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Summary:

I confess: I used T-Mobile’s 200 MB plan for a year, and it served all of my smartphone needs. Since then I and most other smartphone users have graduated to heavier data buckets, but there is still a need for a cheap 200 MB plan.

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Apparently T-Mobile smartphones are no longer for the meek when it comes to data usage. TmoNews has discovered, and FierceWireless has confirmed, that T-Mobile has discontinued its 200 MB mobile data plan for new customers that get subsidized smartphones. The pint-sized plan is still available to those who buy a phone without a subsidy or bring their own devices, but otherwise, if you want buy data from T-Mo, you’ll have to do so in 2 GB or larger increments.

I have an embarrassing confession to make: for the greater part of last year I subscribed to that 200 MB plan. Yes, yes, for shame. I’m a wireless technology writer. What am doing with a plan many of you would only advise your grandmothers to buy? In my defense I am a) very cheap and at the time was paying my own mobile bill (no longer, thanks GigaOM!), and b) am not really a gadget nor app writer (we have another Kevin who’s much better at it than I am). It’s sad to say, but I’m more intrigued by the radio connection between the phone and the network than by the phone itself.

But to be honest, I also really wasn’t consuming that much data – at least not on the mobile network. While in the wild, my primary smartphone use was email, social networking, maps and web surfing. I’d listen to Pandora and watch the occasional video, but I was also chintzy enough that I made sure to take advantage of every Wi-Fi access point available. Also, years of being an AT&T customer had trained me to save my app and bigger file downloads for home or work where a broadband network was readily available.

I still went over my 200 MB budget – quite often actually, and since this was before the throttled “unlimited” plans were introduced, I paid for that extra data. But the additionally overage charges I incurred were still far cheaper than the additional $20 a month I would have paid for a 2 GB plan (since then T-Mobile has lowered data rates considerably). I realize that 200 MBs may see like an intolerably low amount of data to many of you, but at the time it was all I needed, and I was using my smartphone constantly.

Of course, like all smartphone users, my data hunger became more ravenous. Overage charges eventually well exceeded the cost of upgrading to the next data, and I was also sick of the fact that I couldn’t use my phone as a mobile hotspot. Today I’m a 5 GB per month customer, and ironically my typical monthly data usage is even less now than it was last year. Because I now work from home, I’m rarely ever off Wi-Fi, but in months where I travel that usage shoots well into the multi-gigabyte range.

I can understand T-Mobile’s reasoning for shutting down the 200 MB plan, though. It recently reported that its average smartphone user consumes 760 MB a month, and a customer on one of its super-fast 42-Mbps HSPA+ devices eats up a whooping 1.3 GB. At such levels, there are few smartphone users that can reasonably expect to remain under the 200 MB thresholds each and every month. The difference between the 200 MB and 2 GB plans was only $10, as well, so arguments for thriftiness go out the window.

But, it’s never good to see a carrier reduce the number of data options its customers have, especially a carrier like T-Mobile, whose reputation is built on undercutting the other carriers on price. The average consumer may have outgrown the 200 MB but I guarantee there is still a substantial minority of people out there who are either using their smartphones sparingly or fighting tooth and nail to keep as many megabytes off the cellular airwaves as possible. I should know: I was that customer just a year ago.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Alistair Scott

  1. Besides the equipment subsidies, I can’t figure out why anyone would go with T-Mobile or any other post-paid provider. Virgin Mobile offers a plan for only $45 that includes unlimited data (throttled after using 2.5 GB), unlimited texts, 1200 voice minutes, and no contract. You just have to buy your own phone.

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    1. Sidarth Dasari Friday, October 19, 2012

      Tmobile has excellent prepaid plans. I get unlimited data (throttled after 5 gigs) with unlimited texting and 100 minues. I text and call through groove ip and google voice so I never really go over my voice cap.

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    2. Virgin Mobile has awful data speeds… They use the Sprint network.

      T-Mobile HSPA+42 is some of the fastest mobile web out there. It’s available in most US cities and is cheap. Whatever stupid gauge people use to determine what ‘true 4G’ is it’s fast enough to stream HD video and that’s good enough for me. What’s not to like?

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    3. Its all about the phones now ( for the most part) and Virgin is severely hampered by the devices it offers and its ability to offer ( CDMA) so even if people want to be with Virgin they will go for Tmobile or the other Gsm Carriers due to wider selection of phones they can use with their networks.

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    4. Straight Talk FTW

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  2. I’ve always been a price sensitive shopper, and I always thought the 200 MB tier was a deal. It’s funny that my family member on VZW unlimited, who doesn’t care about data usage and is out and about a lot, rarely goes over 300 MB a month.

    The big phone companies don’t care about us, but there’s definitely a market of people who don’t now have smartphones but would gladly pay a small amount and would watch their bandwidth like a hawk to stay under this bargain basement tier.
    Last month, arstechnica had some poll, what smartphone do you own and 4.5% responded that they didn’t own one. I doubt this group would be especially profitable, but would definitely add something.

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  3. I completely agree with your perspective & I am exactly the user you describe. I have the 200 MB plan with AT&T and have NEVER gone over. I watch it like a hawk and rely on wifi at home and work. I’m pretty proud of myself lol. Anyway, I can completely relate to this article.

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  4. If you have a teenager and want to work with them on keeping within a budget. It was very difficult with default settings of ICS 4 to stay under 200Mb. However, getting rid of Amazon Store, Setting Play to Wifi, and Google + changes looks to have done the trick.

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  5. I use PagePlus and I only have 100MB of data, so I know what it is like to budget your data. With 1200 minutes, 3000 text and 100MB of data, I am really proud to say I can live with that plan and the $29.95 price!

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    1. Page Plus increased the data on this plan to 250 mb today.

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  6. Jackson Utton Tuesday, January 1, 2013

    so you work for Gigaom (this site) and they pay your cellphone bill (thats what i think your suggesting).

    wow , you must be like cheap but lucky that somebody else pays that bill.

    by the way , switch to US Cellular or Verizon or jump back to AT&T
    because T-Mobile doesn’t really cover “nationwide”.

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  7. Jackson Utton Tuesday, January 1, 2013

    oh and Sprint and Cricket Wireless (MVNO on Verizon) have unlimated plans
    and i know Cricket throttles after 1 or 2GB.

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