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Sprint, Verizon’s latest deals offer more definitions of “Unlimited”

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Rob Pegoraro, Special for USA Today
Published 1:50 p.m. ET June 17, 2018

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Industry analyst Jeff Kagan believes the Sprint, T-Mobile merger will make the new company a ‘distant’ third place competitor positioning itself to enter the crowded 5G, wireless tv market place. It won’t transform the industry, Kagan said. (April 30)
AP

 

The wireless industry’s favorite word these days is “unlimited”–and the carriers like it so much that they want more than one flavor of it. 

Instead, they asterisk their unlimited plans with different exemptions, and some also sell multiple “unlimited” plans that let customers choose from varying levels of limits. 

The latest examples: two new sales pitches from Verizon Wireless and Sprint, the largest and fourth-largest among the big four.

At Verizon, the latest plot twist is last week’s announcement of a third unlimited plan geared to its most data-intensive users. The new Above Unlimited plan, from $95 a month on one line to $60 a month for each of four lines, will offer three upgrades from the carrier’s $85 Beyond Unlimited plan when it becomes available June 18:

Above Unlimited raises the threshold for “deprioritization”–in which Verizon may slow your connection if nearby cell sites suffer congestion–from Beyond’s 22 gigabytes to 75 GB. Both numbers far exceed usage estimates by third parties; for instance, the research firm Strategy Analytics’ opt-in telemetry measured an average of 5.3 GB of data in February among unlimited-data customers.

More: Verizon’s latest unlimited plan targets data-heavy users

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•Above allots 20 GB of full-speed mobile hotspot use, versus 15 GB for Beyond. Exceed that–or use hotspot at all on the $75 Go Unlimited plan–and you hit a 600 kbps speed limit that makes this “tethering” useless in practice.

•Above comps five single-day $10 Travel Passes each month that provide full-speed roaming in 130 countries.

•Finally, Above throws in 500 GB of Verizon cloud storage, which may tempt some subscribers to stop paying $100 or more a year to Google, Microsoft, Dropbox or Apple. 

Verizon will also let family-plan subscribers combine these plans — the remote worker who tethers frequently doesn’t have to pay for the same service for kids without a laptop.

Sprint, meanwhile, went in a different direction by announcing a very-limited-time offer–it expired at 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Friday–to get subscribers of other carriers to switch to Sprint. This Unlimited Kickstart offering was priced at just $15 a month for a single line or $60 a month combined for four. 

But it also stripped out many features of Sprint’s standard Unlimited Freedom, which runs $60 monthly for a single line and, through next June, $90 a month for four. This mades Kickstart look much like an airline’s Basic Economy airfare:

•You must pay full price for a phone from Sprint or bring your own device to the carrier; its lease deals didn’t qualify. Best way to avoid that: Buy direct from Apple or Google, both of which offer installment-payment plans.

•You get no hotspot use, versus the standard unlimited plan’s 10 GB of full-speed tethering.

•You lose Freedom’s comped limited-commercials Hulu online-TV subscription.

•Kickstart imposes stingier limits on streaming-media quality–in particular, throttling video to a DVD’s 480p resolution, while Freedom allows 1080p high-definition streaming.

Note that both Verizon and Sprint’s new plans require enabling automatic payments to get these rates, although neither demands a long-term contract.

The other two carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile (which is seeking regulatory approval to merge with Sprint), have not announced any comparable switch-ups with their current unlimited-data plans, although AT&T did announce a July increase in the rate of the legacy unlimited-data plan (voice and text not included) it stopped selling in 2010 from $40 to $45 a month. 

But the wireless industry’s recent, fiercely-competitive history suggests we haven’t seen the last of this story cycle; stay tuned and keep your phone charged.

(Disclosure: I also write for Yahoo Finance, a property of Verizon’s Oath media division.)

More: Here’s what the new unlimited data plans will do for prices

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More: Reminder: You don’t have to buy your next iPhone from a carrier

Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/robpegoraro

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