In response to COVID-19, Mint Mobile began offering unlimited data at no charge to all its customers. Initially, subscribers who ran out of their regularly allotted data had to purchase 3GB data add-ons that would later be refunded.
Mint has now streamlined the process. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Reddit post by Rizwan Kassim, a co-founder of Mint Mobile:
We heard your feedback, and once we made the decision to extend the program – we rebuilt it in a way with an experience that’s more .. well, Minty. On Apr 15, whenever you purchase the data-bolton, if you qualify, the dollar cost will be $0. No credit card charge, no wallet pull. Easy. You’ll need the latest build of the app.
I thought Mint might have intentionally put a bit of friction in the data add-on process to deter abuse and waste. It looks like there’s a better explanation:
The idea was hatched, planned, got financial and brand approval, configured, launched and messaged the unlimited bolt-on offer in 36 hours, over a weekend by an entirely WFH staff. No joke. The fastest method was not to use our billing system, but to tack on a series of jobs that ran post-charge to refund the balances.
Mint has added some sensible eligibility terms for the free data add-ons:
Only subscribers who were customers before April 14 are eligible for free data add-ons
Subscribers that downgrade their plans lose their eligibility for free data add-ons
The MVNO Mint Mobile is temporarily offering all subscribers unlimited data at no charge. Here’s an excerpt from an email I just received:
Starting on 3-15-20 through 4-14-20, Mint Mobile will be providing all current and new customers with FREE unlimited high-speed data add-ons.
Like many other carriers, Mint Mobile is making changes in its policies in response to the coronavirus. Mint’s subscribers can take advantage of Mint’s new policy by adding data to their plans in 3GB chunks. Subscribers will need to use up most of their add-on data before they’re eligible for additional add-ons:
95% of data add-on must be used prior to adding an additional data add-on
Data add-ons can be processed from the Mint Mobile app or through Mint Mobile’s online account system. Subscribers’ credit cards will temporarily be charged for add-on data, but Mint will quickly refund the charges.
It looks like even new customers will be eligible for unlimited data.
I’m not sure if Mint Mobile is taking a huge financial hit to offer this policy or if Mint’s host operator, T-Mobile, is doing something unusual that makes the new policy possible.
Mint is one of my favorite budget-friendly carriers, and I’m happy to see the carrier’s latest move. If you’re thinking about switching to Mint, consider checking out my detailed review of the carrier.
Today, Verizon launched a new flanker brand, Yahoo Mobile. The new carrier is extremely similar to another Verizon flanker brand, Visible. You could argue that Yahoo Mobile is closer to a reseller of Visible’s plans than a distinct carrier. Both Visible and Yahoo Mobile have extremely similar websites, policies, and plans. Yahoo Mobile explicitly mentions Visible in FAQ entries, and Yahoo Mobile’s terms of service make the relationship clear:
Advantages of Yahoo Mobile
In most respects, Yahoo Mobile looks nearly identical to Visible. So far, I see two little advantages the service has over Visible:
The base price of Yahoo Mobile is a penny cheaper each month ($39.99 vs. $40.00).
Yahoo Mobile comes with access to Yahoo Mail Pro at no extra charge.
Advantages of Visible
The advantages Yahoo Mobile has over Visible will be almost meaningless for most people. On the other hand, Visible’s offerings are better than Yahoo Mobile’s in a few substantive ways:
Visible discounts the first month of service to only $25.
Visible’s Party Pay system allows subscribers’ ongoing monthly rates to drop as low as $25.
Visible has a swap program that allows new customers to trade in junky, old Android phones for decent, new phones at no charge.
I’ve writtenanumberofposts criticizing wireless carriers that label their plans “unlimited” while imposing limits. Usually, these carriers impose weird restrictions or slow data speeds for heavy users of data. If you’re feeling charitable, you could argue that most of these plans are still, in some sense, unlimited. Most of these plans don’t have simple limits on the total amount of data subscribers can use each month.
Wing’s new policy
The mobile virtual network operator Wing, which I’ve reviewed and liked, appears to have just started imposing strict caps on unlimited plan subscribers’ data use. Earlier today, a Reddit user reported that Wing was limiting users on the carrier’s AT&T-based unlimited plan to 30GB of data use each month. The Reddit user shared messages from a discussion with a Wing support agent:
I see you received the email regarding the recent changes by AT&T. You’ll have 15GB of hotspot usage and a total of 30GB of overall usage for each cycle. After 30GB overall usage on the Wing AT&T unlimited plan, your data will be turned off.
The support agent went on to explain that Wing’s newly released unlimited plan running over T-Mobile’s network would not have the same limitations:
We have a solution: We’ve recently acquired Wing T-Mobile and the unlimited plans we offer there can best suit your unlimited data needs!
The Wing T-Mobile plans are fully unlimited with no throttles and no caps on data for both hotspot usage and cellular usage.
Current plan offerings
Wing continues to offer an unlimited plan for new customers. As far as I can tell, this plan typically runs over AT&T’s network. It doesn’t look like Wing is adequately disclosing the data caps to potential customers.
Added 3/10/20: Wing confirmed the existence of new data caps in emails with me and publicly on the company’s website.
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. 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:
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.
“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.
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).
AT&T has settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and agreed to pay out $60 million to current and past customers that may have been affected by misleading claims about unlimited data. The settlement is in response to the FTC’s 2014 accustation that AT&T failed to adequately disclose that customers on unlimited data plans could have their speeds throttled substantially. Here are a few bits from the 2014 FTC complaint:
The FTC’s complaint alleges that the company failed to adequately disclose to its customers on unlimited data plans that, if they reach a certain amount of data use in a given billing cycle, AT&T reduces – or “throttles” – their data speeds to the point that many common mobile phone applications – like web browsing, GPS navigation and watching streaming video – become difficult or nearly impossible to use…AT&T’s marketing materials emphasized the ‘unlimited’ amount of data that would be available to consumers who signed up for its unlimited plans…AT&T, despite its unequivocal promises of unlimited data, began throttling data speeds in 2011 for its unlimited data plan customers after they used as little as 2 gigabytes of data in a billing period. According to the complaint, the throttling program has been severe, often resulting in speed reductions of 80 to 90 percent for affected users. Thus far, according to the FTC, AT&T has throttled at least 3.5 million unique customers a total of more than 25 million times…consumers in AT&T focus groups strongly objected to the idea of a throttling program and felt ‘unlimited should mean unlimited.’
Here’s an excerpt from the FTC’s press release from today (emphasis mine):
As part of the settlement, AT&T is prohibited from making any representation about the speed or amount of its mobile data, including that it is “unlimited,” without disclosing any material restrictions on the speed or amount of data. The disclosures need to be prominent, not buried in fine print or hidden behind hyperlinks. For example, if an AT&T website advertises a data plan as unlimited, but AT&T may slow speeds after consumers reach a certain data cap, AT&T must prominently and clearly disclose those restrictions.
I’m glad to see the FTC cracking down on misleading practices. Bogus “unlimited” plans seem to be much more common today than they were in 2014.
Last month, I published a blog post titled Unlimited Plans At 2G Speeds Are Bogus. I argued that wireless carriers that throttle data speeds to 128Kbps after a threshold amount of data use shouldn’t call their plans “unlimited.” Doing things on the internet at 128Kbps is often frustrating or impossible. Beyond that, imposing a maximum speed implicitly limits the amount of data a subscriber can use in a month.
In a follow-up post, I was critical of Atlice Mobile for labeling a plan as “unlimited” while imposing a bunch of limits that it did not clearly disclose. Google Fi seems to be following in Altice Mobile’s footsteps. Today, Fi Launched a new “unlimited” plan. Subscribers on this plan only get to use 22GB of data at regular speeds:
If you use more than 15 GB of data in a cycle on the Fi Flexible plan or more than 22 GB in a cycle on the Fi Unlimited plan (less than 1% of individual Fi users as of Jan. 2018), you’ll experience slower speeds (256 kbps) above those respective data thresholds until your next billing cycle begins.
While I expect Fi is accurately reporting that less than 1% of users as of January 2018 exceeded 22GB of use, the statement might mislead people. Until now, Fi didn’t try to entice heavy data users with an option it labeled as an unlimited plan.
256Kbps is slow
Data at 256Kbps will be more usable than data at 128Kbps, but many online activities will still be impractical. I don’t think continuous video streaming will work even at fairly low resolutions. Many web pages will load extremely slowly. As mentioned earlier, imposing a max speed of 256Kbps does limit the maximum data subscribers can use. Even if a subscriber manages to transfer a full 256 kilobits every single second after using 22GB of regular data, she’ll still have a theoretical limit of about 100GB of data use each month.
While I haven’t always been a fan of Google Fi’s prices, I have thought of Google Fi as being a company that’s offering wireless service in an unusually transparent and consumer-friendly manner. I’m sad to see Google Fi caving to marketing pressures. That said, I realize the pressures are real. So let me make something clear: most people are not heavy data users; most people do not need unlimited plans. If enough consumers recognize that, there will be less pressure for companies to offer silly, not-really-unlimited plans.
Altice Mobile just launched with a tempting offer. Altice’s only plan, its “unlimited everything” plan, is only $30 per line each month. A lot of technology websites have been writing about the new offering, and most of them aren’t mentioning how many limits Altice places on its subscribers.
(Added 2/26/2020: Since this post came out, Altice Mobile’s price has changed to $40 per month for most people and $30 per month for Optimum and Suddenlink customers.)
In my previous post, I was critical of Total Wireless for marketing one of its plans as an “unlimited” plan, even though it involved a significant limitation:
Total Wireless is at least is transparent in letting customers know that limits exist despite the plan’s unlimited label. Altice Mobile doesn’t put a disclaimer or an asterisk next to its claims:
Altice’s press release is even more misleading:
Altice Mobile offers one simple plan with unlimited everything:
unlimited data, text, and talk nationwide,
unlimited mobile hotspot,
unlimited video streaming,
unlimited international text and talk from the U.S. to more than 35 countries, including Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Israel, most of Europe, and more, and
unlimited data, text and talk while traveling abroad in those same countries.
Potential customers wanting to understand Altice Mobile’s limitations need to find their way to a web page full of legalese titled Broadband Disclosure Information. As it turns out, Altice has lots of limitations:
Mobile hotspot is typically throttled to a maximum of 600Kbps (a fairly slow speed).
Video is typically throttled to a maximum of 480p.
After 50GB of use in a month, video traffic and hotspot traffic are throttled to 128Kbps.
As I discussed in my last post, it’s silly to call a service unlimited while throttling to sluggish speeds. The claim in the press release that Altice offers “unlimited video streaming” is particularly misleading. 128Kbps can’t even support stable streaming of low-resolution video. Turns out the claim of unlimited international data in 35 countries is also misleading. International data after the first gigabyte is throttled to 128Kbps.
Despite the limitations, there’s a lot that’s exciting about Altice Mobile. The service has a competitive price. It might be a good option for people who live in the regions where it’s available.
I hope we’ll see Altice move towards being more transparent with consumers.