Artificial Hotspot Limits

It’s common for cell phone plans to include limits on mobile hotspot data that are separate from limits on overall data use limit. E.g.,

  • Verizon’s Get More Unlimited offers unlimited regular data but caps mobile hotspot use at 30GB.
  • One of Mint Mobile’s plans comes with 35GB of regular data but caps mobile hotspot use at 5GB.

Recently, a Reddit user was confused about Mint’s policy and asked:

What’s the reason for the 5gb cap on the hotspot? I have a friend who this plan would be perfect for, however he tethers his iPad frequently to watch YouTube. Not sure what the big deal is since you could just switch the sim anyway.

Here’s how I responded:

My speculation:

Even though Mint allows 35GB of use, it knows the vast majority of subscribers won’t use that much data. If all subscribers used their full allotments, the plan would be much less profitable for Mint.

By restricting hotspot use, Mint reduces data use and (more importantly) dissuades some very heavy data users from ordering the plan in the first place.

I may not have that that exactly right. Mint’s arrangements with its host operator, T-Mobile, are not public knowledge. But the underlying logic is right. A gigabyte of mobile hotspot data isn’t more cost-intensive for a carrier than a gigabyte of on-device data.

Ting To Drop Hotspot Pricing

Ting has been offering one of the best deals for mobile hotspot service. For $25 per month, subscribers using a Franklin R850 Hotspot get 30GB of data over Sprint’s network. It looks like that deal will come to a close:1

After extending it as long as possible, Ting Mobile will be discontinuing its special hotspot pricing plan after October 14, 2020. Any customers currently using this pricing plan will receive an email informing them that they will switch to regular Ting Mobile rates from their first full billing cycle after this date.

I expect this change in policy is due to either (a) T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint or (b) DISH’s acquisition of Ting’s subscriber base.

Verizon’s 5G Mobile Hotspot & Tethering Policies

Verizon’s higher-end unlimited plans come with monthly allotments of full-speed 4G hotspot data.

  • Play More Unlimited – 15GB
  • Do More Unlimited – 15GB
  • Get More Unlimited – 30GB

Subscribers that burn through all of their full-speed 4G data can continue to use more hotspot data with a 4G connection throttled to a sluggish 600Kbps speed.

Verizon doesn’t prominently advertise it, but the company has separate policies for 5G hotspot data. Here’s a bit from a section of Verizon’s website that gives additional details about one of the carrier’s unlimited plans:1

Unlimited 5G Ultra Wideband Mobile Hotspot

An unlimited 5G Ultra Wideband mobile hotspot means your smartphone becomes an ultra-fast and reliable Wi-Fi connection for your other devices. Service available in select locations and requires a 5G capable device.

Yesterday, I was exploring my Verizon online account for the Play More Unlimited plan and found this:

Screenshot of Verizon account interface showing a 5G hotspot allotment

Verizon is currently allowing 50GB of full-speed 5G hotspot use each month on the Play More plan. After 50GB of use, speeds are throttled to 3Mbps. While 3Mbps isn’t a great speed for hotspot use, it’s still fast enough that most people could browse the internet and do work on a laptop without overwhelming frustration.

I’m guessing the Do More and Get More plans have the same 50GB allotment, but I’m not sure. It’s odd that Verizon’s 5G hotspot allotment on the Play More plan is so much larger than the regular (4G) allotment.

I wonder if the large allotment is a promotional thing. Will we see the allotment shrink as more subscribers get 5G-compatible phones?

T-Mobile Launches New Test Drive Program

In the last couple of days, T-Mobile has begun a new trial program. Non-customers can get a mobile hotspot along with 30 days of service and 30GB of data at no cost.

The program provides an easy option for people to test how well T-Mobile’s network could work for them. Once a hotspot is turned on, users can connect their existing phones and devices via Wi-Fi. The hotspots are compatible with LTE band 71, so hotspot users can experience the benefits of T-Mobile’s new Extended Range LTE signal.1

What’s the catch? As far as I can tell, there isn’t one. Signing up is easy, no credit card is required, and it’s not even necessary to return the hotspot at the end of the trial. I’ve joined the program, and I’ll probably post again in about a month with an update on my experience.

You can sign up for the program here. T-Mobile’s CEO, John Legere, discusses the program in more detail in the video below.