Blog Post

How T-Mobile’s roaming data caps would affect you

Stay on Top of Emerging Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Tmo News has it that T-Mobile is about to restrict roaming data usage to cut down on the amount of packets its customers consume when off the carrier’s networks. If true, the new restrictions could affect a lot of T-Mobile’s customers, though the size of the impact on each customer may be small.

Like every other operator, T-Mobile uses a combination of its own and other operators’ networks to provide nationwide coverage, which in T-Mobile’s case means 96 percent of the U.S. population. But T-Mobile is also the smallest of the U.S. national carriers and has the smallest in-house network, meaning it relies more heavily on roaming than its competitors. While T-Mobile has filled in its metro market footprint extensively much of the vast areas in between cities and towns lack the carrier’s infrastructure.

For customers that work in a city but commute in from the countryside, or for road warriors who make extensive use of the nation’s highways, this could have a big impact. Not only will their data at home be capped at between 10 MB and 200 MB a month, depending on their data plans, but they would have no option to boost their monthly allotment once they hit their caps, according to Tmo News – their data service would simply stop until they re-entered T-Mobile coverage or a new billing cycle kicked in.

That said, these customers weren’t exactly getting great data service in the first place. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ networks are confined to its own footprint, and while some of its partners have 3G networks, they don’t necessarily sell T-Mobile access to them. Once leaving T-Mobile’s coverage footprint, most customers usually can tap mere 2G speeds: GPRS or, at best, EDGE. Trying to use a smartphone with dial-up modem speeds is often an exercise in futility.

Still, a lot of customers have probably come to rely on those 2G roaming networks for basic connectivity when outside of the T-Mobile footprint. The operator has given them some leeway in their caps, but you can easily eat up 10 MB in about 30 minutes with a 30 kbps connection.

T-Mobile currently doesn’t distinguish between its own networks and those of its roaming partners on its coverage maps. If these new caps go into affect, though, it will have to.

9 Responses to “How T-Mobile’s roaming data caps would affect you”

  1. Patrick V.

    I’m a long haul truck driver and while I was worried that I’d be adversely affected by this, a closer look I found that I’m really not. For instance, I use the majority of my data when parked and 95% of the time I’m parked within the Tmobile native network anyways. Plus my typical travel lanes have really good native coverage, the exception being between Midland, TX and El Paso, TX which is my home base. I’m usually roaming off AT&T or that horrible Cellular ONE network that Verizon manages which gives lackluster voice coverage and almost no data connection, despite having 5 bars of GPRS. lately I’ve had no roaming period between Fabens, TX and Van Horn, TX. The Cellular ONE network I usually roam off of doesn’t even show up in a network search (AT&T, and Movistar/Telcel do when I’m close enough to Mexico), which makes me wonder if they’ve taken that network offline.

  2. Nathanael Westbrook

    Here is the full copy of the notice from T-Mobile I Received from them this Morning being a Long-Haul Truck Driver this is not going to work

    QuoteImportant Notice about Domestic Data Use While Off the T-Mobile Network

    Beginning on April 5, 2012 there will be a limit on the amount of data that can be used while a T-Mobile customer’s device is connected to another provider’s network (“off network” or “domestic romaing”). Customers that are domestically roaming will receive free text message usage alerts for data. If the roaming data limit is exceeded for a Rate Plan, then data service will be suspended from off-network roaming until the start of the next bill cycle or a qualifying change is made to the Rate Plan. This will not impact: (1) voice usage, and (2) data usage on the T-Mobile network.
    To determine domestic roaming areas, see the T-Mobile data coverage map by visiting The domestic roaming data allowance for each Rate Plan is outlined in the chart below. To use this chart, review the Current Rate Plan Full Speed Data Allotment column to identify the megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB) included in your Rate Plan, and then see the domestic roaming data usage limit that applies on the right. The megabytes of gigabytes for a Rate Plan can often be found by reviewing the Available Service section on page 1 of the bill (ex: Classic Simple 200MB Data Promo) or by dialing #WEB# send from your mobile phone.

    Current Rate Plan Full Speed Data Allotment New Domestic Off Network (Romaing) Data Limit
    1MB to 199MB 5MB
    200MB to 1.99GB 10MB
    2GB to 4.99GB 50MB
    5GB to 9.99GB 100MB
    10GB and above 200MB
    Mobile Web Pay Per Use 10MB

    Off-network data use may occur even when you are within the T-Mobile coverage area. See for directions on how to update device settings to avoid domestic roaming and for more information about this notice. Review Sections 3-5 of T-Mobile’s Terms and Conditions available at for information on your rights (which may include early service cancellation) as a T-Mobile customer. Please retain a copy of this notice for your records. © 2012 T-Mobile USA, Inc.

  3. William Diaz ✔

    Lets also not forget that T-Mobile is not allowed to modify your contract in a way that materially impacts the customer, ie. adding services to a plan automatically forcing a customer to pay more, changing services in a plan forcing a customer to pay more, taking away services in a plan and forcing a customer to pay more or the same as previously, changing the terms of where and when a customer can use their phone for the services they pay.
    While T-Mobile has a right to change agreements in roaming, they do not have the right to change your contract in a way that materially affects you. And if they do, per T-Mobile’s own contract information – “YOU MAY CANCEL THE AFFECTED LINE OF SERVICE WITHOUT AN EARLY TERMINATION FEE IF WE MATERIALLY DECREASE THE SERVICE ALLOTMENTS WE AGREED TO PROVIDE TO YOU FOR YOUR MONTHLY RECURRING CHARGE” Service allotments are calculated and implied as data and voice being able to be used over the entire network, roaming or not.
    T-Mobile further states “12.* Roaming and International Calling. Roaming: Your Device may connect to another provider’s network (“Off-Net”) even when you are within the T-Mobile coverage area. Check your Device to determine if you are Off-Net. There may be extra Charges (including long distance, tolls, data usage) and higher rates for Off-Net usage, depending on your Rate Plan, and your quality and availability of service may vary significantly. You must use your Device predominantly within the T-Mobile owned network coverage area. If your Off-Net domestic voice usage, data usage or messaging usage exceeds your Rate Plan Allotment, you will be alerted and your access to Off-Net coverage may be suspended or denied. We may also limit or terminate your Service in our discretion and without prior notice if you no longer reside in a T-Mobile-owned network coverage area, if more than 50% of your voice and/or data usage is Off-Net for any three billing cycles within any 12 month period, if your Off-Net usage makes it uneconomical for T-Mobile to provide Service to you, or if related to T-Mobile’s arrangements with an Off-Net provider.”
    Meaning that with this new change, they completely change the terms from 50% of your voice/data usage during 3 consecutive months in a 12 month period, to immediately disconnecting anyone who goes over a set amount. Unfortunately in many states, T-Mobile isnt even allowed to do this or change the terms and conditions to reflect this type of materially adverse change without letting those out of contract, simply because if the terms and conditions to the contract change, and only one party agrees, and the other does not, the contract is not legal and can not be upheld and the original contract MUST legally be upheld or broken without termination/remorse fees and charges.

    Just a thought.

    • Nathanael Westbrook

      T-Mobiles Fine print and the end of my Notice they sent me: “Off-network data use may occur even when you are within the T-Mobile coverage area. See for directions on how to update device settings to avoid domestic roaming and for more information about this notice. Review Sections 3-5 of T-Mobile’s Terms and Conditions available at for information on your rights (which may include early service cancellation) as a T-Mobile customer. Please retain a copy of this notice for your records. © 2012 T-Mobile USA, Inc.”

  4. Lisandro Acosta

    “T-Mobile currently doesn’t distinguish between its own networks and those of its roaming partners on its coverage maps” NOT TRUE.. all data roaming areas are in grey… click on data coverage on the same map…

  5. T-Mobile does actually distinguish between its native coverage and roaming on its online coverage map. However, you must zoom in to nearly the closest level before it is revealed.

  6. Very interesting article. A few yrs ago I had a Jacksonville, FL based t-mobile phone but moved to Maine for a year. The tmobile network still worked great (despite roaming non-stop) for service and data. I really liked their prices and customer service, despite only having a few retail stores in the area. A little after a year, I moved to Boston and my phone would not work (I carried no outstanding balance). After visiting two retail stores and speaking with two different managers, I was finally able to figure out why my phone wasn’t functioning- I was apparently kicked off the tmobile network for being an “extreme roamer”. That penalty voids your current contract and bans you for 5 yrs from tmobile. Now I just wish verizon had that clause too.

  7. Stephen M

    This new restriction seems to be just like Sprint’s.
    Their Unlimited data is only for ON network usage, off network is limited to 300mb..although I’m not sure what happens if you go over… I do know if you always go over, each and ever month, then Sprint will terminate your contract….

    The odd thing is, Sprint is actually reducing coverage(a large portion of KS and OK are being removed )

    • William Diaz ✔

      Sprint has some options for the excessive roamer in you.
      1. 300MB Off-Network Roaming can be exceeded and Sprint will
      A.)Allow you to go over and notify you if you do it consecutively month after month as a warning. Usually 1-3 months.
      B.)Contact you about moving to a plan that enforces pay-per-roaming charges, this will include a voice plan that also forces you to pay per minute roaming.
      C.)Automatically charge you $0.25 per KB (NOT MB, but KB) data roaming rate
      D.)Send 30 Day Termination Notice and allow you to port to a carrier that better meets your needs in roaming areas.

      The irony here, is that my particular Sprint plan shows I have 3G DATA ROAMING – UNLIMITED. So I would definitely fight Sprint, and Id win if I sued them in a court for termination or charges pertaining to me going over 300MB.