Quality of service class identifiers (also called QCI values) indicate how traffic is handled on LTE networks.1 Without getting too technical, QCI values indicate a priority level for mobile traffic during periods of congestion.
Most data use is associated with QCI values between 6 and 9. In that range, lower QCI values are associated with higher priority service on a given network.
Some services, like voice calls and IMS signaling, may be associated with QCIs below 6. Sub-6 QCIs usually confer extra high priority and guaranteed bit rates. For in-the-weeds details about QCI values, see the 3GPP publication on Policy and charging control architecture.
Observed QCI Values
Huge thanks to Stetson Doggett of BestPhonePlans.net for sharing a bunch of results.
- Unlimited Starter – QCI 9
- Unlimited Extra – QCI 8
- Unlimited Elite – QCI 7
After running through my allotment of Premium Data on the Unlimited Extra plan, data use transitioned to being associated with a QCI of 9. I expect a similar transition occurs for subscribers on the Unlimited Elite plan.
- Unlimited Plus – QCI 8
- Limited-data plan – QCI 8
- Unlimited More – QCI 9
- PureTalk – QCI 8
- Essentials – QCI 6
- Magenta – QCI 6
- Connect – QCI 6
- Flexible – QCI 6
- Simply Unlimited – QCI 6
- Mint Mobile – QCI 7
- Start Unlimited – QCI 9
- Play More Unlimited – QCI 8
- Do More Unlimited – QCI 8
- Get More Unlimited – QCI 8
After running through my allotment of Premium Data on the Play More Unlimited plan, regular data use was associated with a QCI of 9. I expect the same transition occurs for subscribers on the Do More Unlimited and Get More Unlimited plans.
- Unlimited Intro – QCI 9
- Unlimited Plus – QCI 9
- Unlimited Premium – QCI 8
- By-the-gig plans – QCI 8
Along with myself and Stetson, several folks have shred QCI test results online:
- Boost (AT&T) – QCI 9 [claim]
- Consumer Cellular – QCI 8 [claim]
- PureTalk – QCI 8 [claim]
- SafeLink (AT&T) – QCI 9 [claim]
- Total Wireless – QCI 8 [claim]
Priority On Other Plans
Elsewhere, I share my expectations about a priority levels for a wider set of plans. My expectations draw on a combination of what I’ve learned from QCI tests, disclosures in legal documents, and conversations with industry experts.
Standardized QCI characteristics
The following table is a modified and abbreviated version of what appears in the 3GPP standards. Carriers don’t necessarily use QCI values is a way that’s consistent with the standards.4
|QCI||Resource Type||Priority Level||Packet Delay Budget||Packet Error Loss Rate||Example Services|
|1||Guaranteed Bit Rate (GBR)||2||100 ms||10-2||Conversational Voice|
|2||GBR||4||150 ms||10-3||Conversational Video (Live Streaming)|
|3||GBR||3||50 ms||10-3||Real Time Gaming; V2X messages|
|4||GBR||5||300 ms||10-6||Non-Conversational Video (Buffered Streaming)|
|65||GBR||0.7||75 ms||10-2||Mission Critical user plane Push To Talk voice (e.g., MCPTT)|
|66||GBR||2||100 ms||10-2||Non-Mission-Critical user plane Push To Talk voice|
|67||GBR||1.5||100 ms||10-3||Mission Critical Video user plane|
|75||GBR||2.5||50 ms||10-2||V2X messages|
|5||Non-GBR||1||100 ms||10-6||IMS Signalling|
|6||Non-GBR||6||300 ms||10-6||Video (Buffered Streaming); TCP-based (e.g., www, e-mail, chat, ftp, p2p file sharing, progressive video, etc.)|
|7||Non-GBR||7||100 ms||10-3||Voice; Video (Live Streaming); Interactive Gaming|
|8||Non-GBR||8||300 ms||10-6||Video (Buffered Streaming); TCP-based (e.g., www, e-mail, chat, ftp, p2p file sharing, progressive video, etc.)|
|9||Non-GBR||9||300 ms||10-6||Same as above|
|69||Non-GBR||0.5||60 ms||10-6||Mission Critical delay sensitive signalling (e.g., MC-PTT signalling, MC Video signalling)|
|70||Non-GBR||5.5||200 ms||10-6||Mission Critical Data (e.g. example services are the same as QCI 6/8/9)|
|79||Non-GBR||6.5||50 ms||10-2||V2X messages|
|80||Non-GBR||6.8||10 ms||10-6||Low latency eMBB applications (TCP/UDP-based); Augmented Reality|
Further Notes On QCI Values
- The consequences of a service’s QCI value will depend on the QCI values of other services operating on the same network. While a QCI of 7 appears indicative of high-priority data on AT&T’s network, a QCI of 7 appears indicative of relatively low-priority data on T-Mobile’s network.
- Network operators might broadcast QCI values that aren’t accurate.5
- I expect T-Mobile reserves a QCI of 8 for mobile hotspot use, but I haven’t confirmed that in a test.
- Mechanisms similar to QCI values exists for 5G networks. I’m hoping to eventually update this page with more information about prioritization on 5G networks.
Carriers using AT&T’s network (expanded)
I found a QCI of 9 for regular data use on AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan on 8/31/2020.
Stetson Doggett confirmed this result in 2021.
I found a QCI of 8 for regular data use on the Unlimited Extra plan on 9/2/2020. Stetson Doggett confirmed this result in 2021. I ran the test when I had Premium Data available.
On 11/11/2020, I ran a test when I no longer had Premium Data available. I found a QCI of 9 for regular data use.
I found a QCI of 7 for regular data use on the Unlimited Elite plan on 11/13/2020. I had Premium Data available when I ran the test.
Stetson Doggett confirmed this result in 2021.
Prepaid Unlimited Plus
In the middle of 2021, Stetson Doggett found a QCI of 8 on the Prepaid Unlimited Plus plan.
I found a QCI of 8 for regular data use on a non-unlimited Cricket plan on 5/17/2020.
In 2021, Stetson Doggett confirmed this result and found a QCI of 9 on Cricket’s Unlimited More plan.
In May 2021, Stetson Doggett found a QCI of 8 with PureTalk. Reddit user u/uwroomitup corroborated in 2022. I don’t know what plan was used in either test.
Reddit user u/uwroomitup found a QCI of 8 on an unknown plan in 2022.
Reddit user u/uwroomitup found a QCI of 9 on an unknown plan in 2022.
In early 2022, Reddit user Ethrem reported a QCI of 9 for SafeLink on AT&T’s network.
Carriers using T-Mobile’s network (expanded)
I found a QCI of 7 for regular data use on a T-Mobile Essentials plan on 9/3/2020.
In October 2022, Stetson Doggett ran another test and found a QCI of 6.
I found a QCI value of 6 for regular data use on a T-Mobile Connect plan on 5/14/2020.
I found a QCI value of 6 for regular data use on T-Mobile’s Magenta plan on 11/11/2020.
Stetson Doggett found a QCI of 6 on the Magenta Plus plan in late 2020. The Magenta Plus plan was replaced by Magenta MAX plan, so it’s not listed above. I expect the Magenta MAX plan is also QCI 6.
I found a QCI value of 7 for regular data use with Mint Mobile’s service on 9/17/2019.
Stetson Doggett found a QCI of 7 on a Tello plan in early 2021.
I found a QCI value of 6 for regular data use on Fi’s service on 9/17/2019.6
In April 2022, Stetson Doggett found a QCI of 6 with Fi’s Flexible plan. Around May 2022, he found a QCI of 6 on Fi’s Simply Unlimited plan.
Carriers using Verizon’s network (expanded)
In early 2021, Stetson Doggett found a QCI of 9 on the Start Unlimited plan.
Play More Unlimited
I found a QCI of 8 for regular data use on the Play More Unlimited plan on 7/2/2020. I had not used up my Premium Data allowance when I ran the test.
After running through my Premium Data, I found a QCI of 9 on 7/3/2020.
Do More Unlimited
I found a QCI of 8 for regular data use on the Do More Unlimited plan on 9/2/2020. I had Premium Data available when I ran the test.
Get More Unlimited
I found a QCI of 8 for regular data use on Verizon’s Get More Unlimited plan on 10/21/2020. I had Premium Data when I ran the test.
I found a QCI of 9 for regular data use with Total Wireless on 6/2/2020.
In 2021, @PATechUSA on Twitter suggested Total Wireless had moved to QCI 8.
Stetson Doggett found a QCI of 9 with Visible on 7/21/2020.
I found a QCI of 8 for regular data use on a third-generation by-the-gig plan on 7/3/2020.
Stetson Doggett ran several tests around December 2022. He found a QCI of 8 for Xfinity’s Unlimited Premium plan and QCIs of 9 for Xfinity’s Intro and Plus plans.
- Other (often related) mechanisms include guaranteed bit rates, maximal bit rates, and allocation and retention priority. The excerpt below comes from page 51 of 3GPP TS 23.203 V16.1.0:
“The service level (i.e., per SDF or per SDF aggregate) QoS parameters are QCI, ARP, GBR, and MBR.”
- When I say “regular data use,” I’m excluding voice calls, IMS signaling, and some atypical forms of data use.
- I share details about how QCI tests can be conducted on another page. If you’d like to contribute test results, please get in touch.
- Based on Table 6.1.7-A: Standardized QCI characteristics from 3GPP TS 23.203 V16.1.0.
- In a Reddit thread, user chrisprice suggested that some network operators broadcast QCI values that aren’t accurate. I think the user overstated his case and said some inaccurate things in the discussion, but I still take the possibility seriously. Chrisprice demonstrated a deep understanding of the cellular industry in other conversations.
Chrisprice also raised the possibility that mechanisms other than QCI values may sometimes be used to manage traffic. An example involving AT&T dropping DNS links was shared in the discussion. I asked Roger Enter, an industry analyst, about the topic. He expressed skepticism about the idea that mechanisms other than QCI values are regularly used to prioritize traffic.
- I did this using a device that was compatible with Fi but not designated “Designed for Fi.”