T-Mobile Raises 'Unlimited Data' Limit

John Lister's picture

T-Mobile is reportedly to let users on "Unlimited" data plans use 50GB of data a month before getting any slowdowns. That will be more than double the soft limit of rivals, though still won't satisfy some linguistic purists.

At one point it was almost impossible to find an unlimited data deal on mobile devices, but a combination of competition and growing consumer demand as both tablet computers and streaming video become more popular has led the major companies to all offer an unlimited deal.

However, there's still a limit of sorts, often called a "fair use policy." With each carrier, customers can connect at the maximum possible speed until they've used a set amount during a month. After that, there's a possibility the connection will be slowed, though the carriers say this will only happen if the user is in an area where overall data demand is high at that moment.

Data Cap Limits Similar Across Market

At the moment three of the major carriers have a strikingly similar limit of 22GB for AT&T and Verizon, and 23GB for Sprint. Meanwhile T-Mobile has instead had a policy that's set up to affect the three percent of people who use the most data among their customers. Growing data use means that the current limit is at 32GB.

T-Mobile had yet to announce a change at the time of writing, though its support team tweeted and then deleted an announcement of an increase. Multiple sources suggest that limit will be a flat 50GB. (Source: androidcentral.com)

Video Boosts Data Use

There was a time when it would have seemed ludicrous that anyone would use 50GB of data in a single month. Even today, that figure would be tough to reach for most smartphone use, particularly as the limited storage space on devices rules out downloading extremely large files.

The exception is streaming video, with more people - particularly those who commute - wanting to watch videos that make the most of high definition phone screens. For example, Netflix's "high quality" setting for phones uses around 1GB of data an hour, but there's also an "unlimited" setting that can use 3GB an hour. Somebody watching 30 minutes of video a day while commuting five days a week would therefore exceed the current limit of all four carriers. (Source: arstechnica.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Is it acceptable to have such a limit, or should "unlimited" truly have no usage restrictions? Is 22GB to 32GB a reasonable limit to apply? How big a data allowance would you need to be able to use your phone as much as you needed or wanted without worrying about limits?

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SteveMann's picture

Don't you just love fine print?

If so few, three percent according to your article, are using data rates beyond 32Gb per month, then shouldn't the phone company be analyzing the data usage- packet type, protocol, frequency of connection, etc. Nothing intrusive but to see if there's a missing service protocol those customers need.

Many years ago at a BBS convention (I think you're old enough to remember BBS), a fledgling telephone provider told me that it costs them nothing to send data. The cost is so small it isn't worth metering.

I realize that was when a postage-stamp sized video was state-of-the-art, but his premise was pretty sound- once the network is built, electrons are almost free. He never heard of planned obsolescence- the principal that toll bridges learned last century. How many times were the voters duped to vote for a bond to pay for a bridge, or highway, or internet, only to be promised that the tolls go away once the bonds are paid off. What they didn't tell you is that the bonds would be paid at the rate of pennies per year- forever.

Oh, your original question- Unlimited should mean Unlimited- with no strings or conditions. Sure, I have "unlimited" data, but note that the ads are careful to not use "unlimited" and "high-speed data" in the same sentence. Once I hit 32Gb, forget watching a movie until the month resets. You're lucky to be able to text.

nospam_5346's picture

Unlimited should be unlimited because unlimited won't be unlimited. You can only use so much data in a month. So, unlimited is only what you actually use in a month and not some infinite amount.

Having said that, I still use a flip phone so they can make unlimited be 1GB a month and it doesn't affect me. I find owning a smart phone to be incomprehensible for me personally. You pay an obscene amount for a device that you really never own since it is really owned by the service provider, the phone manufacturer, and the apps on it which track and market to you. So, you're basically paying for a marketing and tracking device over which you have very limited control.