Death to Unlimited: T-Mobile UK Cuts Data Cap by Half

GravestoneThe technology industry is famous for its abuse of language: coining meaningless new terms, misleading buzzwords and ugly phrases with alarming regularity. But has a word ever been as tormented and twisted as “unlimited”?

The British arm of T-Mobile is the latest culprit to commit a linguistic crime, after it announced that its “unlimited” smartphone data plan is dropping from the extremely limited 1GB to an even more limited 500MB — chopping in half the amount of data that users receive in a single swoop.

Let’s take an example — somebody purchasing a typical mid-range plan spends £30.64 ($47.80 USD) for 300 voice minutes, 300 texts and “unlimited* Internet”, where the asterisk adds the qualification that a “fair usage policy applies.” The fair usage limit is your 500MB.

It’s pretty much the final nail in the coffin for unlimited mobile for British consumers, with T-Mobile the last (the network I use, Vodafone, made the shift away from unlimited in June).

The only exception is 3, the 3G-only network owned by Hutchison Whampoa, which reversed its own cuts last month and reinstated unlimited browsing in a move that Stacey characterized as an attempt to stand out in a competitive market. The pattern is being copied across Europe as operators stung by the popularity of smartphones, bring an end to the free lunch for mobile data.

“Unlimited” is worth challenging for all sorts of reasons. It’s confusing; it’s misleading; and if it doesn’t actually mean there is no data cap, then it’s always going to leave somebody caught out.

After all, on the surface, customers wouldn’t necessarily know anything had changed, since the company hides its definition of unlimited inside its fair use policy. “We’ll monitor how much you send and receive each calendar month so that we can protect our network for all our customers,” it says.

What makes it worse is that the move comes just a few days after the amount of 3G spectrum in the UK was massively increased. Restrictions that had stopped operators from using 2G spectrum for 3G traffic are being lifted, in what was meant to open the airwaves for more, faster, better data. That looks like a fairytale — or at least a promise that was made to be broken.

The simple truth is that the average T-Mobile data plan is now worth significantly less than it was yesterday. Let’s hope that the word unlimited – at least when it’s misused — is given the burial it deserves.

Photograph used under CC license, courtesy of Flickr user Qole

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