Competition between the big four carriers is heating up, but that increasing competition can make choosing a plan more than a bit challenging.

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all have their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to plans, price and coverage. Here is a rundown of each based on needs of a family of four seeking unlimited texting and calling, as well as at least 2.5 GB of data each, or 10 GB to share. The family members all use a 16 GB iPhone 6, just to make things simple.

Verizon

Verizon is the most polarizing player of the big four, offering the largest network, which is perfect for those in rural areas. But, and it's a big but, it's also one of the most expensive.

Many Verizon customers subscribe simply because they don't have any choice due to limited network availability, so the first thing to do is check each carrier to see if service is available in your area. Then it's time to compare the options.

The next question is whether or not you are planning on traveling a lot. Verizon is a CDMA network, meaning most of its devices will not work in many places around the world. The company does offer some dual CMDA/GSM phones, so if you are planning on traveling but still want Verizon, all hope is not lost.

Verizon's biggest plan is currently the "More Everything" plan, which is a little complicated as far as pricing goes. Essentially, smartphone owners will be paying $40 for the basic access fee, plus any fees for the handset itself. If a user is paying for the phone using Verizon Edge, they will get a discount on the access fee.

Verizon users will also pay less when there are more people on a plan. For example, one person using 10 GB of data will be paying $120 per month, but four people using the same amount of data would pay $180, or $45 each.

Our family of four on Verizon's More Everything plan, using Verizon's Edge program to pay for phones and with 10 GB of data, would pay $140 for the plan, plus $108.32 for the phones, totaling $248.32.

AT&T

AT&T has the second-largest network in the country, and is similarly the second most expensive. One advantage to AT&T is that it is a GSM network, meaning customers will have more success taking their phones away from home if they need to.

Currently the carrier is offering a "shared data plan" similar to the Verizon plan, with basic access fees for smartphone owners being $25 per person, per month using AT&T's NEXT system or by bringing your own device, plus any data charges. So 10 GB of shared data costs $100, $130 for 30 GB, all the way up to $375 for 100 GB. Users who want individual lines can get data from $20 for 300 MB to $70 for 6 GB.

Our family of four using AT&T's Mobile Share Value Pack, with 10 GB of data to share and four iPhone 6's, would pay a total of $246.68 per month.

Sprint

Sprint has really been stepping up its game recently, especially in an attempt to compete with T-Mobile, which is fast catching up to Sprint.

Sprint's network is a little more limited than Verizon's or AT&T's, but those in or near cities shouldn't have any problems with it.

Currently Sprint is offering customers its "Family Share Pack," which is the same idea as the shared plans on Verizon and AT&T. Not only that, but the company is offering customers a deal to cut their monthly charges in half if they switch from Verizon or AT&T, as long as customers bring their own phone.

Sprints data plans range from $10 for 1 GB to $225 for 120 GB. Users can lease their phone, pay the full retail price, or use Sprint's Easy Pay to pay it off over 24 months.

Our family of four on Sprint's Family Share Pack would be paying $80 for 12 GB of shared data (there's no 10 GB option), plus $15 per phone for the monthly access fee. Add $27.09 per iPhone 6 using Sprint's Easy Pay, and we have a total of $248.36. Only four cents more expensive than the Verizon plan, and keep in mind that there is 2 GB extra on this plan.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile is the company making the most noise and most changes of late, with customers flocking to the company. The self-proclaimed "uncarrier" is likely to continue to make announcements on new programs, and has even asserted it will overtake Sprint as the third-largest carrier by year's end.

T-Mobile's network is probably the smallest of the big four, but those in or near cities will, again, have no problem with it.

T-Mobile is also a GSM network, meaning customers will be able to take their phones elsewhere if they want.

A family of four on T-Mobile's Family Plan, each with 3 GB of data (again, no option for 2.5 GB each of 10 GB total), will be paying a total of $248.32, four cents cheaper than Sprint, for the same amount of data.

Conclusion

Interestingly enough, T-Mobile is the most expensive carrier for our family of four. It's not surprising to see how similar these prices really are, but note it's likely that there would be a much bigger spread for individual plans. The cheapest cost, however, goes to AT&T. Despite this, for the minimal extra price that it is, going with T-Mobile or Sprint for the extra 2 GB of data might be worth it.

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