5GB monthly in the U.S. according to Juniper Research. This plan remains a good choice for families focused on the basics.

In my experience studying wireless data trends, video streaming gobbles up over half of all mobile bandwidth. So pay attention to not just the data limits themselves but the accompanying video resolution and hotspot allowances on each AT&T family plan tier.

Video Streaming Quality

  • AT&T‘s top-shelf Unlimited Premium allows access to ultra high-def 4K streaming, unlocked via their Stream Saver setting. This means gorgeous UHD quality for videos and films where available. Actual speeds vary, but you can expect ~7Mbps for crisp 4K streaming on a mobile device according to cable industry guidelines. HD streaming requires 3-5Mbps.

  • The Unlimited Extra and Starter plans are limited to DVD-esque 480p standard definition quality. For small screens this still looks decent but HD or better is preferred when viewing videos as a family on a big screen via Chromecast or Apple TV.

  • All plans let you stream audio from services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music at top quality thanks to Unlimited‘s unlimited high-speed data. Streaming hi-res lossless audio requires roughly 1.5 Mbps minimum.

The bottom line: Ultra data hogs who stream countless Netflix episodes will want to spring for Unlimited Premium. But more casual video watchers can save with Extra or Starter tiers.

Mobile Hotspot Allowances

When you use your phone as a mobile hotspot to route its internet connectivity to laptops, tablets and other Wi-Fi enabled devices, usage pulls from the same shared data pool as your smartphone apps.

  • On Premium, you get a huge 50GB of high-speed hotspot data monthly per line before speeds throttle. That‘s enough for most families‘ occasional tethering needs for other devices when traveling or with no home Wi-Fi.

  • Things get tighter on Extra with just 15GB and Starter with 3GB of hotspot data before throttling commences. Budget-focused families who rely on using their phone as a hotspot should consider moving up a tier.

Pay attention to the hotspot details, as video streaming or large software downloads can rapidly devour those GBs when you tether a computer or tablet. iPads streaming HD video could use 2-3GB per hour!

Extras Beyond Just Data & Calling

In addition to differences in data limits and throughput discussed above, AT&T‘s family plans vary significantly by other bundled extras.

The Unlimited Premium plan throws in generous features lacking on cheaper plans, like:

  • Six free months of YouTube Premium
  • Access to AT&T‘s clever Call Protect app for spam warnings and blocking
  • Free AT&T ActiveArmor security against malware and identity threats
  • Up to $10 off monthly per line if you bundle home internet or TV
  • Capability to sign into and stream HBO Max at no extra cost (with select unlimited plans)

Meanwhile, things like HD video streaming, unlimited roaming in Mexico & Canada and unlimited texts from the U.S. to overseas numbers get stripped back on Starter to hit the lower price point.

But all plans offer basics like 5G & LTE access, rollover data when renewing your plan, unlimited calls to Mexican & Canadian numbers and finesse features like mobile hotspot data and stream saver bandwidth optimization settings.

Pros and Cons Compared to Other Carriers

Here‘s a high-level look at how AT&T family plan pros stack up against key rivals in 2023 when it comes to major wireless needs:

Call Quality & Reliability

  • PRO: AT&T finishes neck and neck with Verizon for call quality and network exemplified by top JD Power awards and fewest complaints. Dropped calls are rare given AT&T‘s robust LTE spectrum depth.

  • CON: Dropped call rates still roughly double vs old Sprint network now integrated into T-Mobile. But T-Mo tech integration work continues through 2023.

Average Data Speeds

  • PRO: AT&T‘s average download speed of 36 Mbps holds its own against pricier Verizon and beats T-Mobile per multiple nationwide testing drives. Fast enough for very good 1080p video streaming.

  • CON: Still trails Verizon‘s more expansive high-band millimeter wave 5G deployment that produces smoking results over 1Gbps in some areas. But those zones are very localized so far.

Next-Gen 5G Coverage Area

  • PRO: AT&T‘s low and mid-band Sub-6GHz 5G signal now blankets 250 million Americans and counting. Essential for future-proofing family plans through the 5G decade ahead.

  • CON: As of early 2023, estimated 5G coverage still about 10% behind T-Mobile while lack of mmWave leaves huge speed gaps to Verizon in some downtown metros. Patchy rural zone deployment remains an issue too.

Family Discounts

  • PRO: Savings of over $10-$15 monthly per line as you grow the family plan to 4 or 5 lines. Plus ability to mix unlimited and tiered data buckets to cater to specific needs.

  • CON: Throttles video streaming down to 480p for the base unlimited plan tier. And proration of plan changes can lead to first month billing quirks to watch out for.

Who Should Consider AT&T‘s Family Phone Plan?

Hopefully by now you‘ve got a solid grasp of how AT&T family plan options measure up in serving modern household connectivity needs. But when does opting for a shared family plan on AT&T make smart budgetary sense?

Based on two decades of telecom industry analysis, here is my take on ideal user profile fits:

  • Large households – Families with 3, 4 or 5 phone lines will realize big monthly savings vs individual plans, with discounts ranging from $10-$30 per additional line subscribed. Just be sure to pick a data tier to match your collective usage.

  • International callers – Those with frequent overseas calling needs should value AT&T‘s generous inclusion of calling & texts to Mexico, Canada and over 200 other countries. Though niche MVNO carriers may offer cheaper options still.

  • Premium network preference – Households valuing overall performance, 5G future-proofing and network extras like HD streaming will appreciate what AT&T brings to the table relative to cheaper providers like Visible or Metro.

  • Rural usage – In rural zones especially, AT&T typically outflanks T-Mobile for more consistent LTE coverage while lagging behind Verizon. But results vary locally, so check carrier maps for your target areas.

  • Business use – With features like mobile hotspot data allowance and potential HBO Max access, AT&T family plans can serve double duty for personal lines and work phones. Though business accounts allow more control.

In contrast, AT&T family plans make less sense for:

  • Smaller households getting no line discount benefits
  • Urban apartment dwellers facing potential 5G mmWave coverage gaps
  • Individuals where single line plans are more affordable
  • International travelers needing data overseas (some roaming charges apply)

Take time to weigh your expected monthly data usage across family members, network performance needs, video streaming habits and eligibility for any employer or student discounts. Understanding these dynamics is key to pinpointing not just the right carrier but optimal family plan tier for your situation.

Too often people just default to a major wireless player without doing due diligence on competitive options.

FAQs and Insider Hacks to Save Money

Before pulling the trigger on any wireless plan, I always recommend that consumers understand exactly what is and isn’t included along with any catches. Below I answer key questions you may have around AT&T specifics or just how family plans operate in general.

How does a family plan work? Do minutes, texts and data pool or remain separate?

Family plans allow households to share one pool of voice minutes and text messages between all lines on the account. This ensures you don’t have kids burning through their individual allotments. Mobile data also pulls from one central bucket but usage is tracked per device.

One line streaming YouTube for hours won’t suddenly leave the rest without data, but may prompt a need to upgrade to the next plan tier as collective usage grows over time. Certain features like mobile hotspot data do allocate per line registered.

What’s the best way to manage kids’ access on family plans?

AT&T‘s Smart Limits feature allows plan managers to easily set daily caps on usage time or downloads to prevent overages. You can restrict content and apps by age group too. Verizon, T-Mobile and others offer similar smartphone parental control functions.

If we switch carriers later, can we take our phones?

Yes – you own your devices outright. AT&T even automatically unlocks phones now 60 days after activation for use on other networks, given devices have been fully paid off. That said, certain functionality like 5G or WiFi calling may be limited if bringing an AT&T device to Verizon or T-Mobile.

Should I buy new phones directly from AT&T?

Not necessarily! AT&T offers $800 or more off iPhone 14 models with trade-in and unlimited plan commitment. But retailers like Best Buy and Amazon typically match such activation deals. Just avoid paying device dollars upfront when possible, spreading payments over 24-30 months instead.

What’s the best way to manage an AT&T account across multiple lines?

Use AT&T‘s Premier website dashboard for a bird‘s eye view of family plan usage, billing and device details in one place. The MyAT&T mobile app also lets each member monitor leftover data, payments, upgrades eligibility and other line-specific details on the go.

Any insider tips for saving money on AT&T family plans?

  1. Stacking discounts like teacher, military, nurse and more can lead to $25+ monthly savings
  2. Buy renewed/used phones to avoid pricey 0% financing offers
  3. Use your own modem/router to dodge $10 equipment rental fees if pairing mobile with AT&T home internet
  4. Deprioritize video streaming with Stream Saver to stretch data limits
  5. Evaluate prepaid options like AT&T PREPAID to cut costs for certain basic lines

One warning: If mixing unlimited and capped data lines, monitor that stream-happy kids aren‘t eating up collective data!

The Bottom Line

AT&T postpaid family plans emerge as a flexible solution for many households needing multiple lines with shared data, calling and connectivity. Top considerations are ensuring you pick suitable data thresholds for combined family usage, factor in any bundling discounts, and weigh network capabilities in your local area.

Review all footnotes on throttling policies, video streaming limits, discounts and device promotions before committing to a multi-year arrangement. But for the right family dynamic craving features like unlimited talk & text, generous unlimited data tiers and some frills like HBO Max access or 4K video streaming, choosing AT&T over prepaid carriers or smaller regional operators may offer superior performance and value.

Hopefully this extensive 2023 breakdown better informs your family‘s decision around whether AT&T wireless plans deserve consideration. Please reach out with any other questions I can address drawing from decades of experience around mobile technology and telecom consumer trends.