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T-Mobile Puts the Asterisk in Unlimited* Data Plans

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T-Mobile today announced new smartphone contract rate plans that increase in price based on the number of voice minutes and the amount of 4G mobile broadband data a customer wants in a given month. Customers can go over their 4G broadband limit, but the carrier will then deliver data at slower speeds for the remainder of the month. The operator also launched no-contract plans called Monthly4G that offer unlimited talk, text and web access starting at $50 and follow the same tiered data approach as the contract plans; once customers hit their data limit, access speeds will be throttled down.

The least expensive contract plan, which includes 500 voice minutes, unlimited messages and just 200 MB of fast data access is now priced at $59.99. Heavy data users can bump up their monthly mobile broadband limit to 2-, 5- or 10 GB of data for additional costs; the 10 GB plan in that case is 109.99 per month. The carrier continues to call such data plans unlimited, which is technically correct, since data access is not shut off. However, I suspect consumers will be upset if they choose the wrong data plan and hit their limit earlier than expected, forcing them to see lower data speeds.

Data tiers may be the sticking point for many consumers as we’re using our phones more for apps and web browsing than for voice in most cases. And T-Mobile recently modified its Wi-Fi calling terms, which can help reduce the number of voice minutes a consumer needs. Instead of Wi-Fi calls counting against monthly minutes, they’re now free on qualified plans.

To a degree, I think T-Mobile is playing loose with the term unlimited, because it’s unlimited with an asterisk. Even the carrier’s own blog makes note of that: Just last month, a new plan was introduced and T-Mobile put together an infographic that focused on the company’s “truly unlimited” plans. Note the asterisk and caveat about the slower speeds:

Again, T-Mobile isn’t limiting the amount of data it will provide a paying customer. Instead, this approach is a slight twist on a traditional tiered data plan and has been in place since last April for some plans. However, I wonder how many customers fail to see the asterisk once they see the word unlimited. Ultimately, I’d prefer to have full speeds and simply pay for the data I use, but the industry, at least in the U.S., is moving towards tiered data buckets. Some of those buckets have asterisks, and some don’t.

Image courtesy of Flickr user, san_drino

9 Responses to “T-Mobile Puts the Asterisk in Unlimited* Data Plans”

  1. Jeff Boothe

    Sprints unlimited everything plan, which I have 5 phones on, only limits you calling land lines (unlimited to every cell). I have 1500 minutes and with the 5 phones I haven’t broken 500 minutes. I love this plan. If they change to tier I will drop them, period. I will go to pay as you go and be done.

  2. it will be interesting if the heaviest users select the minimum plan since they know they will be throttled down most of the time anyways. so why not have consistency instead of a tease at the start of each month.

    what about existing customers? are they grandfathered into the old FUP?

  3. The ability to violate Moore’s law with impunity should make us ask what is wrong. We’ve seen hypergrowth in markets such as those that separate transport from services (or software from hardware). Why do we continue to have a Regulatorium (the FCC) that actively prevents such generativity? (

    At least removing the charge for UMA is a step forward.

  4. Stuart

    I prefer a slower speed than a hard stop at the limit or huge overage charges. I like the idea of the prepaid monthly plans which allow you to change your allotment monthly so if you need more or need less you can still get it. It also doesn’t indicate that tethering is an option on the monthly plans so maybe it’s included if you get the right phone :) There is actually a good amount of saving on the prepaid plan which can help people who don’t want to buy a subsidized device.

  5. marbo100

    If you login to, the Even More and Even More Plus plans are still available to existing customers. The Data part of the plans are marked with an asterisk but the limits are not defined on the page.

  6. Well Sprint could say their all unlimited plan is $69 (with an asterisk) lower than the other Major carriers as you get unlimited mobile to mobile calls at the $69 price plan along with unlimited txt & data.

  7. It’s not unlimited if the user has to pay more to use more. If they want to cal it unlimited, it should not matter what the amount reaches, and the charged dollar amount should not change.

    Also, unlimited would not require any carryover bucket of data from one month to the next. The monthly statement would exist only to show the user what he used the data for and when he used it.

    Now, where’s my Android Gingerbread?

  8. koolereye

    I was fortunate enough to buy my first iPhone when AT&T still offered unlimited data and I’m currently grandfathered in with my iPhone 4. This is one of the perks of an early iPhone user but if AT&T ever drops that option or moves it to a throttled service like T-Mobile is doing then I would probably begin looking more closely at an Android phone. Some folks may not like Apple or AT&T but it would be extremely difficult for me give up my current unlimited plan.

  9. Mukesh Aggarwal

    What a tier allows a carrier to do is to have their cake and eat it too.
    If it was truly per byte billing then a user would pay for exactly the data they use. However with a a tier in place, a user pays for the full cap of data whether he uses it or not. In fact user has to try hard to stay ‘below’ the limit in order to not pay overages. This is same with cell phone minutes.
    I don’t mind per byte billing but it has to be true per byte billing, not a bit bucket which forces me to pay in full but use less than max.