There doesn't appear to be a lot of guesswork with T-Mobile's data plans, since the carrier only offers unlimited data. But there's more to the T-Mobile One plan than meets the eye.
You actually have a couple potential variations of T-Mobile One to pick from. And given that T-Mobile seems to trot out promotional pricing at the drop of a hat, it's worth taking a closer look at what the Uncarrier offers potential customers.
Best Family Plan
Last year, T-Mobile said it was doing away with tiered data plans in favor of T-Mobile One, a plan that provides unlimited LTE data alongside unlimited talk and text. For a family of four, it’s an attractive option, even as other carriers have rushed out with unlimited data plans of their own. T-Mobile's offering normally costs a family of four $160, which is cheaper than what Verizon currently charges and on par with how Sprint normally prices its unlimited plans. (As of this writing, Sprint is offering a discounted rate on unlimited plans that lasts until June 2018.)
If you want to know how things break down, T-Mobile charges $70 for the first line of data, $50 for the second and $20 for each line after that. Put another way, a family of four pays $40 each per line. Note that T-Mobile frequently offers promotions where it waives fees on one of the additional lines — as of this writing, T-Mobile says it will offer two lines of unlimited data for $100 a month — so check T-Mobile's site for that kind of deal when you're shopping for plans. T-Mobile’s price assumes you enroll in the carrier’s automatic payment program; otherwise, you’ll be charged an extra $5 per line each month.
T-Mobile's plan has its share of limitations. You're restricted to streaming video at 480p. Also, hotspot data, while unlimited, is capped at 3G speeds. If either of these restrictions is too much to bear, you can sign up for T-Mobile One Plus for an extra $5 per month per line. T-Mobile One Plus lets you stream HD video and it gives you 10GB of LTE hotspot data; you get additional perks like faster data speed when traveling abroad and unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi via Gogo. (T-Mobile One subscribers only get an hour of free data on Gogo-enabled flights.) T-Mobile briefly included HD streaming and 10GB of LTE hotspot data as part of the standard T-Mobile One plan, when it was trying to steal some of thunder away from Verizon's entry into the unlimited data market, but that promotion's over.
Is higher-resolution video and faster hotspot data worth the extra money each month? For many users watching Netflix on a 5-inch smartphone, T-Mobile One and its DVD-quality streaming will probably be good enough.
But wait — there's a third unlimited plan option. For an extra $25 a month, you can opt for T-Mobile One Plus International, which includes the video streaming and in-flight Wi-Fi benefits of T-Mobile One Plus along with unlimited international calling to landlines in 70-plus countries and mobile numbers in 30-plus countries. You also get unlimited hotspot data at LTE speeds.
There's one final limitation no matter which plan you pick. If you use too much data, T-Mobile reserves the right to throttle your speeds, but that doesn't kick in until you've used 30GB of data in a month. This is standard operating procedure for carriers, though, and T-Mobile's 30GB ceiling is the most generous among the Big Four carriers.
Other Options: Apart from the variations on T-Mobile One noted above, that's it in terms of options. So what if you're interested in a T-Mobile plan but don't use a lot of data? T-Mobile's answer is its new KickBack program which will give you a $10 bill credit for each line that doesn't use more than 2GB of data per month. That's a potentially attractive program for families, especially if some people on the plan use far less data than others. You have to enroll in KickBack through T-Mobile's mobile app.
Best Individual Plan
The advent of T-Mobile One takes a lot of the guesswork out of finding an individual plan — you can get unlimited data for $70 a month. (Again, you'll need to enroll in autopay for that price.) That’s $10 more expensive than what Sprint normally charges for its unlimited plan — Sprint likes frequent discounts and promotions, too — though T-Mobile’s network performs a lot better. And T-Mobile's plan costs less than the unlimited plans AT&T and Verizon now offer.
Other Options: It's unlimited data or nothing, friend, though you could also take advantage of the KickBack program for those months where you use less than 2GB of data to reduce the cost of your monthly unlimited plan by $10 in bill credits.
Best Prepaid Plan
T-Mobile has revamped its prepaid offerings, streamlining things down to two options. You can either get 4GB of high-speed data for $45 a month or 6GB for $55 a month. With T-Mobile now only offering unlimited data to its postpaid customers, either option might appeal to individual subscribers, especially since T-Mobile doesn't charge for data overages. (It just throttles your data speeds for the rest of the billing cycle.)
Prepaid customers can opt for an unlimited data plan, but at $75, it's more expensive than the T-Mobile One postpaid plan.
T-Mobile no longer offers prepaid family plans, instead offering the T-Mobile One unlimited plan with no credit check.
What You Need to Know About T-Mobile
Here are a few other things to consider when looking at T-Mobile's cellphone plans.
* T-Mobile's network is neck-and-neck with Verizon's. Verizon has long boasted of having the best network in the U.S., though the gap has practically vanished according to some third-party testing firms. OpenSignal had T-Mobile and Verizon tied in 4G speed in its most recent tests, and T-Mobile has also gotten within striking distance of Verizon on 4G availability. T-Mobile didn't fare as well in RootMetrics' most recent study, though T-Mobile has a bone to pick with RootMetrics' methodology. In our latest testing, Verizon still finished on top, but T-Mobile and its MetroPCS subsidiary weren't that far behind.
* You can devour a lot of data before getting throttled. Here's the thing about unlimited data — every carrier puts a limit on just how much data you can consume each month before it might slow down your speeds, T-Mobile included. But T-Mobile's limit is the highest among the four major carriers. And that cap just went up to 30GB per month, up from 28GB previously. (That's because T-Mobile only throttles the top 3 percent of its data users.) The next highest limit is Sprint's, at 23GB per month. Note that the throttling only takes place if the network's congested, and it only lasts for the remainder of a particular billing cycle.
* T-Mobile subscribers get weekly freebies. Each week, T-Mobile gives away free prizes to its subscribers, and all you need to claim your reward is the T-Mobile Tuesday app. Recurring giveaways have included free Frostys from Wendy's and movie downloads from Vudu, with the Subway fast food chain recently joining the mix, too.The carrier also gives away an ever-changing weekly prize each week. T-Mobile Tuesdays have not been glitch-free — original participant Domino's pulled out after it was unable to keep up with the demand for free pizzas — but it has been widely embraced by subscribers as another way that T-Mobile stands out from other carriers.
* Calling and texting overseas come included in your plan. International travelers have plenty to like about T-Mobile, as the carrier has a very attractive approach to international roaming. T-Mobile offers unlimited texting and data more than 140 countries, though data is reduced to considerably slower speeds when you're overseas. You're able to place calls to mobile devices and landlines at 20 cents a minute. T-Mobile's plans also cover Canada and Mexico, meaning you'll use your regular data plan while making unlimited calls and texts in those countries. And if you travel to Cuba, T-Mobile now offers roaming where you can talk for $2 a minute, send texts for 50 cents a message and use data for $2 per MB in that country.
* So do taxes and fees. When announcing its move to unlimited-only plans in January, T-Mobile said it would eliminate access and regulatory fees so that the price it advertises for its unlimited plan is the price that shows up on your bill. Essentially, T-Mobile is adjusting the rate it charges so that any fees are baked into that $70-a-month you're paying for one line of unlimited data.
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