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Are We Moving Beyond “Unlimited” Plans With 2G Speeds?

For a few years, it’s been common for cell carriers to label phone plans as “unlimited” while capping the amount of full-speed data subscribers can use each month. On these “unlimited” plans, subscribers that run out of full-speed data are often throttled to a maximum speed of 128kbps (sometimes called “2G speeds”).

I’ve been critical of carriers calling these plans unlimited. In a pedantic sense, it’s not true. If a service imposes throttling after a certain number of gigabytes of data use, there’s an absolute limit on the amount of data that can be used each month. More importantly, “unlimited” plans that throttle to 2G speeds don’t allow subscribers to use the internet in a roughly normal way once they run out of full-speed data. 128kbps is extremely sluggish for many activities. A lot of web pages won’t just load slowly but will time out and fail to load altogether. Video streaming, even at 240p (a low resolution), won’t work.

Fortunately, the cellular industry seems to be moving towards less aggressive throttling on unlimited plans. Here are a few example of carriers’ throttling policies for heavy users:

  • Boost: 500kbps
  • US Mobile: 1Mbps
  • Google Fi: 256kbps
  • Xfinity Mobile: 1.5Mbps download (750kbps upload)

Google Fi’s 256kbps throttle has been around for a while. It’s still too aggressive to allow for what I’d consider more-or-less normal internet surfing, but it’s still a huge improvement over the 128kbps standard. Xfinity Mobile’s 1.5Mbps cap isn’t bad at all. While downloading huge files or streaming 4K video won’t be pleasant, speeds will be passable for most things people use their phones for.

I’m pretty sure both US Mobile and Boost came out with their current throttling policies in 2021. I wonder if we’ll see more carriers move beyond 128kbps throttles in 2022.

6 thoughts to “Are We Moving Beyond “Unlimited” Plans With 2G Speeds?”

    1. I agree it’s great Visible doesn’t throttle its unlimited plans!

      In this post, I’m focusing on the sort of throttling done on “unlimited” plans offered by MVNOs. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and brands they own (e.g., Visible, Cricket, Metro) have been offering unlimited plans w/o throttles after a certain amount of data use.

      1. Based on what I have read here. Is it no more sensible to drop Verizon for Visible?
        I must use a mobile hotspot and the Verizon UNLIMITED premium plus plan is spendy at 125 a month. Always out of data and then I cant work and stream simultaneously at times. Always buffering.
        Verizon owns Visible so what is the difference?

        1. Hi Steven,

          Data with Visible’s plan will be low-priority by default. During periods of congestion, speeds may be slower than speeds experienced by other users on the network. Most of Verizon’s own plans include some “Premium Data” which can lead to better speeds during congestion.

          Visible also places some constraints on hotspot use. Speeds via hotspot/tethering may be capped to 5Mbps and only one device at a time can be connected.

  1. It needs to be pointed out that hotspot limitations can be avoided by using software based solutions such as Foxfi. This is why I’ve never understood limiting hotspot data; it only works for the unsophisticated. It’s an idiot tax, in effect.

    1. “Idiot tax” is harsh. There’s plenty of reasons not to have a sophisticated knowledge of phones besides idiocy.

      Beyond that, working around limitations like those on hotspot use typically violates terms of service agreements. I’m not going to tell you how to behave, but I’m also not going to advocate violating TOS agreements.

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