T-Mobile Puts the Asterisk in Unlimited* Data Plans

T-Mobile today announced new smartphone contract rate plans that increase in price based on the number of voice minutes and the amount of 4G mobile broadband data a customer wants in a given month. Customers can go over their 4G broadband limit, but the carrier will then deliver data at slower speeds for the remainder of the month. The operator also launched no-contract plans called Monthly4G that offer unlimited talk, text and web access starting at $50 and follow the same tiered data approach as the contract plans; once customers hit their data limit, access speeds will be throttled down.

The least expensive contract plan, which includes 500 voice minutes, unlimited messages and just 200 MB of fast data access is now priced at $59.99. Heavy data users can bump up their monthly mobile broadband limit to 2-, 5- or 10 GB of data for additional costs; the 10 GB plan in that case is 109.99 per month. The carrier continues to call such data plans unlimited, which is technically correct, since data access is not shut off. However, I suspect consumers will be upset if they choose the wrong data plan and hit their limit earlier than expected, forcing them to see lower data speeds.

Data tiers may be the sticking point for many consumers as we’re using our phones more for apps and web browsing than for voice in most cases. And T-Mobile recently modified its Wi-Fi calling terms, which can help reduce the number of voice minutes a consumer needs. Instead of Wi-Fi calls counting against monthly minutes, they’re now free on qualified plans.

To a degree, I think T-Mobile is playing loose with the term unlimited, because it’s unlimited with an asterisk. Even the carrier’s own blog makes note of that: Just last month, a new plan was introduced and T-Mobile put together an infographic that focused on the company’s “truly unlimited” plans. Note the asterisk and caveat about the slower speeds:

Again, T-Mobile isn’t limiting the amount of data it will provide a paying customer. Instead, this approach is a slight twist on a traditional tiered data plan and has been in place since last April for some plans. However, I wonder how many customers fail to see the asterisk once they see the word unlimited. Ultimately, I’d prefer to have full speeds and simply pay for the data I use, but the industry, at least in the U.S., is moving towards tiered data buckets. Some of those buckets have asterisks, and some don’t.

Image courtesy of Flickr user, san_drino