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T-Mobile is giving unlimited data to every customer, but there’s a catch

T-Mobile, the self-styled Un-carrier of the cellular industry, announced a blockbuster of a promotion this morning: the elimination of data caps. That’s no joke. T-Mobile introduced the One plan on Thursday, a radical revamp of its offerings that does away with data buckets in favor of a single price and unlimited data.

“The era of the data plan is over,” said Legere. “After Un-carrier 12, the wireless industry will never be the same again.”

T-Mobile describes One as “simple,” and that appears to hit the nail on the head. A single line on the new plan starts at $70 on auto bill pay (or $5 additional per month without auto pay) for unlimited talk, unlimited text, and unlimited 4G LTE data. That’s all there is — you won’t find additional charges for high-speed data, or overages, or hidden fees here. Add-on lines start at $50, and each additional line thereafter is $20 a month per line for up to eight lines. In all, T-Mobile said monthly charges for a family of four work out to $160.

In addition, subscribers to the One plan retain all the “Un-carrier” benefits T-Mobile has introduced to its outgoing Simple Choice offerings over the past several years. Those include Simple Global, or unlimited texting and data roaming in more than 140 countries; Mobile Without Borders, which extends T-Mobile coverage benefits to parts of Mexico and Canada; and T-Mobile Tuesdays, which offers weekly discounts on movie tickets, ridesharing services, and more.

“The era of the data plan is over. After Un-carrier 12, the wireless industry will never be the same again.”

Sievart said the pricing was “lower than 92 percent” of what Verizon customers pay, and that a comparable, 100GB plan with “some of the competition” could cost as much as $530.

There’s a bit of wiggle room in those terms, though. Tethering is unlimited at 2G speeds, but T-Mobile Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert said that One plan subscribers will have the option of adding high-speed tethering data for a bit extra — $15 per month for every 5GB of high-speed data.

Another potential drag? Limits on some customers. Folks who use more than 26GB of high-speed data per month “may see their data traffic prioritized behind other users” at “specific times and places that may experience high network demand,” according to a T-Mobile press release. Sievart stressed that only a slim minority of customers would be impacted, though — the “top 3 percent.”

And the One plans have another potential downside: television, movies, and content on streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch stream at standard definition by default. High definition quality is a $25 upcharge, a step down from T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan — currently, individual video providers have choice in resolution if they turn off Binge On.

Updated on 8-21-2016: EFF says T-Mobile One may be violating net neutrality rules

The biggest problem of all, however, may be T-Mobile’s alleged violation of net neutrality rules (something the company has been accused of before). As Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) senior staff technologist Jeremy Gillula told the Daily Dot, “From what we’ve read thus far it seems like T-Mobile’s new plan to charge its customers extra to not throttle video runs directly afoul of the principle of net neutrality.”

Moreover, Gillula noted, limiting video streaming quality could fly in the face of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet Order, which “explicitly said that ISPs can’t throttle traffic based on its type, or charge customers more in order to avoid discriminatory throttling.”

But Sievart said the change is in line with what a majority of people, or “some 99 percent,” have historically favored: standard-def, 480p (640 x 480 pixels) video on T-Mobile’s existing Simple Choice plan. “Customers will have unlimited video at appropriate resolutions for small screen,” he said.

#TMobileONE is our most historic move yet! We are CHANGING THIS INDUSTRY FOREVER! #Uncarrier12

— John Legere (@JohnLegere) August 18, 2016

The One plan may be a tough sell for existing subscribers. Two customers on a now-deprecated two-line unlimited plan pay $140, according to T-Mobile’s website. That offering included HD video at no extra charge if you turned off Binge On — a paid proposition on the One plan. But Legere brushed aside those concerns. “T-Mobile is now all unlimited,” he said. “[The One plan] is a monthly subscription to the mobile internet.”

T-Mobile said that unlimited data has been customers’ “single most requested” feature in recent years. Sievart said that it’s been mentioned “more than a million times” in social media. The reason, he posited, is the difficulty of estimating the amount of data a given customer’s likely to consume — although “most” T-Mobile subscribers “weren’t bumping against data limits,” Sievart said, some “80 percent” of people “aren’t able to tell you what a standard definition movie equates to in megabytes.”

Legere said T-Mobile’s previous benefits have laid One’s technical groundwork. T-Mobile subscribers, he said, stream three times more music, two times more video, and use 50 percent more data than customers on competing providers — a level of network stress that, he said, has produced a wireless robustness unmatched in the wireless industry. He pointed to research firm OpenSignals latest survey: T-Mobile’s network ranked “fastest” of the U.S.’s four major carriers.

“For years, we purpose-built our network for this and worked to get to this point, (and) I challenge the other carriers to try.”

“[We’ve] had music streaming and a year plus of learning of Binge On,” he said. “Un-carrier 10 has been foundational to this. For years, we purpose-built our network for this and worked to get to this point, [and] I challenge the other carriers to try.”

Simple Choice Plans aren’t going away just yet. Existing subscribers will get to keep their plans, and T-Mobile will begin to phase out its current crop of options “gradually” beginning on September 6. Prepaid options, meanwhile, will continue to start at $25 on MetroPCS and $30 on T-Mobile.

T-Mobile’s had impressive success thus far with its Un-carrier initiatives, especially compared to the competition. In the first fiscal quarter of this year, it added 877,000 postpaid subscribers compared to Verizon’s loss of 8,000 and AT&T’s loss of 363,000. In fact, said Legere, 77 percent of its new postpaid customers come from the aforementioned carriers.

But Legere framed the One plan in generously egalitarian terms. “We’re making it better for customers. We set out to revolutionize the industry,” he said. “We want to get everybody to move the way we’re doing things. This is the most fundamental change to the way the wireless industry will change”

And the carrier’s just getting started. T-Mobile said it “doubled” its coverage to 311 million people in the past year, and that new Un-carrier benefits were “around the corner.” You can check out all the info here and on T-Mobile’s website.

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