Every major wireless carrier in the US is offering an “unlimited” data plan again. But each of them has a different definition of what “unlimited” means… and none of those definitions really seems to be “without limits.”

For example, if you sign up for Sprint’s unlimited plan, you get to use up to 23GB of high-speed data every month. After that, your speeds may be throttled. And Sprint will only let you use 10GB of LTE-speed data for hotspots. The company also caps music streaming speeds to 1.5 Mbpz.

AT&T also has a 10GB LTE hotspot cap and throttles user speeds after they hit 22GB of data.

T-Mobile has a more generous 32GB limit before your speeds are throttled, and you get unlimited tethering… at 3G speeds. But if you want to stream video, it’ll be at 480p resolution.

And then… there’s Verizon. The company used to offer a single “unlimited” plan that wasn’t really totally unlimited. Now Verizon has retooled things and this week will begin offering 4 different plans that are all called unlimitedOf course none of them really are.

Here’s the deal. You can now sign up for one of the following plans from Verizon:

GoUnlimited

  • Plans start at $75 for a single line.
  • You get unlimited 4G LTE data… but it can be slowed at any time due to network congestion (if someone paying more than you needs it more).
  • Video streaming is capped at 480p for phones and 720p for tablets.
  • You can use as much mobile hotspot tethering as you want… at 600 Kbps.
  • Unlimited talk & text (in the US)

BeyondUnlimited

  • Plans start at $85 for a single line.
  • Verizon won’t arbitrarily throttle your 4G data… until you hit 22GB (or 25GB if you sign up for a 2-year contract), at which point it may be slowed when there’s network congestion.
  • You get up to 15GB of LTE data for mobile hotspot use. After that it’s throttled.
  • Video streaming is capped at 720p for phones and 1080p for tablets.
  • Unlimited talk, text, and “unlimited” data in the US, Canada, and Mexico

BusinessUnlimited

  • Plans start at $45 per line for 4-lines.
  • High-speed data is only guaranteed for up to 22GB per month.
  • 4G mobile hotspot use is capped at 10GB (or 15GB with a 2-year contract)
  • 480p/720p data caps

PrepaidUnlimited

  • This plan costs $80 per month for a single line.
  • There’s no data cap, but you can be throttled at any time (just like GoUnlimited).
  • There’s no mobile hotspot data included.
  • Streaming video is capped at 480p on phones and 720p on tablets.

Note that there are also video streaming limits when using your phone as a mobile hotspot: The Verge notes that you can’t stream 4K video when your phone is tethered.

If you have a plan that includes mobile hotspot features, video streaming is still capped at 1080p… which is probably for the best since you only get up to 15GB of high-speed data when tethering. You’d burn through that pretty quickly if you streamed a lot of 4K video.

But if all of these plans Verizon is calling unlimited were truly unlimited? You’d be able to stream as much video as you’d want.

Look, I’m not saying wireless carriers shouldn’t impose limits. I just wish they’d stop calling those plans “unlimited.”

via Ars Technica and Tom’s Guide 

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13 replies on ““Unlimited” has become a meaningless word (for wireless carriers anyway)”

  1. “Unlimited” is the new hustle that carriers are running on us. First it was making people pay for minutes, then texts, then every GB of data and now that we have HD streaming and gaming, it’s throttling.

  2. Get 5GB for 30 days Totally Free with only 10 euros.

    Carriers are worst than politicians.

  3. The hotspot is what all the carriers are dancing around. If a person with a truly unlimited 4G plan broadcast their hotspot to like all their immediate neighbors in their building… they all get free internet off of the one unlimited plan (probably with congested periods). those are customers the carriers have now missed because they got internet free.

    On another note 2G data that’s unlimited is still useful for streaming services offering offline viewing.

  4. Its still valid to call it unlimited as you have unlimited TIME of usage, which has always been what cellphones, outside of dedicated data modems have been sold and billed on.

  5. How are they able to change the size of video that’s streaming? Are they basically intercepting anything with video encoding, running super handbrake, then streaming you that one instead? What if it’s a 480p video to begin with but with super high bitrate, or a 1080p video that’s already been crunched to heck and small, like YIFY style? What if it’s encoded in something their super handbrake doesn’t recognize, or it’s encrypted?

    1. I think they limit the speed of the connection forcing the site to adjust the stream to a lower bit rate just like it would do on an overloaded network.

  6. I’ve been using T-Mobile Simple Choice 6 GB on my phones and hot-spot for quite awhile. Speeds and reliability are generally pretty good considering that I’m in a town of about 100k people. With Binge On I generally stream about 30 GB of data per month with only occasional throttling. I recently tried T-Mobile One and didn’t like it as much due to the 3G tethering. It was definitely usable but I could tell the difference when browsing the Internet. Of course you could pay 10 dollars more per line and get 4G tether. Unfortunately under the T-Mo One plans, Mobile Internet (for hot-spots) has been gimped and no data stash or Binge On is offered. This was a mistake IMO and will keep people on older plans if they like their dedicated hot-spots and don’t want to switch to a tablet and associated plan.

  7. Verizon looks like they are trying to unseat Comcast as the most hated company in the USA. Unlimited “BS”, non-removable super cookies, bloatware, etc.

  8. I think the whole idea is stupid. If I want to stream 1080p, you do not touch my stream. The only reasoning they’re doing it is that the current FCC won’t do a thing. Looks like I’ll stick to a VPN.

    1. I think it is for network congestion, but it would be nice if the downgrading was dependent on network congestion. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere or streaming early in the morning there’s probably little reason to downgrade.

      How would a VPN help?

      1. I don’t think Verizon can tell what a person is downloading/streaming through a VPN, they just know someone is online. If they don’t know you are streaming video they can’t throttle it — or so the theory goes.

        1. In theory. In practice the fact T-Mobile can tell even if you’re using httpss and streaming video creeps me out.

      2. See, network management should only happen if there’s actually congestion. All throttling does is increase wireless collisions.

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