It’s a poorly-kept secret in wireless than the unlimited data plans pushed by the four major carriers aren’t technically unlimited. They all institute some kind of cap, usually ranging from about 20GB to 30GB in a single billing cycle, at which point your data speeds will be slowed and deprioritized behind other users who have consumed less.
T-Mobile’s cap has been the highest for a while now, at 32GB, but today the carrier has announced it has nearly doubled the monthly allotment to 50GB.
Carriers are often quick to point out that these aren’t hard limits, and customers aren’t immediately throttled the second they move past the threshold. For example, T-Mobile calls it a “prioritization point,” and says it only comes into play once users have accumulated over 50GB and find themselves in a particularly congested area.
Still, the freedom to use lots of data is precisely the reason why customers prefer unlimited plans, and at 50GB, T-Mobile’s cap is more than twice as high as its competitors. Verizon and AT&T top out at 22GB, while Sprint places second with 23GB.
To make matters worse, many of these plans have additional caveats. AT&T’s Unlimited Choice option, for example, limits you to a 3 Mbps maximum at all times -- and it can get even slower once you’ve used up that 22GB. Verizon’s doesn’t list a top speed with its introductory Go Unlimited plan, but the carrier does reserve the right to slow you at any time, long before you’ve passed the prioritization point.
Sprint and T-Mobile aren’t without their faults, either. Sprint limits gaming and music streaming to 8 Mbps and 1.5 Mbps, respectively, at all times. T-Mobile’s base One unlimited plan only allows for 480p video over LTE.
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To lose these restrictions, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile offer more premium unlimited tiers -- though, of course, you’ll have to fork over extra cash. Verizon’s Beyond Unlimited and T-Mobile’s One Plus plans run an additional $10 per month, per line. AT&T’s Unlimited Plus offering, which allows full LTE speeds, is even pricier at an additional $30 per line for the first two lines.
No matter which network’s brand of unlimited you opt for, you’ll run into some snags in the fine print. Still, T-Mobile’s announcement should inject some healthy competition into the industry -- and when carriers compete, everybody wins.