Unlimited Cellphone Plans: What Are You Really Paying For?

Man stares at cellphone
Photo by chainarong06 / Shutterstock.com

This post comes from partner site Whistleout.com.

There is no shortage of unlimited cellphone plans available these days, with both major and smaller carriers offering them. But, what exactly does unlimited data mean and what’s the difference between all of these unlimited plans? Here are some tips to follow when choosing an unlimited data plan to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

How fast will your data speeds be?

The main thing you need to be aware of when choosing an unlimited data plan is the speed you get with it. An unlimited data plan doesn’t necessarily mean unlimited “high-speed” data. A lot of people face this unpleasant surprise — their plan provides unlimited, but slow, data. To avoid this fate, you need to check on two things:

  • How fast your regular data speed is
  • How much guaranteed high-speed data you’ll be getting

Regular data speeds

There are some cellphone plans out there that advertise unlimited data, but actually only give you slow internet speeds. For example, Cricket Wireless has an unlimited plan that only gives you speeds of up to 3 Mbps. Make sure your unlimited data plan offers 4G data, unless you want the frustration of waiting forever for your videos to load.

Guaranteed high-speed data

Once you find a plan that does offer 4G speeds, then look for the words “deprioritization” or “reduced speeds.” Deprioritization basically means that if you use a certain amount of data within the month, your carrier may slow down your data speeds when the network is congested, giving priority to others who haven’t used as much data or are on a different plan.

Some carriers will also list their plans as unlimited, but then have fine print that reads something like “reduced speeds after 10GB.” This basically means you’re only getting 10GB of full-speed data per month, with slowed data beyond that until your billing cycle resets. Other plans state “reduced speeds may occur during times of network congestion,” which means that at any point, your data speeds may be slowed if the network is busy.

Comparing these differences, a “deprioritization” threshold is actually a good thing to have on an unlimited plan because you’re guaranteed a certain amount of high-speed data and beyond that your data will be slowed only when the network is congested.

High-Speed Data When Is Data Slowed?
Deprioritization Guaranteed amount Only after high-speed data cap is reached and only when network is congested
Reduced speeds during congestion No guaranteed amount Any time the network is congested
Reduced speeds after set usage Guaranteed amount At all times after high-speed data cap is reached

Find an unlimited plan

If you want as much high-speed data as possible, check out some of these plans with generous allotments of high-speed data each month.

Other perks and extras

If you’re stuck trying to pick an unlimited data plan, consider other extras that each plan offers. Some carriers offer things like:

  • Mobile hotspot data
  • Entertainment subscriptions (e.g., Hulu, Netflix)
  • Amazon Prime subscription
  • Free music streaming

Bottom line: Don’t pick a cellphone plan purely on price. Look for the most economical plan that covers the amount of data you need — and ensures the amount of high-speed data you want. Then consider the value of other perks offered by different service providers before you make your decision.

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