A fond farewell to T-Mobile’s 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

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