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 unlimited! Of course none of them really are.
Here’s the deal. You can now sign up for one of the following plans from Verizon:
- 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)
- 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
- 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
- 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.”