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Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile announces new restrictions on video quality and hotspot speeds

Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile announces new restrictions on video quality and hotspot speeds

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Xfinity Mobile is set to place limitations on the maximum video quality and hotspot speeds that customers can get when using cellular data. In case you’re not familiar, Xfinity Mobile is Comcast’s MVNO that’s available exclusively to the company’s home internet customers and runs on the Verizon network. In an email to customers, Comcast said that video quality will soon be restricted to 480p.

The company claims this change is meant to help its subscribers “conserve data,” saying “this can help you save money if you pay By the Gig and take longer to reach the 20GB threshold if you have the Unlimited data option.” Speeds drop to 1.5Mbps download and 750kbps upload after unlimited customers go over 20GB of usage in a month.

For now, Xfinity Mobile customers can request an upgrade that will allow them to play 720p video over cellular for free. But Comcast says that it will eventually charge an extra monthly fee for the HD resolution later this year; 1080p seems out of the question entirely over cellular.

Worse, the company is basically crippling its hotspot feature for all customers on the $45 unlimited plan. Speeds for devices sharing your phone’s data connection will be capped at a paltry 600kbps.

There’s no way to upgrade those speeds on the unlimited plan; Comcast will only give you a faster hotspot if you’re paying for data as you go. “Want faster speeds when using a personal hotspot? The By the Gig data option will continue to deliver 4G speeds for all data traffic,” the email says. Comcast charges $12/GB on its By the Gig plan, so of course it’s willing and ready to let you burn through that data and rack up a nice hefty bill.

Comcast says the video policy is “consistent with standard unlimited plans across carriers,” and as I examined last week, that’s frustratingly true. Nearly all major US mobile providers are reducing the resolution of videos when they’re played over the cellular network. Just like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, Comcast is quick to point out that customers can pick whatever video quality they want whenever they’re on Wi-Fi. It doesn’t make these new restrictions feel any less annoying on the customer’s side. Remember that Comcast is paying Verizon for use of its network, so these measures really feel like Comcast finding ways of lowering those payments more than anything else.

The new video and hotspot limits don’t apply when you’re connected to public Xfinity hotspots, and since millions of Comcast routers pull double duty as public hotspots, there are at least a lot of those around.

Disclosure: Comcast is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.