There’s much been said about the Unlimited Plans that US mobile carriers and none are truly unlimited.
I shopped around for an unlimited mobile plan when I started experiment on using Mobile data only and dumping my home broadband service. I thought long and hard about it and recently the focus of Tech Press has spotlighted that none are truly unlimited.
So I took the time to look at the different plans available that were unlimited from the four big carriers (maybe three within a few months)…
Sprint was a non-starter for me, I had to look up the plan because I never stopped to even consider it because locally it’s the one operator that nobody wants.
They have two separate plans, one is $60 and the other is $70 though as you add lines to your account the price drops!
The base plan gives 480p video and even music data is limited to 500Kbps. They limit data access to 2 MBps and the amount of LTE hotspot is paltry at just 0.5 GB of data.
The Premium version for $10 more give 1080p video, 1.5Mbps for music and Gaming data speeds is upped to 8Mbps. Hotspot data is extended to a far more respectively and useful 15GB of data.
Now for the even bigger downside, if your data usage is more than 50GB of data in a month they throttle your speed, on the positive side they’re throttling your data on both plans anyway.
AT&T also have two unlimited plans. They base plan costs $70 and the premium plan is an extra $10 at $80. Similar to all the other carriers the more lines you have the better deal you get with a discount in total pricing based on the number of lines (up to 4).
Data is capped on both plans at 22GB and they say they “may slow down data speeds after this”.
The base plan offers 720p video speeds. I can’t tell, from their website and never could tell, if they have hotspot available on the base plan.
The Premium plan includes 15GB of hotspot data which slows to 128Kbps after you exceed the cap which is barely usable. It does increase the video streaming quality to 1080p.
I don’t get good service for this carrier at my home and AT&T, according to those that have their unlimited plans, tend to throttle down to barely usable as soon as you hit 22GB of data.
When I heard this from actual users I chose to avoid even looking further into it.
When T-Mobile first launched their “T-Mobile One” plan they touted it as you only needing a single plan and there was nothing confusing. The plan cost $70 a month. Adding more lines (up to 4) give a discount based on the number of lines.
T-Mobile are the only carrier that includes all state and federal fee’s in their quoted pricing so you don’t pay hidden fee’s that shock you on your first bill.
Very quickly T-Mobile added a second plan called “T-Mobile One Plus” which cost $80.
The base plan includes 50GB of LTE Data, T-Mobile merely say that they “can drop” the data speeds, though it’s hidden in the small print. When I used them before with an unlimited plan they held strong to their hidden cap and would drop your speed down to 2G service. I don’t know if they drop it all the way to 2G or now use 3G speeds (still appallingly slow).
Video is capped at 480p and while they don’t have a cap on Hotspot it is limited to 3G speed all the time.
The “premium” service on the other hand gives 10GB of LTE speed data for hotspot after which it plummets down to 3G which makes it barely useable.
I believe, but couldn’t find on their website, that Video quality is upped to either 720p or 1080p.
T-Mobile also include free in-flight WiFi and 2G data overseas in many countries for free with the option to pay extra to get access to LTE speed data overseas for an extra fee.
Like AT&T though I struggled with the service quality at my home. When I was away from home I could get wonderful data speeds but when I was at home even with a signal amplifier/relay I couldn’t get a decent quality of service. I ended up dumping the service.
Verizon on the other hand offers a plethora of plans. They are priced starting at $75 and the next two tiers go up by $10 a month.
Go Unlimited is the base plan, at $75 a month plus taxes and fees you are not guaranteed any data service and if the tower you are connected to is busy then you are first targeted for throttling. Mobile Hotspot is barely usable if you want to watch Video on a phone while doing something on a PC you are screwed. Similarly if the service is busy then you may not get data at all.
Beyond Unlimited is $85 plus taxes and fees, it gives a guaranteed 22GB of data at full LTE speed, 15GB of hotspot at full speed and up to 1080p video, though it will change quality based on the speed of the connection. Their website says 720p but I get 1080p all the time. The hotspot will slow to 600KBps after it hits 15GB and they will send you a text message and email to alert you that it is going to happen. No sudden drop off in performance without warning (when there is just 10% of the data allocation left).
While Verizon say they may slow your speeds when the network tower is congested I’ve never really experienced much of a performance drop and mostly when it happens it is because of signal quality.
While my Hotspot does slow after the cap is reached I never have an issue with the data speeds after I exceed the 22GB of data. I use this plan and last month I used 230GB of data without my service slowing.
The Above Unlimited is $95 a month, the only change between the two tiers is that the Above Unlimited plan has 75GB of LTE data and 25GB of Hotspot data.
While it includes basic data when in Mexico or Canada you can pay a daily fee of $10 for unlimited full speed LTE data for that day. Much cheaper than their previous fee’s which gave small barely useful blocks of data for a relatively high fee.
Also Verizon don’t treat WiFi calling as international roaming so if you connect to WiFi overseas to make calls it becomes even cheaper.
What Is My Recommendation?
It all depends on quality of service in your area. For me the middle Tier service from Verizon is perfect. I have not compulsion to upgrade to the higher tier, I do perfectly well with the middle tiers and there is so little data congestion in my area that I am rarely impacted.
If that changes then I would most definitely consider going to the premium tier or the next premium tier, of course if they offered a truly unlimited plan for $100 a month then I would switch because then I would not have to worry at all about hotspot data which is the only impactor since I hit the limit usually in the 2nd or 3rd week of the month and I think that I would use more data and be less conservative with the data in the Above Unlimited and still be at a crawl part way through the month.
Will 5G impact the plans?
While currently all plans are not truly unlimited but faux-unlimited once the roll out of 5G takes place or gets to a point where service is reaching saturation we will see a change where carriers will not feel the need to have hidden limitations or data caps.
Sure there is going to be data signals everywhere and the doomsayers are already screeching but 5G essentially operates at the same frequencies as home WiFi networking and everyone has home WiFi (well except for people like me) and if you take a search on your phone for networks a myriad of access points shows up so if we were to get cancer from 5G we would already be all cancer ridden numpties from the WiFi we happily install into our homes.
Expect truly unlimited data in the next couple of years, maybe not openly touted but with suddenly none of the restrictions being enforced by the carriers on their existing top and middle tier plans.