The Return of Unlimited Data Plans
Verizon announced the return of “unlimited” data service on February 12, 2017. For the first time in five years, all four major service providers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) are offering “unlimited” plans. You'll note I put the word in quotes, so let’s see how they compare, and what limits you may encounter in actual practice...
The Limits of Unlimited
It was just a few years ago that all of the major mobile carriers eliminated unlimited data plans, citing the high costs of offering that service. But now, they're back. Of course, there are a few caveats that apply to any company that offers unlimited access to a finite resource. You've probably already come to the conclusion that there is no TRULY unlimited mobile service plan; hence the quotation marks around the “U-word” above.
All of the carriers slow the traffic of customers who exceed a monthly allotment of 4G/LTE data. But instead of throttling data speeds, we now have “prioritizing during peak congestion.” Throttling limits your data speed for the rest of a billing period once the monthly data allotment is used up.
But prioritizing limits speed only during periods of network congestion; when traffic lightens up, you can still hit full 4G/LTE speed. Also, each carrier limits what you can do with video quality, mobile hotspots, tethering a PC to a phone, international uses, and so on.
Network coverage and quality of service still distinguish one carrier from another. According to a recent study completed by carrier monitoring firm OpenSignal, Verizon and T-mobile are virtually tied for fastest average download speeds, at just under 17 Mbps. But Verizon has a slight edge in national coverage. AT&T (13.9 Mbps) is in second place, and Sprint (9 Mbps) brings up the rear.
Verizon’s new unlimited data plan costs $80 per month for one smartphone line; $140 a month for two lines, $162 a month for three lines, and $180 a month for four lines. Multiple-line plans may include tablets as well as smartphones. These prices assume you sign up for auto-pay; if you don’t, a single line will cost $5 more per month, and multi-line plans cost $10 more monthly. Verizon’s prices do not include taxes and fees, which may add 10-15% to your bill.
Verizon starts prioritizing traffic - that is, slowing data speed - when a given line has used 22 GB in a billing period. Each line gets 10 GB of mobile hotspot (tethering) data per month at LTE speeds; thereafter, speed is throttled to 3G. Video traffic is not capped, and video quality is not altered. In my opinion those are quite generous allotments of data. By comparison, I typically use about 3GB of data monthly.
The T-mobile ALL IN plan costs $70 per month for one line, $120 a month for two lines, $140 a month for three lines, and $160 a month for four lines. Taxes and fees are included in these prices, providing a significant savings over Verizon. If you don’t sign up for auto-pay, each plan costs $5 more per month. Adding a tablet to a plan costs $20 per month, and adding a wearable (such as a smart watch) costs an extra $5 per month.
T-mobile starts prioritizing traffic after a line uses 28 GB in a given month. Mobile hotspots are limited to 10 GB at LTE speeds, throttled to 3G for the rest of a billing period. Video traffic is not capped, and video quality is not altered.
Sprint normally charges $60 a month for one line, $100 a month for two lines, $130 a month for three lines, and $160 a month for four lines. But until March 31, 2018, one line is $50, a second line adds $40, and lines 3 to 5 are free. The most you’ll pay is $90 per month for up to 5 lines (plus taxes and fees). Auto-pay is required. Adding a table to a plan costs $20 per month. Only new customers are eligible for these savings.
Sprint prioritizes traffic after 23 GB per month, and slows it way down to miserable 2G speeds. Full 1080p HD video is supported only if you buy a 5-line plan; otherwise, resolution is a terrible 480p. Sprint also limits music and gaming streams to 1.5 Mbps and 8 Mbps, respectively. Mobile hotspots get 10 GB per month at LTE speed before they are throttled to 2G speeds.
AT&T unlimited service costs $100 for the first line, and $40 more per month for each additional line. If you buy four lines for two consecutive billing periods, AT&T will gradually reimburse the cost of that fourth line to you via account credits. Yeah, AT&T’s billing schemes are the most complicated of all the major carriers. But at least you no longer have to sign up for AT&T U-verse or DirecTV service to get the unlimited pricing.
Taxes and fees are not included in AT&T’s prices. Prioritizing begins after 22 GB in a given month. HD video can be streamed, but it’s turned off by default. To enable it, you must go into Settings and disable AT&T’s Stream Saver. Mobile hotspots are prohibited except in certain smart cars.
If you want one of these "unlimited with limits" plans, you'll probably want to look first at which carrier has the best phone and data signal where you spend most of your time. You can find coverage maps on their websites, but that's typically not a good indicator of signal strength. Better, ask a friend or neighbor which carrier they use, and how many "bars" they get.
Unless you are a Netflix junkie, or have teenagers with smartphones crazy-glued to their hands, 22-28GB of data per line per month will probably be more than enough. Way more than enough. Especially if you connect your mobile gadget to a wifi router when at home.
Are you tempted by any of these new "unlimited" mobile plans? With these generous data allotments, would you consider dropping your ISP's internet service, in favor of going mobile-only? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 21 Feb 2017
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- The Return of Unlimited Data Plans (Posted: 21 Feb 2017)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved