Unlimited data on mobile networks used to be the norm when you couldn’t use very much of it because of sluggish devices and speeds. Metered data was all the rage for a while but has since been supplanted by unlimited data plans. Are they really unlimited, though? Over the past few years, the big four US carriers have been working to twist the definition of the word “unlimited” until it has no meaning. AT&T may have finally succeeded with its new plans that determine when the carriers will throttle your connection to unusably slow speeds.
AT&T’s new data plans come in three flavors. At the bottom is the Unlimited Starter for $65 per month. Next up is Unlimited Extra for $75, and AT&T’s top of the line is Unlimited Elite for $85 monthly. Naturally, all the plans have pricing breaks if you add more than one line.
All of AT&T’s plans have a suspicious number of limits for an unlimited plan, but the entry-level option is particularly galling. With Unlimited Starter, you get full speed LTE and SD-only video for as long as AT&T thinks you should. The carrier can, at any time, start “deprioritizing” your data. That means your LTE connection will drop to sub-3G speeds, making many services unusable. There’s also no hotspot data included with the Unlimited Starter plan.
The next step up is closer to the experience we’re accustomed to on other carriers. With Unlimited Extra, you get LTE speeds until you’ve used 50GB in a billing cycle. Then, you’re throttled for the rest of the month. You get 15GB of hotspot data on this plan, but video is still SD. Unlimited Elite boosts the deprioritization threshold to 100GB, and there’s 30GB of hotspot data. You do get HD video on this plan, though.
AT&T previously offered a free subscription to Spotify, HBO, or a handful of other services with its unlimited plans. Now, you only get that with Unlimited Elite, and HBO is your only option. However, AT&T will throw in access to the upcoming HBO Max streaming service.
Even in the context of fake-unlimited data plans, these plans seem to have a whole lot of limits. The three plan levels with different deprioritization caps just seem a lot like the tiered data caps of years past. AT&T Unlimited Starter and Unlimited Extra launch on November 3rd, and Unlimited Elite will launch later.
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