Competition is good. Without the popularity of the T-Mobile unlimited data plan, we wouldn’t have the reluctant, new Verizon Unlimited data plan. In turn, Verizon’s new plan features made T-Mobile improve their deal to include HD video streaming video and 10 GB of LTE tethered hotspot data. In addition, starting 2/17, T-Mobile is running a special promotion of 2 lines with Unlimited data for $100 with taxes and fees included. If you assume $5 on monthly taxes and fees, that works out to $45 + $5 taxes per line. This is nice if you’re a 2-line household like me and are unable to take advantage of the 4-line deals. T-Mobile is effectively $35 + $5 taxes per line if you have 4 lines. Until 2/22, you can also stack another $150 for each line ported to T-Mobile (bring your own phone).
Here is a comparison graphic of the T-Mobile and Verizon Unlimited plans as of 2/17/17. Although created by T-Mobile, I found it fair enough. Adding in an estimated $5 per line in taxes and fees is even low in some geographic areas.
The final comparison point remains network quality (coverage, reliability, and speed). Although T-Mobile touts their network availability is within 2% of Verizon according to OpenSignal, this still remains a local issue. If T-Mobile doesn’t have coverage in your living room or in the middle if your commute, you don’t care about the rest of the network.
Premium features with a smaller price gap. Usually the “frugal” plans I talk about are MVNOs, but these plans have features that most MVNOs don’t have like:
- Free voice roaming. For example, the unlimited T-Mobile plan will let you roam on AT&T GSM networks in rural areas where they don’t have voice coverage. Verizon also offers voice roaming onto other networks in areas where they don’t have coverage.
- 4G LTE hotspot tethering. Most MVNOs either ban tethering or charge extra, including Cricket and Straight Talk.
- Unlimited high-speed data without throttling. T-Mobile will “network de-prioritize” your data after you use 28 GB in a single cycle, while Verizon will do the same at 22 GB. Basically, if the network is really busy at a specific point in time and you have exceeded those limits, your data speeds may go down. This is different than the “throttling” that other MVNOs do, for example an always-on speed limit of 128 kbps.
For travelers, T-Mobile also includes unlimited international text and 2G data in over 140 countries. While some MVNOs have poor customer service and support via e-mail only (no phone number), the major 4 carriers will at least have humans via 1-800 number.
Bottom line. T-Mobile and Verizon have both improved their Unlimited plan features and lowered the prices recently. While they still cost more than MVNO alternatives, they also offer a few premium features like hotspot tethering that MVNOs usually don’t include. You’ll have to decide if the premium features are worth it at these new price points.