Reviewing Altice Mobile’s “Unlimited” Policies and Pricing

Alice Mobile recently increased its prices by $10 per month. Service now costs $30 each month for Optimum or Suddenlink customers and $40 per month for everyone else.

In September, I argued that Altice Mobile was doing a lousy job of disclosing the limitations that came with the carrier’s supposedly “unlimited” plan. Given the recent price increase, I figured now would be a good time to revisit Altice Mobile’s policies.

Limits continue

Altice is still imposing a lot of limits on its “unlimited” plan:[1]

  • Mobile hotspot speeds are still throttled to 600Kbps.
  • Video is still throttled to about 480p.
  • Roaming data is still throttled to 128Kbps.

Previously, video and hotspot traffic would be throttled more intensely after 50GB of use. It looks like Altice has decreased that threshold to 20GB.

“Unlimited Everything” continues

Altice continues to advertise “unlimited everything.” Here’s a screenshot from Altice’s website today:

Altice Mobile screenshot

As before, it’s misleading for Altice to suggest subscribers can stream an unlimited amount of video or use an unlimited amount of mobile hotspot data. After 20GB of use, subscribers will be throttled to a maximum speed of 128Kbps for video and hotspot traffic. At 128Kbps, continuous streaming of conventional video won’t be possible.[2] Many activities subscribers will want to do over a hotspot connection will be frustratingly sluggish if not impossible.[3]

Improved disclosures

To Altice’s credit, it looks like the carrier is doing a bit better disclosing limitations. With a single click, website visitors can view additional information:

Altice’s Broadband Disclosure Information seems easier to find than it was previously. While the disclosures still fall short of being explicit or easy-to-understand, Altice is moving in the right direction.

Infinity symbol

Tello Launches “Unlimited Everything” Plan

Today, Tello launched its “unlimited everything” plan for $39 per month. I’m frustrated by how Tello named its new plan. I say that as a fan of the company; Tello has some of the best options on the market for budget-sensitive consumers who don’t use a lot of data.

If subscribers on Tello’s unlimited everything plan use 25GB of data in a billing period, they will be throttled to sluggish, 2G speeds. As I’ve previously argued, unlimited plans at 2G speeds are bogus. Once the throttle kicks in, subscribers will find that data is unusable or barely usable for many purposes. While I’ve argued that many so-called “unlimited” plans are misnamed, Tello seems to have doubled down on its misnomer. Both “unlimited” and “everything” do a poor job of describing Tello’s new plan.

When carriers throttle data to 2G speeds, that usually means speeds are capped at 128Kbps. Imposing a maximum speed of 128Kbps puts a theoretical limit on total data use of about 65GB per month.[1] In practice, few subscribers will use more than 26GB per month because the internet will be sluggish and frustrating use after the 25GB threshold is reached.

To Tello’s credit, the company does an unusually good job of disclosing the throttle. Here’s an example from the banner on Tello’s homepage this morning:

Tello Homepage Banner

US Mobile’s New Unlimited Plans – Well-Priced With Some Limits & Hidden Fees

The carrier US Mobile recently released new unlimited plans. As with US Mobile’s old plans, customers can choose either the Super LTE network or the GSM LTE network. Super LTE runs over Verizon’s network while GSM LTE runs over T-Mobile’s network. Plans appear to be priced the same regardless of the network a subscriber chooses.[1]

“Unlimited” is a bit of a misnomer for US Mobile’s new plans. The plans have limits, but the limits are dependent on which options subscribers select. Customers can choose either US Mobile’s “Fast” plan or its “Ludicrous” plan.

Limits

As I understand them, here are the limits on the Fast plan (base price of $40 per month):

  • Speeds are usually throttled to a maximum of 5Mbps
  • If 50GB of data is used in a single month, speeds are throttled intensely (15GB with GSM)
  • Hotspot use is not permitted (can be added for an additional $5 per month)

The Ludicrous plan has a base price of $50 per month. The Ludicrous plan does not have a 5Mbps throttle, and mobile hotspot is included. As with the Fast plan, data use beyond 50GB (15GB with GSM) is throttled intensely.

I use the phrase “throttled intensely” because US Mobile doesn’t disclose its policies clearly. On its website, the company writes:

Super LTE plans come with 50GB of high-speed data. A tiny fraction of heavier data users may notice reduced speeds afterwards.
While I appreciate the disclosure, I think there’s a lot wrong with it. While I interpreted it as indicating that speeds would be throttled intensely, a Reddit user thought the disclosure implied US Mobile customers normally would have high priority during congestion but would receive low priority after 50GB of data use.

A US Mobile agent I reached out to confirmed that there is a throttle after the threshold level of data use is reached. The agent seemed reluctant to mention a specific speed cap but explained that speeds would feel like 2G. Following the argument I made in Unlimited Plans At 2G Speeds Are Bogus, I think it would be more transparent if US Mobile called their plan a 50GB plan. Extra data at slow speeds could just be a little perk. That said, I understand the carrier caving to the pressure to call its plans “unlimited”.

I don’t love the phrasing of “A tiny fraction of heavier data users may notice reduced speeds.” It seems to suggest that only some of the people who pass the threshold will have reduced speeds. As I understand it, US Mobile is imposing a serious speed cap on everyone who passes the threshold of 50GB. I’d suggest an alternate phrasing along the lines of Heavy data users, who make up a tiny fraction of our subscriber base, will experience substantially reduced speeds after 50GB of use..”

Are The Plans Competitive?

US Mobile’s Super LTE unlimited plans look competitively priced for those who only need one or two lines and want service over Verizon’s network. Large families can probably get better per-line rates by purchasing service from Verizon directly (Verizon drops its per-line rates on unlimited plans as more lines are added).

Unlimited plans purchased from Verizon’s Flanker brand, Visible, may be cheaper than US Mobile’s plans, but regular issues and limited device options with Visible may make US Mobile a better bet.

US Mobile also includes some other companies’ services as perks with their unlimited plans. Here’s a screenshot from the carrier’s website:

List of US Mobile Perks

Hidden Fees

On the new unlimited plans, it seems US Mobile is still hiding fees. Most consumers won’t see these fees until after they’ve ordered a SIM card:

US Mobile's hidden fees

Both fees are annoying. One could argue the regulatory recovery fee is at least a fee that many other carriers are also hiding. The $2 per month service fee is unusual.

Xfinity Mobile’s Pricing vs. The Competition

One of my recent posts about Xfinity Mobile received a comment on Reddit that got me thinking:

While Xfinity does have decent options (especially if you don’t need too much data) – it isn’t necessarily very different from other MVNO’s.

Let’s dive into that. It’s not always possible to make apples-to-apples comparisons among carriers since each carrier has its own way of structuring plans. Still, I’ll try my best to compare Xfinity Mobile’s prices to the best deals available from Verizon and other carriers that use Verizon’s network.

Low data use

Both the commenter and I think Xfinity Mobile may be a good option for people who don’t use a lot of data. For a base price of $12 per line, Xfinity Mobile offers a 5-line plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of shared data. In comparison, a postpaid Verizon plan with 8GB of shared data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited talk would have a base price of $34 per line. It’s harder to make a close comparison with Verizon’s prepaid plans. 5 lines with 1GB of data each, unlimited talk, and unlimited text would have a base price of $30 per line. For 6GB of data on each line, the cost would be $32 per line.

If we look at individual plans rather than family plans, Xfinity Mobile still looks like a winner, but the competition is tighter. 2GB of data, unlimited talk, and unlimited text has a base price of only $24 per month with Xfinity. Verizon prepaid charges a base price of $30 for a plan with only 1GB. Verizon postpaid is a whole lot more expensive for a comparable plan. However, some Verizon MVNOs have similar prices. BOOM! offers 2GB of data, unlimited talk, and unlimited texts for under $30 per month. Total Wireless offers 5GB of data for a base price of about $33. Red Pocket offers 3GB of data for about $30.

Heavy data use

For heavy data use, Xfinity Mobile subscribers will probably want to turn to the carrier’s unlimited plans. These plans have a base price of $45 per line each month. At this point, Xfinity Mobile is no longer a clear winner, especially on family plans. With 5 lines on Verizon’s postpaid Start Unlimited plan, there is a base price of $30 per month. However, a single start unlimited line has a base price of $70, still a much higher rate than Xfinity charges. Visible, a flanker brand run by Verizon, offers unlimited plans for only $40 per month. Verizon MVNO Total Wireless has excellent prices on high-data allotment family plans. For example, 4 lines with 100GB of shared data come with a base price of about $24 per line.

Takeaway

Xfinity Mobile has extremely competitive prices for those who want service over Verizon’s network, don’t use a lot of data, and don’t mind being more tightly tied to other Xfinity services. For those who use moderate or large amounts of data (especially on family plans) Xfinity Mobile faces plenty of competition.

Accountant calculating

Xfinity Mobile’s Pricing Strategy

Comcast’s cellular brand, Xfinity Mobile, appears awfully well priced. Somehow, Xfinity Mobile offers service over Verizon’s extensive network without the usual price tag. Unlimited minutes and texts are included for free in all of Xfinity Mobile’s plans. Subscribers just pay for data, and rates for data are reasonable. For $45 per month, a subscriber can get unlimited data. Alternatively, subscribers can purchase a set amount of data and share it among up to five lines:

  • 1GB data – $12 per month
  • 3GB data – $30 per month
  • 10GB data – $60 per month

A family could get five lines of service with 10GB of shared data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts for a base price of only $12 per line.[1] Purchasing a comparable family plan from Verizon would be far more expensive. Even other mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that run over Verizon’s network charge far more for similar plans. Why is Xfinity Mobile so cheap?

Lock-in with other Xfinity services

Only customers with active Xfinity internet service are eligible to sign up for Xfinity Mobile. Some people who would have used internet service providers other than Xfinity may now choose Xfinity internet so that they can sign up for Xfinity Mobile. Similarly, potential fees incentivize Xfinity Mobile customers not to cancel other Xfinity services:[2]

$20 per line monthly charge applies if at least one of the following post-pay subscriptions are not maintained on the account: Xfinity TV, Internet or Voice service.

Competitors threaten Comcast. Like Comcast, Verizon’s Fios offers bundled TV, internet, and home phone service. Emerging technologies like 5G fixed wireless may create viable alternatives to conventional cable companies. By bundling several services together, Xfinity may make it more difficult for consumers to switch to competitors’ services.

Favorable MVNO terms

Xfinity Mobile is relatively new, but it already has a huge number of subscribers.[3] While the agreements between MVNOs like Xfinity Mobile and host operators like Verizon are generally private, my impression is that MVNOs with large subscriber bases often receive substantially better rates than MVNOs with small subscriber bases. Xfinity Mobile may, in part, be able to offer low prices because it gets unusually good rates on access to Verizon’s network.

Future prices

While Xfinity Mobile’s service is well-priced today, it’s not guaranteed to stay that way forever. We’ve already seen one revamp in Xfinity Mobile’s price structure.

Other explanations

I haven’t seen Comcast executives explicitly explain their rationale for launching a mobile service, so all I can do is speculate. If you have other thoughts about Xfinity Mobile’s pricing strategy, please leave a comment!

Consumer Cellular Increases Data Limits

Yesterday, Consumer Cellular announced an increase in the data allotments it offers at different price points. The table below outlines the changes:

Monthly data costPrevious allotmentNew allotmentPercent increase
$50.25GB0.5GB100%
$102GB3GB50%
$205GB10GB100%
$3010GB16GB60%
$4020GB25GB25%

I spoke with a Consumer Cellular support agent who confirmed that these changes would automatically affect existing customers. For example, a customer who was paying $10 per month for 2GB of data will now be allotted 3GB of data per month at no extra charge.

It’s great to see a carrier improving customers’ plans without charging more or requiring customers to proactively opt-in to the changes. In some ways, it’s a bold business move. Customers who were paying $30 per month for 10GB could now downgrade to the $20 per month price tier and still receive 10GB of data. That said, I don’t expect a lot of customers will actually downgrade in response to the new pricing structure.

Sliding Data Limits

If you’re looking to reduce your data use, I highly recommend using what I call sliding data limits. Start each month by setting a data limit that’s well below the amount of data you’re allotted. Each time you hit your limit, reset it to something higher. Each time you change your limit, increase it by a smaller amount.

For example, let’s say you have 7GB of data allotted each month:

  • Start the month with a limit of 3GB
  • If you hit the 3GB limit, increase the limit to 5GB
  • If you hit the 5GB limit, increase the limit to 6GB
  • If you hit the 6GB limit, increase the limit to 6.5GB
  • Etc…

With this approach, you’ll be able to keep tabs on your data use and prevent overages with minimal effort.

Setting data limits

Most phones have built-in features for setting data limits. Many wireless carriers also allow subscribers to set up data limits or usage alerts from their online accounts.

In Android 10, you can set limits by going to:
Settings > Network & internet > Mobile network > Data warning and limit

Note that your phone may account for data use a bit differently than your carrier. If you’re allocated 7GB of data each month, you may want to conservatively set limits as if you’re allotted 6.9GB of data each month.

Hitting data limits

If you hit a limit you’ve set, data access will be cut off, and you’ll probably be prompted with an alert like this one:


Mobile data is paused notification


Data warnings

If instead of setting a data limit, you set a warning or alert, you’ll still receive a notification. However, data access will continue. You might want to use both limits and warnings at the same time. For example, if you start a month with a 3GB limit, you might also want to set a 1.5GB warning to give you a better sense of the rate at which you’re using data.

Visible Continues To Throttle Some Phones

When the wireless carrier Visible first launched, Visible throttled data speeds to a maximum of 5Mbps. In June, Visible announced a removal of the cap for new and existing customers:

Starting today, and for a limited time, we’re removing the 5 Mbps data speed cap for our current and new members at no added cost…everyone who gets to experience uncapped speeds will get to keep them — again, at no additional cost — as long as they are a member.

Last week, I started trialing Visible’s service. Speed tests I ran all found download speeds of about 5 or 6 Mbps. Whether I had a strong LTE connection or a weak one, I experienced about the same download speed.

Summary of several Visible speed test results showing download speeds around 5Mbps

Each of the tests showed a weird pattern. After initiating a test, speeds would briefly shoot up well beyond 5Mbps (red arrow) before stabilizing around 5Mbps (green arrows).

Speed test result showing speeds stabilize around 5Mbps

Shortly after experiencing these weird test results, I found a Reddit thread where other Visible subscribers mentioned similar problems. Here’s the original post by Reddit user n0ki:

I now have 2 phones moved over to Visible. Both phones max out at 5mbps. After spending an hour or so with chat support and going through all their troubleshooting, I finally convince her that even though my account shows its not capped, that is is acting like it is. She finally decides to “reset” the cap and that resolves the issue.

I reach out to support on my 2nd phone and explain I’m having the same problem and what the solution is. They want me to spend another hour going through all the same troubleshooting steps.

Frustrating that it’s currently advertised as unlimited but all these new accounts still seem to be capped at 5!

Most of the people experiencing the issue were using the Visible R2, the same phone I experienced an issue with.

I went ahead and reached out to Visible’s support. After a live chat conversation that took about 20 minutes, I was experiencing much faster download speeds:

Speed test result finding a download speed of 17Mbps

While it’s unimpressive that Visible seems to still be throttling some subscribers, I’m inclined to believe the issue is due to an honest mistake on Visible’s end.

Google Fi’s Unlimited Plan – Is It Worth It?

Yesterday, Google Fi launched an unlimited plan. While Fi labels the new plan as “unlimited,” it has a couple of limitations potential customers should recognize:

  • Video streaming will be limited to 480p quality.
  • After 22GB of regular data use on a line, data speeds will be throttled to 256Kbps.

In my opinion, 480p quality (sometimes described as DVD-quality) is perfectly fine. However, plenty of people disagree with me and like to watch videos in higher resolutions. I see the reduced speeds after 22GB of use as a more serious limitation. 256Kbps is slow enough to make some online activities frustrating or impossible.

Google Fi customers can now choose between Fi’s old, Flexible plan or the new, Unlimited plan:

Fi’s Flexible Plan

The flexible plan uses the following pricing structure before taxes and fees:

  • $20 for unlimited talk and text on the first line. $15 for each additional line.
  • Pay-for-what-you-use data charged at $10 for each gigabyte of use. Data charges are capped after a threshold amount of data use that varies with the number of lines on the plan (6GB for a single-line plan).

The flexible plan has slightly different policies:

  • After 15GB of use on a line in a single month, speeds are capped to 256Kbps.
  • Video can be streamed at 1080p quality.
  • International calls from the U.S. incur reasonable, per-minute charges (subscribers on Fi’s unlimited plan can make calls from the U.S. to over 50 countries at no additional cost).

Fi’s Unlimited Plan

Google Fi’s unlimited plan is priced based on the number of lines used:[1]

Number of LinesCost Per Unlimited LineBreak-even Point
(Gigs per line)
1$705.00GB
2$604.25GB
3$503.33GB
4$452.88GB
5$452.90GB
6$452.92GB

Fi Flexible Vs. Fi Unlimited

If you expect the average data use across lines on your plan will consistently fall below the appropriate break-even point listed in the table above, you should probably subscribe to Fi’s Flexible plan. If you expect data use to be above the break-even point consistently, you should probably subscribe to Fi’s Unlimited plan.

If you’re unsure about your data use or use very different amounts of data each month, choosing a plan may be harder. Google Fi’s Unlimited plan allows 7GB per line more of regular-speed data use each month (22GB vs. 15GB). If you expect you’ll always use less than 15GB of data per line, you may still want to consider Fi’s Flexible plan. Since the flexible plan has caps on data charges, Fi’s Flexible plan will rarely be much more expensive than Fi’s Unlimited plan:

Number of LinesTotal Cost (Unlimited plan)Max Cost (Flexible plan)Difference
1$70$80$10
2$120$135$15
3$150$170$20
4$180$205$25
5$225$240$15
6$270$275$5
If you expect to use under 15GB per line and occasionally (but not always) have data use that exceeds the break-even point, Fi’s Flexible plan is likely the best option.


You can view the math behind the tables in this post here.

Image representing high-tech metrics

How To Find QCI Values

QoS Class Identifiers (QCIs) play a large role in the implementation of prioritization procedures on LTE networks. With the right tools, you can figure out the QCI your service is using. The approach I’ve taken requires the app Network Signal Guru (NSG) running on a rooted Android device with a Qualcomm chipset. Rooting devices presents some security threats, so I don’t recommend anyone root their device without doing some research first.

When NSG is running, users can scroll through a number of screens that display metrics related to network performance. If you’re connected to an LTE network, one of the screens will be titled “EUTRA Sessions.” The screenshot below comes from a test I ran using Google Fi’s service over T-Mobile’s network:


My Google Fi service had a QCI of 6 during regular data use. I also ran a test with service from Mint Mobile (an MVNO that uses T-Mobile’s network). During my test, Mint Mobile had a QCI of 7.


Making sense of networks’ prioritization procedures can be complicated. Network operators are usually not transparent about their policies. Disclosures and legal information published by the major networks provide some sense of each network’s policies, but the disclosures generally don’t shed as much light as I’d like. To get a better understanding of networks’ policies, I plan to collect QCI information from more carriers going forward. I’ll be sharing that information here. If you also use Network Signal Guru and would like to contribute your observations, let me know.