T-Mobile is elevating the 5G fight against AT&T and Verizon as the third-largest mobile carrier has announced (opens in new tab) Magenta Max, a revamped version of its Magenta Plus plan that promises unlimited 5G with no throttling.
The wireless carrier touts Magenta Max is a plan for the 5G future. Current plans offered by Verizon, AT&T and even T-Mobile are designed, per the company's logic, for the 4G past, where speeds were slow and bandwidth was limited. For customers that decide to upgrade, Magenta Max will include other upgrades such as 40GB of high-speed mobile hotspot tethering.
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A single line of Magenta Max costs $85 per month, the same cost as the Magenta Plus plan it replaces in T-Mobile's lineup. Adding extra lines introduces per line discounts so that you'll pay a total of $57 per line for three lines, or $170 total. A current discount knocks that price down to $47 per line for a total of $140.
Magenta Max launches this Wednesday (Feb. 24). Here's what you need to know about T-Mobile's new unlimited data plan option.
What's included with T-Mobile Magenta Max?
Magenta Max will have unlimited 4G and 5G data in which users "can’t be slowed down based on how much you use." This is a huge claim, as most unlimited plans include some level of throttling upon reaching a certain threshold. Heck, even cable companies like Comcast have data limits, an artificial hindrance we feel is unethical during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
T-Mobile's less expensive Magenta plan, which costs $70 for a single line and also features unlimited data. But your speeds can be slowed if you use more than 50GB a month. (That's doubling to 100GB this week as well.) T-Mobile Essentials, the cheapest unlimited data plan available at the carrier, can see your speeds slowed at any time.
Regardless, T-Mobile specifically called out its competitors by stating that other networks will "lower your network priority if you’ve used a massive amount of data, which means that you might hit speed bumps if the network gets congested." The company adds that "Verizon and AT&T market this as 'Premium Data' and give most customers 50GB. But, there’s nothing premium about paying more for fast 5G that’s only in 'some parts of some cities.'"
T-Mobile, for all intents and purposes, is daring users to stream as much 4K Netflix as they'd like on Magenta Max. "So even if you use 200GB or more, you can’t be slowed down based on how much data you use," the carrier said in announcing the new plan.
Also included is a major upgrade to mobile hotspot tethering. High speed mobile hotspot has been bumped up from 5G to 40GB with Magenta Max. For standard Magenta users, they will also see a minor mobile hotspot bump, from 3GB to 5GB.
Gogo In-Flight WiFi, found on United, Delta, Alaska Airlines, and Air Canada Flights, is seeing an upgrade with Magenta Max. While regular Magenta users are only allowed one hour of free Wi-Fi and texting, Max customers get unlimited Wi-Fi. And for those traveling internationally, Max customers will get "2x data speeds" (up to 256kbps) over standard Magenta users, who will remain stuck at 2G.
All T-Mobile Magenta and Magenta Max customers with two lines or more of data will continue to enjoy "Netflix on Us," where the carrier pays part or all of a Netflix subscription — that perk is now being extended to single lines of data as well. Magenta Max users will be upgraded to the more premium Netflix package which offers 4K streaming.
How much more expensive is T-Mobile Magenta Max?
A single line of Magenta Max costs $15 more than the $70 T-Mobile Magenta plan. Escalating discounts for multiple lines mean that families of three will pay $10 more per line with Magenta Max than they would with Magenta. With T-Mobile's special offer for Magenta Max, that's reduced to $7 more per line each month.
The best unlimited data plans at AT&T and Verizon cost $85 and $80, respectively, for a single line of data.
Customers wanting to switch from Verizon or AT&T can take advantage of another T-Mobile deal. The carrier is offering up to $650 per phone that's still on a payment plan with the other carriers. But considering that many phones cost upwards of $1,000, it could mean customers still having to pay a few hundred dollars out of pocket to fully divorce themselves from their past network provider.
How will T-Mobile's unlimited 5G fare in the real world?
T-Mobile claims to have the largest 5G network in America, but that doesn't mean blazing speeds from coast to coast. T-Mobile's 5G is a mix of different wireless frequency technologies. The Magenta-themed company runs its 5G networks on low 600MHz frequencies, mid 2.5GHz frequencies, thanks to last year's Sprint acquisition (opens in new tab), and high-end 39GHz millimeter wave. The lower frequencies have broader coverage and can penetrate walls more easily, but lack the uber-fast speed that 5G promises. Our sister-YouTube channel, Mr. Mobile, has a video breaking down T-Mobile's 5G network.
T-Mobile claims its 5G speeds are about 20% faster than 4G. While that's not bad, it's still not the 1-Gbps or higher that other carriers offer. So there will be no downloading an entire season of The Office in minutes on T-Mobile.
Verizon, by comparison, is heavily investing in millimeter wave 5G technology. This is by far the fastest form of 5G, but also the most finicky. Because mmWave requires a clean line of sight between your phone and a 5G node, any obstacle, including your own body, can hinder performance. Literally, connection speeds can vary from block to block.
Of course, 5G is still in its infancy. Connecting the entire United States to a completely new technology will take time. And as new advancements develop, eventually phones will be able to tap into the full power that 5G can offer. But until then, consumers have to play a game of tradeoffs. Either customers can choose a consistent 5G connection at modest speeds, or spotty connections with blazing fast downloads. Either way, both might not offer that 4K Netflix goodness without a reliable connection.
Disclosure: The author of this piece worked at a T-Mobile location between 2013-2014.