Verizon just made a rather surprising weekend announcement: unlimited data plans are coming back. The carrier says that beginning tomorrow, it will offer what it's calling Verizon Unlimited. The plan will cost $80 for an individual line or $45 for each line on a four-line family plan. Those prices are described as “introductory” and require both paperless billing and AutoPay to be enabled. Customers will get full LTE speeds until they reach 22GB of usage, after which they’ll be subject to reduced data speeds and de-prioritization.
Hotspot tethering — up to 10GB at LTE speeds — is included, as are calls and texts to Mexico and Canada. Verizon Unlimited also allows for 500MB-per-day roaming in those countries, and you can pay $10 for a 500MB LTE TravelPass elsewhere in the world. The carrier isn't completely moving away from “bucketed” data plans and will continue offering 5 GB, S, M, and L options to subscribers who don't use large sums of data each month.
Verizon is already pitching its unlimited plan as superior to T-Mobile's, noting that it includes HD video as opposed to the 480p/DVD-quality video that T-Mobile One customers get by default. However, Verizon specifying only “high definition” leaves room for the carrier to limit users to 720p video. Verizon claims it has been working “tirelessly but quietly” to deliver a new unlimited plan designed for power users and meant to eliminate concerns about exceeding data caps.
We’ll need to wait until tomorrow for the full specifics and any annoying fine print attached to Verizon Unlimited, but today’s announcement marks a pretty significant change for the mobile industry. The massive popularity of smartphones gradually pushed all the major US carriers away from unlimited data plans, and now they’re coming back into favor — but almost always with asterisks. T-Mobile led the way back and no longer advertises tiered plans. But the company reduces video quality unless customers enable an “HD day pass.” Sprint extends similar oversight to music streaming quality and even gaming speeds.
Verizon stopped offering unlimited data to new customers way back in 2011, though a subset of existing subscribers (myself included) have held onto their grandfathered plans in the years since. AT&T offers unlimited data only to customers who also use its satellite/TV services, while T-Mobile and Sprint offer the plans to everyone. Each company has a different limit at which they’ll start prioritizing other subscribers over those who chug through an unlimited plan. AT&T matches Verizon at 22GB. For Sprint it’s 23GB. T-Mobile has a slightly higher threshold of 26GB. All carriers insist that speeds are only reduced in rare instances when their wireless networks are heavily congested.