Image courtesy of Droid-Life
What drives me nuts about mobile carriers these days is that I truly believe they are using new technology against us. Maybe you think I’m out of my mind, but it’s really easy to see the common trend happening with 3 of the 4 big carriers in the US. As mobile broadband and equipment evolve, our data plans seem to reverse direction and impose some serious and costly limitations. If I remember correctly in the past before smartphones were big, you could use all the data you wanted. But let’s remember the hardware was not nearly as advanced and you really weren’t streaming anything over a mobile device. Every carrier right now has some sort of slogan or campaign to let you know they have the fastest 4G/LTE/HSDPA on the market, and that they are bringing it to you at the lowest cost. It doesn’t take extensive research to show that most of the time you are actually getting snowed by these big carriers, and that faster speeds simply means you are going to hit your data cap way faster than ever before.
I do realize that there are many different scenarios out there depending if you are grandfathered from an earlier plan, if you have a family plan, and if you get some kind of club or corporate discount. I am strictly speaking of pricing as of the market today and currently what is available.
I took a look at all 4 carriers and tried to figure out who really has the best 4G deal. To keep it fair, I am basing this all on a 2GB data plan, I will take messaging into account as well as voice, but mostly what I am interested in right now is data. Almost every carrier has had a major plan change in the past few months. Some are less destructive than others but almost all of them do not benefit the consumer over what they used to have. I just wanted to put down some information I found out while searching out carriers that have a healthy high-speed data plan at a price that reflects todays economy.
“to any mobile” is the keyword at the end
As the commercial says, Sprint holds the title as the least data hoarding carrier. They are the only ones who truly has unlimited, un-throttled and fully open 4G data that you can use all you want for the standard monthly rate. Sprint does tack on an extra $10 fee for “smartphones”, but that still means you can have “Everything Data” at the lowest price of $80. That’s not too shabby and I’ll pin that up as the best data deal you can get right now. Basically it’s true unlimited data, at the lowest cost. On top of that the plan has unlimited messaging and unlimited mobile to mobile, any mobile and not just Sprint. The 450 minutes included in the plan are for mobile to landline, so in regards to total package, this pretty much cannot be touched.
- Sprint bottom line: $80 = 450 Minutes (mobile to any mobile free) + Unlimited 4G Data + Unlimited Text
Verizon made the announcement today that they finally flipped the official LTE switch. This mean that anyone with a LTE chipped phone, in a good coverage area should get some pretty amazing data speeds. And after seeing some tests posted up on the web, LTE is quite fast and clearly the future. So what’s the catch? You are going to pay quite a bit to big Red for this service. Keeping with our baseline, 2GB of data, 450 minutes, and unlimited messaging. The total bill is going to be to the tune of $90 before taxes, and the little snippet at the bottom of the page says that 2 & 4GB data plans are not eligible for discount. Not sure what that means but I have confirmed with some here at work that the corporate discount does still work for the total bill.
After running through the purchase of a LTE phone, the plan actually had a confusing discount on the messaging, so it dropped down to $80 just like the Sprint plan. The only real difference is that you are limited to 2GB of data a month as opposed to unlimited. I saw no extra charge for LTE, and the messaging discount could limit SMS messages, but for the most part if you don’t use more than 2GB of data, only call people on Verizon, and have some good coverage, Verizon is not quite as bad as I thought. The problem is that the data is still quite pricey and you pay a $10 per GB overage as soon as you peak that 2GB mark. I will note though that Verizon also has many other data plans available, but the of course at an increased cost as the amount goes up. Unlimited is not an option, the top data tier without the hotspot is 10GB for $80 a month.
- Verizon bottom line: $90 = $450 Minutes + 2GB LTE Data ( $10/per GB overage) + Unlimited Text
This carrier is probably the most puzzling for me. Short of 24/7 perfect service I cannot understand why anyone putting data through smartphone would ever choose this network. Like I said before, older plans that are carried over do not apply, I just mean those who would switch over or start a new plan as of now. Surprisingly AT&T comes in slightly under budget to Verizon on an identical plan. The same 450 minutes, true unlimited messaging, and 2GB of 4G data comes to a total of $85. That’s overall is not too bad but what Verizon now tops with is true 4G. AT&T pretty botched the few attempts to get LTE running and now has it slated for later in the year and continuing through 2012. With their plans of taking over T-Mobile in the US they state claim to have 97% of the country covered in high-speed data. But that will take 6 years to complete according to the FCC.
AT&T has hard enough time trying to keep 3G together due to the heavy usage of iPhone’s, 4G will certainly take some time to put into play. So the minimum amount of 4G devices available on a ghost 4G network is not too enticing for the heavy data user. Although iPhone users may say otherwise, there is certainly some better choices for smartphone users that require fast and heavy data usage. I can’t speak too much because if AT&T has their way, I may be under the mercy of the Dark Side for the remainder of my contract with T-Mobile/AT&T. I’m probably going to jump ship before that happens, but you never know what the future holds here. For now, AT&T is close to on par with pricing for a limited plan, but certainly does not carry the speed to back it up.
Update: As of August 21, AT&T made some drastic changes to data plans. The $5 and $15 dollar Text plans have been completely cut out, so now you have the unlmited or pay-per-text plan to choose from. This makes your text bill either $20 for individual plans or $30 for family. This may or may not be enough to force you to go elsewhere, but I can tell you that limiting options usually does not have a good effect on customers. For those of us that don’t hit a monthly “supertexter” status, saving a few bucks was worth it, now it’s either all or nothing.
- AT&T bottom line: $85 = 450 Minutes + 2GB 4G(when it works) Data ( $10/per GB overage) + Unlimited Text
The mighty magenta is the GSM underdog here and obviously my choice solely because my contract now lies here. On the upside T-Mobile has some pricing and plan features that put them close to on par with Sprint, and much more enticing than Verizon and AT&T. Now the obvious is that coverage probably is not near the size of the other two giants, but if you live in a T-Mobile area, you have a good chance of saving some cash over the rest. T-Mobile recently made some pretty big changes to plans, and like the rest I don’t think did too many customers any good. Before the patent wars of 2011, carriers used to poke fun at each other about 4G. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ was really not technically 4G, but after the change of heart by the FCC, it is now considered 4G based on the official change of description. T-mobile has quite a few 4G cities and since the 42Mbps network lit up a few weeks ago, one of the fastest. Now this does not mean that you have the hardware to accomplish this, but it does mean that different phones can equally benefit from the backend network.
Unlike LTE, HSPA+ can aid in maximizing 3G phones as well as 4G, but you can still only go as fast as your hardware allows. So as far as speeds go, if you live in a T-Mobile friendly city, you can easily get 5-8Mbps on a phone that supports it, and much faster on those with newer compatible chipsets. So what is it going to cost you to set up a T-Mobile smartphone? The almost industry standard $80 applies here too. T-Mobile does kick it up a little though by offering Unlimited everything including talk, text, and data. The only catch to this plan is that after 2GB of 4G data usage, you will get throttled down to Edge speeds. If you keep under your 2GB of data then you have nothing to worry about, otherwise pony up $10 more for 5GB of 4G data. Either way this is truly unlimited, just not unlimited at 4G speed, but be rest assured that you still pay no overage no matter how much you use. (The 200MB plan now includes overage fees, I just left that out due to the fact that we were discussing 2GB and higher plans.)
T-Mobile bottom line: $80 = Unlimited Minutes + Unlmited Data (2GB of 4G) + Unlimited Text
What works for you…
So which is the best provider as far as super high-speed data goes? Well, no answer works for everyone, so you have to pick which works best for you. Sprint and T-Mobile definitely Have the edge over the two larger companies when going strictly by the numbers because, for the same money, you remove most restrictions and limitations The giants have. Both Sprint and T-Mobile have some minor restrictions but T-Mobile is truly the only unlimited all around at this cost. Sprint’s only holdup is that voice is limited to 450 minutes if you call land lines during the day Neither AT&T or Verizon even offer the possibility of having unlimited data anymore, it simply does not exist. T-Mobile allows you to talk, text, and surf as much as your heart desires for under $100. Sprint is close behind but has a few limitations that I cannot give the unlimited title too unless you go with a higher cost plan. If neither of those carriers work for you then I would have to edge out Verizon over AT&T. They are basically the same price, and offer almost the same restrictions, but I think Verizon has better coverage that AT&T (at least in my area). I like Verizon also in terms to data because I like that they offer the ability to purchase higher usage plans and that they as of now have LTE in over half the nation.
I expect carriers to continue changing plans and sticking it to the customer. But whole reason I took the time to look up this information is to try to understand my own argument of how data can get faster, when all the carriers do is reduce the amount of data you can use. Makes no sense, it’s almost like new technology only get’s you to your cap faster than it did before. To what benefit is that to the consumer. The entire planet is now steaming everything, every commercial shows you how you can watch live TV, or catch up on Netflix, stream music over 1 of a million services but the bottom line is how long does all that digital goodness last until you end up owing more money? Sprint is the only one that I could effectively start streaming Netflix on the first of the month, and stream all the way through until the last day and not pay a cent more or get throttled down in speed.
Of course this is only true to new contracts on all carriers, but I would imagine they stipulations, charges, tiered rates, and data throttling will only get worse. It angers me to see all these great new cloud based streaming products for mobiles devices, but as far as broadband goes no real way to enjoy them without paying a price. If I had to choose I would pick a 4G worth capped speed with unlimited data over ridiculous speed with limited usage. What good are all those services if you don’t have enough data on your plan to use them. WiFi is great when you have it and it’s free, but the few places that happens is usually at home where I really don’t need all those services on a mobile device. Maybe this little rant makes no sense to you but I say if you are going to have some super high-speed mobile data, then you need to figure out a way that I can actually use it.
My bottom line? For almost $1200 a year, the customer should be able to use 4G for all its streaming goodness without worrying about costly and crippling data limitations.
Feel free to post your thoughts below.