The Limits of ‘Unlimited’ Data Plans

We’ve all seen the advertisements wireless carriers run for unlimited data cell phone plans. In some shape or form, most major wireless carriers have offered an unlimited data plan to their customers, but there may be hidden limitations or restrictions that redefine the word “unlimited.”

Major wireless providers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint have all made attempts to limit the amount of data their customers can use, including the use of data usage caps. For example, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint cap their unlimited data users at 23GB per month, and the price for going over that limit reaches beyond their monthly bill.

Unlimited users who exceed this data cap face significantly slower download speeds due to the wireless companies prioritizing other data users over the heavier users. Some AT&T customers have even experienced slower speeds for an average of 12 days, which may not seem like much time, but consider that it’s about half a billing cycle. These speeds can be so slow that they can affect the usage of map services and streaming video.

As of 2015, most wireless carriers don’t offer unlimited data plans to new customers, but those who are grandfathered in to older plans may start to feel the data squeeze more than ever. A few years ago, Verizon event attempted to throttle 4G speeds for unlimited customers, but thankfully these plans have been abandoned.

Whether you’re currently in a limited or unlimited data plan, there are steps you can take to reduce the amount of data you use per billing cycle.

When in doubt, Wi-Fi
Try your hardest to take advantage of Wi-Fi or hotspots whenever possible. A large number of wireless companies also provide hotspots that you can sign into automatically, but they can require additional configuration.

It’s also important to note that Apple mobile products running on OSX 9 come with a feature called Wi-Fi assist that can eat up data. When Wi-Fi assist is enabled, your phone will automatically supplement a Wi-Fi connection with cellular data if it detects the network is weak. If you want to be data conscious, you might consider turning this feature off.

Find the right plan for you
If you find yourself using massive amounts of data, you may want to consider looking at the providers that still offer unlimited data plans. Take stock of the pros and cons of each plan, including the cost per month, penalties, restrictions, and data caps. If you find yourself coming nowhere close to using 23GB of data a month, you may want to consider a limited data plan that fits your needs instead.

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