I just switched both my and my wife’s phones to Total Wireless, Tracfone’s prepaid service that uses Verizon’s network. I thought it was going to be the ideal solution for us with Verizon’s coverage and similar lack of restrictions to Straight Talk, Tracfone’s AT&T brand. But all is not well.

So far, my prepaid carrier experience has been with Cricket and Straight Talk. I signed up for Cricket a couple years ago. Cricket is owned by AT&T but operates sorta separately from their GoPhone prepaid brand. At the time, my wife was on Straight Talk, but the biggest data plan they had was 5 GB. Cricket had a 10 GB plan. But I discovered that Cricket limits LTE download speeds to 8 Mbps and blocks bring-your-own-device customers from using their phone as a wifi hotspot.

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At the time, the throttling information was buried several levels deep in the terms & conditions but Cricket’s website now has it right on their plans page.

Straight Talk has no throttling or hotspot blocking, and they now offer an 8 GB single line plan for $45/month and 12 GB for $55/month. So the only downside is they don’t have visual voicemail, but you can get it from a third-party visual voicemail service like YouMail or Google Voice.

But AT&T’s coverage is not so good in rural parts of Wisconsin, and their in-building coverage in Madison is also somewhat lacking. Verizon and U.S. Cellular still have an advantage in network quality here.

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I assumed Total Wireless, being another Tracfone prepaid brand, but on Verizon’s network, would be similarly free of download throttling. They don’t have the greatest deals on single-line plans but they have a 15 GB plan with up to 4 lines for $95/month after auto-pay discount. There’s nothing in the terms that specifically mentions a download speed limit.

So I got my wife a Moto G5 Plus since her ZTE ZMAX 2 was unlocked but not Verizon compatible, and ported both my and my wife’s numbers over to Total Wireless. I set up YouMail voicemail easily enough.

Then I ran a speed test. And several more speed tests.

That bottom line is from back when I was on Verizon post-paid, which I had temporarily switched to from Cricket because I needed international roaming for my honeymoon.

Here’s what the Total Wireless terms say about data speeds:

High speed data means data at up to 4G LTE speeds. Actual data speeds are subject to your wireless device’s capabilities, coverage available in your area at the time of use, and existing and changing network conditions. Data transmitted over Wi-Fi does not count against your data usage. To preserve your access to data, you may sign into Wi-Fi whenever possible, but recognize that some Wi-Fi locations may not be secure. You may use certain mobile apps to help find open networks and to keep track of your data usage. Actual availability, coverage, and data speeds may vary.

There’s no mention of any kind of specific speed limit. Compare that to the Cricket, which now has right on their plans page:

Download speeds max of 8Mbps (LTE)/4Mbps (4G). Data speeds will be reduced to 128Kbps max if you exceed your plan’s monthly data allowance. Actual speed varies by device and location.

This information used to be more buried in the terms, but it was still there, spelled out with specifics. Which is not the case with the Total Wireless terms.

The upload speeds are terrible. Sending an email with a picture attached takes forever, and it’s slow enough to make Pushbullet error out when trying to send a file to my other devices. Hell, I tried to send the screenshot to my work PC using both those methods and the email is still sitting in my outbox. I had to transfer it over USB.

Cricket was throttled but generally worked fine enough. This is THROTTLED.

This thread on HowardForums talks about supposedly the Total Wireless throttling might be going away, but someone else posting in there with a Moto X Pure Edition like mine is being throttled, while other phones in the same location aren’t.

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So now I need to check my speeds at home, and check the speeds on my wife’s phone, and see what the hell is going on.

If there’s no workaround, I’m going to have to switch both our phones back to Straight Talk. Probably put my wife on the 8 GB and myself on the 12 GB. We’ll just have to put up with the marginal AT&T coverage in certain areas.

UPDATE:

I had my wife run a speed test on her phone from her job. She got like 18 Mbps.

I ran some errands on my way home today and checked my speeds along the way. First stop was still in Middleton near my office, where the Verizon network struggles in general, and I got around 8-10 Mbps on a few tests. Next stop was half a mile down the road from my wife’s office which is another couple miles from our house. Ran tests at that second stop and at home. All were in the 16-20 Mbps range.

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I also am typing this update on my laptop that is connected to the internet through my phone’s hotspot, which I am happy to report works just fine.

I’ve pulled faster download speeds on Verizon in similar locations, so they may be saving some of their best LTE special sauce for their own customers, but generally it’s fine on Total Wireless.

I knew my office screwed with people’s cell signals, but I never ran a speed test there when I was on the Verizon mothership. I do know that on many occasions I had Pushbullet time out on me when trying to upload a picture from my phone to post here on Oppo, so the building could very well be screwing with the signal the same as Verizon.

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Just for kicks I’m going to run a speed test from my phone in the parking lot at work, and see if I can get another person with Verizon to run a speed test at my desk. But it’s a Verizon signal problem in a specific location, not a problem with Total Wireless throttling.

UPDATE 2:

And.... I’ve been burning up data at my gym like an idiot because they’ve had wifi this whole time. There’s even a sign with the password on the wall behind the front desk. I’m a dumbass.

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