Confused person

“Premium Data” Is Losing Meaning At T-Mobile

For a while now, Verizon and AT&T have used the phrase “Premium Data” to refer to allotments of especially high-priority data. Subscribers with Premium Data may experience better speeds than other network users during periods of congestion.

In the last month, T-Mobile has started using the phrase “Premium Data” as well. If you go to T-Mobile’s primary page listing the carrier’s plans, you’ll find a table that lists the allotments of premium data on different plans:

Common sense might lead you to think “Premium Data” means the same thing regardless of what plan the Premium Data is attached to. That’s not the case.

Before T-Mobile started using the phrase Premium Data, the company made it clear that the Essentials plan had lower priority data than Magenta plans. The image below comes from T-Mobile’s old plans page:

Screenshot showing Essentials customers may experience slower speeds during congestion

While T-Mobile updated how plans appear on its website, it doesn’t look like the underlying characteristics of the Essentials plan changed. The plans page still has a disclosure explaining that Essentials customers have lower priority than Magenta customers:

Essentials customers may notice speeds lower than other customers and further reduction if using >50GB/mo., due to data prioritization.

QCI values indicate how traffic is prioritized on LTE networks. In 2020, I found the Essentials plan had a QCI of 7 while the Magenta plan had a QCI of 6 (indicating that the Magenta subscribers have higher-priority data than Essentials subscribers). Once T-Mobile started saying Essentials customers have Premium Data, I ran another QCI test on the plan. I still found a QCI of 7.

Test result showing a QCI of 7

Until recently, T-Mobile did a better job disclosing prioritization policies than the other major networks.1 T-Mobile is taking a step back by suggesting the Essentials plan has Premium Data.

As far as I know, Verizon and AT&T only use the phrase “Premium Data” to mean something like: “data prioritized ahead of the data used by a substantial portion of our other customers.” If my understanding of data prioritization on T-Mobile’s network is accurate, Essentials customers receive priority on-par with or worse than most T-Mobile Prepaid, Metro, and Mint Mobile subscribers.

While Essentials subscribers aren’t truly last in line, only a tiny fraction of T-Mobile subscribers have lower priority (e.g., some ultra-heavy data users and people on hotspot connections). It’s silly to call data “premium” when indicating something like: “data that’s not absolutely the lowest priority in the queue.”

As I’ve argued before, consumers ought to have access to better information about prioritization and congestion. The way T-Mobile is using the phrase “Premium Data” is going leave consumers confused. For what it’s worth, I don’t mean to suggest T-Mobile is intentionally hoping to mislead consumers about data priority on the Essentials plan. T-Mobile may have made an honest mistake when coming up with the latest iteration of its plans page.


Hat tip to Stetson Doggett for drawing my attention to this topic.

Traffic jam

T-Mobile Will Increase Premium Data Allowances. It’s Bad News For Most Subscribers.

T-Mobile just announced a handful of upcoming changes to a few of its unlimited plans. Journalists covering the news are praising the carrier’s decision to offer unlimited Premium Data on the Magenta MAX plan. I think these journalists are falling victim to the bullshit T-Mobile filled its press release with:

Legacy smartphone plans are built for lower capacity 4G LTE networks, so Verizon, AT&T and even T-Mobile’s unlimited plans allow providers to lower your network priority if you’ve used a massive amount of data, which means that you might hit speed bumps if the network gets congested. Verizon and AT&T market this as ‘Premium Data’ and give most customers 50GB. But, there’s nothing premium about paying more for fast 5G that’s only in ‘some parts of some cities.’* Now we’re in the 5G era, and T-Mobile has lit up the highest-capacity 5G network available — a network so powerful it can start unleashing the power of 5G to deliver unlimited Premium Data.

Let’s unpack that.

First, T-Mobile is giving way too much credit to 5G. Most of T-Mobile’s customers don’t even have 5G-compatible phones. Premium Data is still available to customers limited to 4G connections.

Second, deprioritizing ultra-heavy data users is a pretty efficient way for network operators to manage resources. Under the usual 50GB-ish per month thresholds, only ~1% of unlimited plan subscribers use enough data to get deprioritized. Users that T-Mobile deprioritizes will experience slower speeds when network resources are under heavy demand. However, deprioritized users can still experience normal speeds when networks aren’t under a heavy load. According to T-Mobile’s own website, deprioritization usually doesn’t have practical consequences (emphasis mine):

Where the network is lightly loaded in relation to available capacity, a customer whose data is prioritized higher than other traffic will notice little, if any, effect from having higher priority. This will be the case in the vast majority of times and locations.

I guess you could say T-Mobile’s Premium Data is only useful in “some parts of some cities.”

The utility of Premium Data hinges on how much Premium Data is being used by other network users. By including unlimited Premium Data with the Magenta MAX plan, T-Mobile is slightly degrading service quality for tens of millions of users in order to improve service for a tiny fraction of the company’s heaviest data users. In my view, it’s a bad tradeoff from a network management perspective. T-Mobile is choosing to make the tradeoff because it gives the company a new perk to advertise on its most premium plan.

Update abstract

T-Mobile To Update Unlimited Plans

On February 24, T-Mobile will update its Magenta and Magenta Plus plans. While the Magenta plan will keep its current name, T-Mobile will rename the Magenta Plus plan “Magenta MAX”.

High-priority data

Currently, customers on the Magenta and Magenta Plus plan get 50GB per month of high-priority data. Soon, the allotment will double to 100GB for Magenta subscribers. Magenta MAX subscribers will have limits dropped entirely and will receive unlimited high-priority data. For a while now, Verizon and AT&T have been referring to high-priority data as “Premium Data”. It looks like T-Mobile is about to follow suit with the same terminology.

Hotspot allowances

The hotspot/tethering allotment on the Magenta plan is moving up from 3GB per month to 5GB per month. On the Magenta Plus/MAX plan, the allotment is doubling from 20GB to 40GB.

Netflix for single-line plans

Until now, T-Mobile has only offered free access to Netflix for subscribers with family plans. Once the plan updates go live, T-Mobile will start offering Netflix to single-line subscribers as well.