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Throttles, Caps, and Grandfathers - The State of Unlimited Data

written by: Regina Woodard•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 10/10/2011

With all of the talk of cell providers throttling their 'unlimited data plans' and with mobile technology growing, where can you find those unlimited plans that will allow you to check email, GPS, and text without getting hit with a huge bill? Are these plans ever offered anymore?

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    The Death of Unlimited

    If you're like me, your smartphone is everything when you need it to be -- MP3 player, video game console, quick access to video and email, and handy for searching the Internet or GPS for facts, restaurants, and other information. For many people, the ability to access information and data on the go is one of the reasons that choosing a cellular phone plan with an unlimited data plan is a great idea.

    Unfortunately, not all companies are offering unlimited plans; some of these plans have data caps, meaning that you can only use so much data on your contract before you are charged for every minute or kilobyte of data that's streaming through your phone or tablet. That can mean more money out of your wallet on a monthly basis.

    Don't worry -- we'll give you a guide to unlimited data plans and where you can get the best of unlimited data.

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    The Whys to Restricted Data Plans

    With mobile technologies growing as smartphones and tablets grow in popularity, more and more people are using wireless, 3G, and 4G networks for a variety of different tasks, such as email and Internet browsing. This is one of the reasons that companies like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have decided to limit their unlimited plans. Users who are using more data than the average customer should pay for the ability to continue using the plan, just at a higher price.

    It also means that those users who are using data the most, will more than likely go for the more expensive plans in order to get around the cap.

    So what do these 'caps' mean? Luckily, these caps are actually for new customers who are signing new one year or two year contracts with one of the three companies mentioned above. For those customers who have been with AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon for a number of years, 'grandfather' status is an option -- that means that they may still be able to keep their unlimited plans unchanged or their data plan is capped at a higher limit than for a new customer.

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    Unlimited Plans & Where to Find Them

    With the caps on data plans, is there any place where a new customer or even a current customer can find an unlimited plan?

    Sprint

    Sprint is currently the only cellular phone service provider that is offering unlimited data plans on all plans, which range between $69.99 and Guide to Unlimited Data Plans $99.99. These unlimited plans include unlimited texting, unlimited data, and unlimited mobile to mobile calls. They also have phones that range from free and go upwards to $600. If you're an Android platform fan, Sprint has many of the new Android phones. It has also been reported that the new iPhone 4S will be offered on an unlimited plan as well.

    Verizon

    Verizon allows for current members to pay an extra $30/monthly for unlimited data, while new users have the option of three different tiers of data plans -

    • $30 for 2 gigabytes
    • $50 for 5 gigabytes
    • $80 for 10 gigabytes

    Verizon will charge $10 for every additional gigabyte when you go over your allotted limit.

    AT&T

    AT&T is charging new users $25 for 2 gigabytes and $45 for 4 gigabytes, as well as the additional $10 for going over the allotted gigabytes assigned.

    T-Mobile

    T-Mobile doesn't cap their data plans, per se, they actually slow down the speed once a user reaches above 5 gigabytes of data. This means that if you're using your phone for any type of streaming, the amount of time that you would normally receive is reduced considerably.

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    A Guide on Choosing a Data Plan

    How does someone choose a data plan for their brand new phone?

    It really depends on whether you are already with a cell carrier or not. If you have been a customer of one of the above providers, changing phones shouldn't disrupt your plan and you should be able to keep your deal even if you switch plans (always check first). However, depending on the phone, you might pay an additional fee for using one of the 3G or 4G networks -- for instance, at the beginning of 2011, Sprint began charging customers a $10 fee for phones that would be using one or both of those networks.

    As a new user, however, choosing a data plan and a carrier is all dependant on how much data you think you will use. On average, for both users of AT&T and Verizon, they only use 2 GB or less of data per month. This is usually just watching videos through YouTube or maybe checking their route by using GPS and Google maps.

    If you plan on using lots of data, such as checking email, watching movies through Hulu or Netflix, or even tethering, you're going to probably be a heavy user. In those cases, Sprint, for the moment, will be a better choice, however, if you're like the above users who only use data in certain situations, then one of the other companies should suffice.

    These of course aren't the only plans that you can choose from; many pre-paid options allow for unlimited data plans, however, these may also have restrictions. The best way is to do the research for all the companies and choose the one that fits you and your lifestyle. Just bear in mind that even a plan that is described as unlimited often has limits.

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