In 2016, when the wireless industry started offering unlimited data plans at more reasonable prices, one of the big selling points was simplicity. Customers wouldn’t have to guess how much data they needed every month.
But the move to simplicity is getting more complicated, as Verizon highlighted on Friday, when it rolled out not one, two, or three, but four different new unlimited plans ranging in price from $70 to $90 for a single line. The choices make it harder than ever to decide which is the best unlimited plan.
But it’s hardly Verizon’s fault. Over the past year or two, starting with AT&T, all four major carriers have developed an increasingly confusing set of unlimited plans with different features and prices.
The changing plans come as the mobile industry faces some basic challenges, such as the saturated mobile phone market. In Verizon’s just-reported second quarter, for example, wireless revenue grew only 2.5%. With fewer new customers to sign up, fighting has intensified for switchers—those people willing to change carriers for a better deal.
For a few years, adding throw-ins like free Netflix or free Apple Music accounts was all the rage. Lately, it seems, the battle is focused on something more basic: price.
Take Verizon’s four new plans, which replace the carrier’s three previous offerings, beginning on Aug. 5. The plans are slightly cheaper than their predecessors, and they come with a deeper discount for accounts with five lines. The old set up only provided discounts up to four lines.
The cheapest new plan, called “Start Unlimited,” costs $70 for one line to $140 for four lines. That’s $5 to $20 per month cheaper than the old entry-level “Go Unlimited” plan. Five lines cost only $150 versus $200 under the old plan.
Otherwise the plans are pretty similar. Download speeds can be slowed at any time in congested areas, video streaming quality is downgraded to DVD-quality, and customers get a six-month free trial of Apple Music. The old plan included slow-speed data to a linked laptop or other device, while the new base plan has no hotspot feature, however.
In the middle, Verizon now offers two similar but not quite the same plans, both of which cost $80 for one line up to $180 for four lines. “Do More Unlimited” customers get up to 50 GB of 4G LTE high-speed data before any congested area slowdowns and 15 GB of 4G LTE for hotspotting. They also get DVD-quality video, while adding six months of Apple Music, 500 GB of cloud storage, and 50% off the cost of a cellular-connected tablet or stand-alone portable hotspot.
“Play More Unlimited” subscribers get only 25 GB of speedy data, high-definition video streaming instead of DVD, and the same 15 GB of 4G data for hotspotting. But they also get a continuous, free Apple Music account though not any cloud storage or the discount on adding an another device.
Got all that straight?
In essence, the “Do More” is the more business-oriented account designed for getting work done on the go, with its higher data allowances. The “Play More,” as the name suggests, focuses more on entertainment with better video quality and the long-term Apple Music account included.
Both plans are also $5 to $20 cheaper than the old middle choice, “Beyond Unlimited.”
Finally, for customers with the biggest budgets, the new “Get More Unlimited” plan starts at $90 and rises to $220 for four lines. It gets 75 GB of fast data per month, 30 GB of fast hotspot data, plus HD-quality video streaming. It also gets the Apple Music account, the 50% discount on service for a connected device, and 500 GB of cloud storage. And it’s $5 to $20 cheaper per month than the old “Above Unlimited” plan, which did have some international use discounts that are not included with the new plan.
The three higher-end plans also include 5G service for the few customers who live in areas where Verizon offering (currently, 5G is available in parts of nine cities) and have a phone that’s 5G compatible.
The bottom line isn’t that different from the other carriers, which split up features like higher-quality video and fast hotspot data across various plans of their own. But even with Verizon’s lower prices, there are better deals to be had. AT&T’s cheapest unlimited plan starts at $70 for online, the same as Verizon, but T-Mobile’s starts at $60, and Sprint’s at $50 (although that could disappear for new customers if the planned T-Mobile-Sprint merger is completed).
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