In the past, it was AT&T and Verizon who dictated the way things were done in the wireless industry. A funny thing happened along the way though. Those two 800lb Gorillas made a big mistake - They told their subscribers that they didn't really need unlimited data. They also claimed that offering this was not sustainable and T-Mobile would suffer network congestion.
Well T-Mobile found a way to get it done, as did Sprint. Both also had almost double the amount of available spectrum than Verizon. It is called Standard definition 4G LTE. While the speeds are just as fast, the resolution has been dumbed down to 480p from 1080p. That is still DVD-quality images and un-noticeable on most Smartphones. However, if you hook up a SmartPhone to a big Flatscreen with an HDMI cable, you will definitely see the difference. AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile all utilized this approach. Until last week, Verizon had not even offered an Unlimited data plan for over 5 years. AT&T had also pulled theirs about the same time as Verizon, but re-introduced it last year. The caveat was you had to "qualify" to get it. To "qualify", you had to bundle their mediocre U-Verse service, or Direct TV Home internet service. If you did that, you then "qualified" to purchase their Unlimited 4G LTE Wireless Plan for $100 per month. What a deal, huh? Late last year, AT&T was in major hot water over this plan. That's because they forgot to disclose that once you reached 22GB, your speeds were slowed down to 2G speeds. I'm not sure if management is stuck on stupid, or just de-emphasizing their wireless business in favor of their content business. In any case, I'd be more than angry if I jumped through all those hoops and then read what's available above. I'm not going to even bother comparing this plan to Sprint, T-Mobile's or Verizon's because it's over priced, and requires the purchase of a home internet bundle to even get it.
That being said, here is what you need to know before choosing an Unlimited 4G LTE Plan.
1) You must first understand that that they don't really even exist. All carriers reserve the right to throttle their users once they reach a pre-determined level of data usage. For AT&T and Verizon, that level is 22GB per month. For Sprint, it is 23GB per month. For T-Mobile, it's 28GB per month. Once you reach these thresholds, speeds will slow to the point where e-mail will still work but forget about watching video or uploading/downloading large files.
2) 4G LTE is like New York Steak. There is USDA Choice, and USDA Prime. Prime costs 2-3 x more than choice because it is far more tender and can easily be cut with a butter knife. You can call them both New York Steak but there is huge difference in quality.
3) T-Mobile already had all the other carriers on the ropes before announcing their latest Un-Carrier initiative - All taxes and fees will now be paid by T-Mobile on their Unlimited ONE plans.
This finally woke up a slumbering giant. Last Sunday, Verizon began offering Unlimited HD 4G LTE for the first time in 5 years. To top it of, this is not watered down 480p resolution but true 1080p High Definition 4G LTE Data, the "PRIME" of 4G LTE Data. The other three carriers offer Standard Definition data, the "CHOICE" quality, still good but not Prime. Both Sprint and T-Mobile do offer special "bolt-on" packages that increase the resolution from SD to HD (or Choice to Prime).
T-Mobile, in response to Verizon's new Unlimited plan, just matched it. That is, they bumped their SD plan to HD too, and also added 10GB of 4G Hotspot. It's still less money than Verizon's deal but now the same offering.
Sprint's Unlimited pricing is as low as $18 per user when you have 5 lines. Unfortunately, there is a reason for that. Sprint sells their plans for a fraction of the cost of the other carriers because their coverage and data speeds pale in comparison to the other three carriers. While this may sound tempting, it's a one year tease and the price will go back up to who knows what after that.
One of the cool things about buying service with Verizon is they are the only major carrier that does not lock their SmartPhones. With all the other carriers, your devices are locked until you do your time. That means if you sign up on a 24 month zero interest equipment deal, your carrier will not unlock the device until month 24, unless you pay it off earlier. None of the carriers advertise this but it is super-easy for us to seamlessly move subscribers from one carrier to another. In the old days, contacts, calendar, and SMS messages were often stored on the SIM card. Today, only carrier information is stored on the SIM cards. That means that all of your current data stays. No resets required, it's just a matter of swapping SIM cards and the device instantly works with the new carrier. Since each carrier is willing to buy out your service, why wait?
If you are thinking about getting a better Unlimited Plan, contact Dr WIreless and we will make it happen!
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Joel Saltzman has over twenty years of wireless industry experience. He is currently CEO and Chief Wireless Analyst for Dr Wireless.