Verizon yesterday announced that they are now offering unlimited data to its customers. Over the last few years, the word unlimited has been thrown around with all four carriers, and not a single one of them actually means unlimited. With Verizon, unless you’re grandfathered in to the old plan, means you get unlimited smartphone data and 10GB of LTE tethering (3G speeds after), up to 22GB. At 22GB, Verizon uses a tactic known as deprioritization. Now, this isn’t as bad as some makes it out to be. It’s not throttling, as there’s not set speed limit. Deprioritization is when your device connected to a crowded tower and your device is placed lower on the list. Meaning, if someone who hasn’t hit the 22GB limit yet connects to that tower, they get priority over your device. Meaning, if that guy is streaming 4K video and the available bandwidth only permits his device to play that video, you’ll experience really slow speeds. But if a bunch of people who’ve not hit the 22GB threshold are just browsing Facebook or Twitter? You should feel no speed difference as those tasks require small bits of data. Same goes with AT&T and Sprint. T-Mobile, however, has their threshold at 28GB and is, so far, the only carrier to continue to update the threshold depending on the top 3% of users. T-Mobile also offers 10GB (with 3G speeds after) of LTE tethering (starting Friday) and otherwise has no limits on their plan. AT&T throttles video down to DVD (480p) quality with no way of changing this. They also have no tethering plans whatsoever. Sprint is the worst offender, as it has all of the aforementioned limits along with limits on music streaming quality and gaming (whatever that means). Needless to say, unlimited isn’t what it used to be.
But for this post, I’ll solely be focusing on Verizon and T-Mobile as they’re the most interesting out of the bunch.
Before yesterday, Verizon was kicking people who used more than 100GB a month off of their grandfathered unlimited plans. Heck, they even went as far as to create an ad that said that customers don’t need more than 5GB of data and that customers who paid for more data are wasting their money. Now, all of a sudden, after multiple tests prove that T-Mobile is not only catching up in terms of LTE coverage, but is also faster in areas that they do cover, Verizon unleashes unlimited. On Verizon, you can get unlimited for $180/month (before taxes) for a family of four. As mentioned earlier, you may get deprioritized after 22GB (per line), and you’re limited to 10GB of LTE tethering data. What Verizon tries to hide is that this plan is only available at an introductory price, meaning after an undefined amount of time, Verizon will no longer offer this plan at this price. That’s no good if you want to switch in a year or two when Verizon doesn’t offer this pricing for the plan.
So why go with Verizon? Coverage. Verizon still has the edge (albeit that gap is getting smaller as the days go on). For right now, Verizon still leads the industry in terms of overall network coverage. Some things to consider, however. Verizon, unlike AT&T or T-Mobile, does not have HSPA+ (“4G”) fallback. Meaning, if you’re not in an area with LTE, you’re dropping all the way back to 3G speeds. It’s also worth mentioning that Verizon is still running on CDMA, meaning if you do fall back to 3G (a really small percentage of the time), you don’t get simultaneous voice and data, in addition to slower data speeds.
Now, T-Mobile before today had some pretty weird network management nonsense they had in place. For those who know me, I’m personally a T-Mobile customer, however, I do call T-Mobile out if something isn’t right. T-Mobile calls their unlimited plan, T-Mobile One, so for the sake of simplicity, I’ll be referring to their plan as “One” from this point on. With One, you have video optimization which typically streams at 480p (1.5Mbps). In some scenarios you were able to get better quality if compression was done right. You were able to pay T-Mobile $15/mo/line (yep, per line), in order to get HD video on your lines (One Plus). But this required you to go into the T-Mobile app and enable the feature on a daily basis. This is really annoying, especially when you weren’t able to do so as a customer and you had to contact support every time you needed to. They also limited all tethering to 3G speeds (512Kbps), which was also annoying. To circumvent this, you had to pay for the more expensive One Plus International plan, which enabled unlimited LTE tethering.
However, as of today… one day after Verizon announces their unlimited plan, T-Mobile gets rid of both of these pain points and feature parodies Verizon. For the base plan, you’re able to get 10GB of LTE tethering (3G thereafter) and unlimited HD video without any sort of annoying daily passes. The timing is interesting, and T-Mobile CEO John Legere did tweet saying that they were expecting Verizon to make such a change.
The unfortunate part is that it took a wakeup call from Verizon for T-Mobile to really amp up their game. Before today, they didn’t see the daily HD passes as an inconvenience or that some customers wanted a small chunk of LTE tethering while not necessarily wanting unlimited (or even want to pay for it).
But I digress. Competition is healthy. T-Mobile still has lots of benefits that Verizon doesn’t such as unlimited international text and data (now at 256Kbps) in over 140 countries with Wi-Fi calling back to the U.S. being free. Unlimited call, text and data in Mexico and Canada (Verizon has unlimited calling and texting, but data is capped at 500MB/day). In-flight texting is also a biggie to anyone who travels a lot as it gives you something to do while in-flight. You can also optionally pay for unlimited Wi-Fi access in-flight and unlimited LTE tethering on T-Mobile, something Verizon doesn’t offer at all.
T-Mobile has a promo going on where 2 lines is only $100. But for the sake of argument, they offer 4 lines at $160/mo with taxes and fees included. Pricing for both T-Mobile and Verizon are with AutoPay enabled.
At the end of the day it boils down to this: does T-Mobile have coverage where you are/where you plan to be? If so, T-Mobile by far is the better option. With all the perks and the fast LTE speeds, there’s no arguing that T-Mobile is the better option. But on the flip side, if T-Mobile doesn’t cover your area, or if you plan on taking long road trips (within the U.S.), Verizon is your only option. They might not offer all the cool stuff T-Mobile does, but if you live in the middle of nowhere, Verizon is your best bet. You just have to lookout for taxes and fees, and when this plan becomes grandfathered as you might not be able to hold onto that plan forever. Though, with the type of improvements T-Mobile is doing to their network, that coverage edge may be coming to a close.