Unlimited data plans are a mess: here’s how to pick the best one

Above Unlimited. Unlimited and more. Unlimited and more Premium. These are the names of the new mobile data plans presented in the last month by Verizon and AT & T. In an era without net neutrality, we have moved far, far away from the days when "unlimited data" was a Simple concept that meant you could use your smartphone with all its capabilities without handcuffs or confusing limitations.

Operators will inform you that the fundamental underlying promise of unlimited data remains true in 2018: you can use your smartphone as much as you want without surplus charges or cut off once you have exceeded a specific threshold. And yes, that is true. In general, consumers are now in a better place than they were a few years ago, when Verizon, AT & T, T-Mobile and Sprint offered tiered data cubes and charged $ 10 or $ 15 for each additional gigabyte above their allowance. chosen None of us miss those days.

We thought that the unlimited data was dead then. But some attempts by T-Mobile helped change the industry and left data warehouses behind as an ugly memory. Even so, the unlimited amount of data nowadays is very different from that of the first days of the iPhone and Android smartphones. Now more than ever, operators are aggressively controlling their networks and applying restrictions on video quality and the use of connection points. They continue to differentiate arbitrarily between the different types of data they are accessing with their smartphone, either through an application or simply from the mobile web.

Plans: what do the words mean more?

The confusing disaster that consumers face when choosing a smartphone plan in 2018 is due in part to the nonsense brand that carriers have come up with to differentiate themselves from each other. Just by name, it is incredibly difficult to analyze what you are getting from each one and what the drawbacks might be.

Could you tell if Verizon & # 39; s Above Unlimited or Beyond Unlimited is the most premium plan? No. How could someone? Does not it sound like Beyond Unlimited should be better than Above Unlimited? Actually, it's the opposite, according to Verizon's logic.

Let's review how the leading US provider is currently divided into "unlimited" and reserves the most useful features and the best speeds for the most expensive levels:

Go Unlimited: Get unlimited data, but in any possible that your service temporarily decelerates in favor of other clients when the network is busy or "congested". The speeds of the mobile access points are restricted to only 600 kbps. Video streaming with Wi-Fi is limited to 480p.

single line of $ 75 / $ 130 for two lines / $ 150 for three lines / $ 160 for four lines

Beyond Unlimited: Get unlimited data without possible slowdowns until 22 GB of use passes in one month. The mobile hotspot feature offers full LTE speeds until you reach 15 GB of usage. The video transmission is limited to 720p.

$ 85 individual line / $ 160 for two lines / $ 180 for three lines / $ 200 for four lines

Above unlimited: Get unlimited data without possible slowdowns until you spend 75GB of use in a month , which is probably a roof that will never reach. The access point is LTE of maximum speed up to 20 GB of use. The video, even in the highest plan, is still limited to 720p. Each month, Verizon launches 5 TravelPasses (good for speeds of 4G until crossing 512 MB of daily use) that work in more than 130 countries.

Single line of $ 95 / $ 180 for two lines / $ 210 for three lines / $ 240 for four lines

Verizon charges an additional fee of $ 10 per month if you want to transmit 1080p video on your smartphone. This add-on is only available to Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited customers.

See the full details of the Verizon plan here. The above prices only apply if Automatic Payment and electronic invoicing are enabled. Unlimited Verizon plans can be mixed and combined in the same family plan account.

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

AT & T is not better. The operator has changed his unlimited plans so frequently that even his most tech-savvy clients feel confused and insecure about what's in his plan. Their previous unlimited plans included complimentary HBO, but that is no longer the case. Current AT & T offers are unlimited and more and unlimited and more premium.

AT & T Unlimited & More: You get unlimited data, but at any time, your service could temporarily slow down in favor of other customers when the network is busy or "congested". The mobile access point is not available. Video sequences in standard definition.

$ 70 for one line / $ 125 for two lines / $ 145 for three lines / $ 160 for four lines

AT & T Unlimited & More Premium: You get unlimited data without possible slowdowns until you exceed 22 GB of use in a month. The mobile access point offers 4G speeds up to 15 GB of use and then at 128 Kbps. Video in 1080p Full HD.

$ 80 for one line / $ 150 for two lines / $ 170 for three lines / $ 190 for four lines

Both categories include the company's new WatchTV broadcast service, but customers with the default plan Unlimited & More will not receive HBO . If you have Unlimited & More Premium, you can choose a subscription service to receive free of charge each month, and those options are: HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, Pandora and Amazon Music Unlimited. So, if you choose something that is not HBO, you will not get it for free either, although AT & T is now the owner of the network. The $ 15 discount on DirecTV Now (or on the traditional DirecTV customers for & More Premium) still applies.

Customers who currently receive free HBO can stay in their plan to keep it. So, if HBO is more important to you than WatchTV (and I imagine it is for many), then do not change any of the new options.

See the full details of the AT & T plan here. The above prices only apply if Automatic Payment and paperless billing are enabled.

  John Legere's stock 2017

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

I'll give T-Mobile a little less penalty because "unlimited" does not actually appear on your plan's brand. Choose between T-Mobile One and T-Mobile One Plus. But "the Uncarrier" is still charging customers with some of the same annoying restrictions as its larger rivals.

T-Mobile One: You get unlimited data without possible slowdowns until you spend 50GB of use in a month. The mobile access point is limited to 3G speeds. The quality of video transmission is limited to 480p.

$ 70 single line / $ 120 for two lines / $ 141 for three lines / $ 160 for four lines

T-Mobile One Plus: Get unlimited data without possible slowdowns until 50 GB of use passes in a month . The mobile access point offers full LTE speeds up to 10 GB of use. Video sequences in HD quality.

single line $ 80 / $ 140 for two lines / $ 171 three lines / $ 200 four lines

See the details of the T-Mobile plan here. The above prices apply if automatic payment and electronic invoicing are enabled.

Sprint, meanwhile, for a long time opted for simplicity with a single unlimited plan, which he called Unlimited Freedom. The $ 60 per month plan included HD video and LTE access point speeds. But all that changed on July 12, when Sprint announced it would offer two different unlimited data plans.

Sprint Unlimited Basic: You get unlimited data without possible slowdowns until you spend 50GB of use in a month. The included access point feature allows LTE data at full speed only until it reaches 500 MB of usage. Video streaming is limited to the standard definition. Sprint puts strange restrictions on games and the speed of music data transmission, although most customers will not find them.

$ 60 individual line / $ 100 for two lines / $ 120 for three lines / $ 140 for four lines

Sprint Unlimited Plus: Get unlimited data without possible slowdowns until 50 GB of use passes in one month. The included access point feature allows LTE data at full speed until you reach 15 GB of usage. 1080p Full HD video transmission. Sprint puts strange restrictions on games and the speed of music data transmission, although most customers will not find them.

$ 70 single line / $ 120 for two lines / $ 150 for three lines / $ 180 for four lines

See the details of the Sprint plan here. The above prices apply if automatic, paperless billing is enabled.

Mobile video is absolutely screwed

Video is the aspect of the use of smartphones that is being affected by the unlimited plans of today. In their most affordable unlimited data plans, all the major US operators. UU They are restricting the video to 480p resolution, or what is sometimes described as "DVD quality". They can do this by identifying common video sources: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video, HBO Go, etc. – and speed up data speeds to limit the maximum quality. Operators can also easily distinguish video data from other data used by their phone, so the 480p restriction extends across the web.

Meanwhile, most modern smartphones have incredibly sharp, high-pixel screens capable of playing 1080p or more. But unless you're using Wi-Fi or are willing to pay for an unlimited, higher-cost plan, you will not be able to stream videos that do justice to those screens. It was not always like that. From February through August of last year, Verizon's unlimited data plan did not place shackles on video streaming in any way. Once the company divided that plan into different "unlimited" levels, the problem began. Now, you can not even stream to 1080p in your most expensive plan unless you pay an additional $ 10 over your normal bill.

When we were stuck with data cubes, it made sense for operators (optionally) to limit the video quality at their end. But there is no benefit to consumers when applied to unlimited plans. You are having a worse experience. We're supposed to believe that these operators are accelerating towards 5G, connecting all the devices in our lives, and reaching ever-increasing speeds, and even then their networks can not handle giving them all high definition video. Great.

The great mystery of the desriorización

For years, transporters have been involved in what is called depriorization. When a particular cell site is busy or "congested," the speed of the data could be reduced for a period of time, while other people of that operator in the same area will not be. Priority deprogramming typically occurs during peak hours of data use and in cities; it is less a factor in rural areas. And it's only temporary, in hours or even minutes, and not something that applies to your line for the remainder of a billing period.

The four major providers have stated that de-prioritization is necessary to make things work smoothly for everyone and to avoid customers swallowing large amounts of data having an impact on the reliability and performance of the network.

Some data plans (especially the most expensive ones) do not initiate disorientation until you have crossed a certain threshold of use. T-Mobile and Sprint do not do it until customers exceed 50 GB in a single month, which is the most generous policy of all. But people with AT & T or Verizon's cheaper unlimited plans are not so lucky and are facing de-prioritization of throughout their billing cycle .

What is worse is that there is no easy way for consumers to say when they are being slowed down at the moment. In addition to asking someone who is next to you to perform a speed test on your phone and compare the results, there is simply no way to know. You may receive a text message when you have used enough data to de-prioritize the situation, but that is all. You can not open your provider's application and verify if it has temporarily moved into the slow lane. It is could be that easy if the carriers were more transparent with respect to the downgrading, but it is not. Are you being strangled or is it just a dubious coverage? From the perspective of your provider, that is a convenient question for customers, especially when they lack a practical way to answer it.

Look at all these things for free!

Verizon: There's … Go90. So, let's be honest with ourselves and let's not say anything. Frankly, it's a bit surprising to see Verizon offering so little when everyone else is throwing a handful of extras and trying to blur the line between the wireless operator and the content provider.

AT & T: Coming soon to its complete acquisition of Time Warner, AT & T's brand new WatchTV streaming service (not to be confused with DirecTV Now) will come bundled with its latest unlimited plans. WatchTV allows you to broadcast live channels, including several that are now owned by the company, such as CNN, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network. It also presents other networks such as A & E, AMC, HGTV, Discovery, Food Network and more. Soon Comedy Central and some other Viacom networks will be added. WatchTV is a free benefit for customers with the latest unlimited AT & T plans: unlimited and more and unlimited and more premium.

As an additional bonus for a higher monthly bill, unlimited premium customers and more can choose a streaming service to get free along with WatchTV.

  • HBO
  • Showtime
  • Cinemax
  • Starz
  • Pandora Premium
  • Amazon Music Unlimited
  • VRV

Previously, HBO was included for free with the two unlimited AT & T plans T. That is no longer the case with the new plans.

AT & T customers are also eligible to receive a monthly $ 15 discount on the DirecTV Now or DirecTV satellite service. The latter only applies to subscribers in the most expensive plan.

T-Mobile: T-Mobile offers a free subscription to Netflix if you have at least two lines in your account with the T-Mobile One plan. Customers in the base plan get one hour of Wi-Fi on Gogo flight and unlimited messages in the air. If you upgrade to T-Mobile One Plus, your free Wi-Fi connection is valid for the entire flight. T-Mobile also offers a simpler and more flat monthly invoice that already includes the taxes and additional fees that other operators add on their advertised prices.

Sprint: Sprint's unlimited base plan includes a subscription to Hulu (with ads). Unlimited Plus adds that with a Tidal subscription, but only for the normal audio level and not for Tide Hi-Fi.

… but also zero-rating

The FCC and the operators argued during Obama's presidency, but the zero rating rarely gets much attention today as all major operators have changed the focus to "unlimited". But AT & T is still actively participating in it. A spokesperson confirmed to The Verge that WatchTV and DirecTV Now do not count against a customer's data assignments. Does that really mean much when the only "limit" that exists is the point where you hit deprioritization? Probably not from the client's perspective. But it is still AT & T choosing favorites on its network, which does not point to a healthy future for the mobile Internet.

And there are still millions of people in older monthly plans that are no longer offered to new customers. In the case of T-Mobile, many customers remain in the company's Simple Choice plans, and so Music Freedom and Binge On still apply, allowing subscribers to stream music and video from select services without counting on their monthly use of data.

Which is the best?

As always, your first priority in choosing a provider should be coverage and reliability. Everyone is getting closer in these categories, but Verizon is still perceived as the leader in terms of network reach and reliability. It is also the most expensive of the four. So, if T-Mobile or Sprint works well in your area and makes you travel often, there is less incentive to spend more. And they certainly hope that these gifts can compensate for any lack of coverage. T-Mobile's One Plus plan obtains those advantages, the LTE access point and the largest number of tracks before facing de-prioritization.

But if you're looking to support any provider that is better at maintaining net neutrality, well, among the big four, none of them is . Restricting the quality of the video, limiting the use of the access point to some plans, zero classification and other asterisks are clear evidence of that. The unlimited data remains technically unlimited, but somehow the operators have turned their services into a confusing mess.

And it will probably only get worse if T-Mobile and Sprint join.

Update July 12, 2018: This story was originally published on June 28, 2018 and has been updated to reflect Sprint's unlimited new unlimited plans.

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