Wireless carriers have been moving away from plans with data caps, to “unlimited” plans that restrict your internet usage in other ways like slowing down your data speed on all data, or specific kinds of content, or on hotspot. AT&T has quietly become the worst at this.
I should point out that no unlimited data plan is actually unlimited. All of the wireless carriers have some kind of data cap in the fine print, after which they will limit your download speed so severely that you basically won’t be able to do anything with your internet on your phone. These range anywhere from 22 to 50 GB depending on carrier.
3 of the 4 major wireless carriers have an entry-level “unlimited” plan and a step-up option that gets rid of the bullshit crap they pull on the entry-level plan. Sprint does light throttling on their one and only plan, and at different levels for different kinds of content. Here’s a plan comparison, courtesy of Sprint.
Note that the non-Sprint plans here are the step-up, mostly un-fucked-with plans. What about the fucked-with plans?
Verizon Go Unlimited - $75/month - your data speeds may randombly be deprioritized “in times of network congestion,” video streams at 480p, unlimited hotspot but capped at 600 kbps speed
T-Mobile ONE - $70/month - video streams at 480p, 10 GB of hotspot limited to “3G speed” - but both versions of T-Mobile’s unlimited plan include free Netflix worth $12/month that you can apply to your existing Netflix account if you already subscribe to Netflix
And then we have AT&T’s Unlimited Choice plan for $60/month. Your download speeds are capped to 3 Mbps, or 1.5 Mbps when watching video, and you can’t use mobile hotspot. At all. At least you get free HBO!
Over on AT&T’s Cricket prepaid side, you can get an unlimited plan for $60/month, but it’s throttled to 8 Mbps, or you can save 5 whole dollars per month if you’re willing to accept 3 Mbps. But no free HBO for you!
Speaking from experience, I once tried Cricket before they made it clear that their max data speed was 8 Mbps. And even that sucked! My cousin wanted my help in doing a video call at her wedding with our elderly grandparents. I got them set up with Hangouts on their iPad, and I tried to video call them on my shitty throttled Cricket plan, and their slow wifi at their retirement community. That video call was glitchy as fuck! It juuuuuuust barely worked enough for my cousin to feel happy with it. But it was far from ideal. Don’t rely on throttled data. 3 Mbps would be so much more terrible. Screw that.
But actually, AT&T isn’t the worst offender with data throttling. No, that dishonor belongs to U.S. Cellular. They just rolled out a new “unlimited” plan that throttles all of your data to 1.5 Mbps for $70/month. Do not, under any circumstances, buy this plan.
Lest you think that numbers like 3 or 1.5 Mbps aren’t THAT bad, well, they suck. Here’s what doesn’t stuck:
All is not lost! Don’t be lured by these bullshit “unlimited” data plans that are actually worse than plans with data caps. Unless you’re a huge data binger, there are many prepaid plans, both with the major carriers themselves, and other prepaid brands piggybacking on their networks, that don’t have this stupid throttling.
At the moment, I’m on T-Mobile’s $50/month 10 GB prepaid plan. By default it throttles video to 480p but you’re totally free to turn this off. There’s no other throttling on data or hotspot. No, there’s no free Netflix, but there is free music streaming with most common music apps, i.e. it doesn’t count toward your data cap. I’m on wifi at home and at work. Most of my data usage away from home is music streaming. I’ll have to try really hard to burn up 10 GB of data in a given month. I’d rather live with the totally fine data cap and not have my data throttled.
Don’t be lured by stupid not-actually-unlimited data plans! Shop around! Check your data usage, see how much you really use, and find the plan that works best for you. The wireless carriers are really good at promoting the hell out of plans that charge us too much for features that don’t meet our needs, but they haven’t totally gotten rid of the arguably-better options. Use them while you can!