Verizon is launching an ‘unlimited’ data plan for the first time in 5 years

Verizon on Sunday said that it will launch an unlimited LTE data plan, titled Verizon Unlimited, on February 13. The plan will start at $80 per month for an individual line, or $45 per line for a group of four on smartphones or tablets.

The move marks the first time in more than five years that Verizon, the nation’s largest carrier in terms of total subscribers, will have an unlimited offering. The carrier had recently started forcing heavy users who’ve stayed on those old plans to move to new offerings.

Executives at the company have downplayed the need for unlimited plans on numerous occasions in recent months, too, though the carrier started allowing customers to pay for unlimited usage in 30- and 60-minute increments last fall.

The new plan comes on the heels of other aggressive pushes into unlimited data from rival carriers, most notably T-Mobile, which in August replaced all of its existing mobile plans in favor of one unlimited offering, entitled T-Mobile One.

T-Mobile’s plan has faced criticism, however, for downgrading all video streams to a less-than-HD resolution unless subscribers pay for a $15 add-on. It also does not allow subscribers to access LTE speeds when using their phones as a mobile hotspot by default.

Verizon appears to be directly going after those complaints. The carrier says its unlimited plan will allow users to stream video at an “HD” resolution, and that it will include up to 10GB of LTE mobile hotspot data before cutting that down to 3G speeds. The carrier did not specify whether or not it will allow videos to stream above a 720p resolution, the minimum threshold for high-definition video, however.

Verizon says the plan will also provide unlimited calling and texting to Canada and Mexico, along with 500 MB per day of LTE data in those countries. A $10 per day pass will allow for that same allotment of data outside of North America.

Verizon says it will keep other tiered data plans available alongside the new unlimited plan, including a 5GB per month offering, as well as the “S,” “M,” and “L” plans. Currently, those plans start at $35 per month for 2GB of LTE data.

The $80 per month starting point makes Verizon’s unlimited plan costlier than T-Mobile One, which starts at $70 per month for a single line, and Sprint’s unlimited data plan, which normally costs $60 per month. But it is less expensive than AT&T’s unlimited offering, which starts at $100 per month and only comes bundled with a subscription to the carrier’s DirecTV or U-Verse services.

Verizon is still generally seen as having the fastest and most widely available network of the bunch, though a recent study from mobile analyst firm OpenSignal found that T-Mobile has largely caught up when it comes to fastest average speeds.

In any case, Verizon’s new plan comes with the same caveat as every other unlimited offering: It’s not technically unlimited. Verizon says that any line that uses more than 22GB of mobile data in a given month may see their data “prioritized” behind other customers in times of network congestion. T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T all warn of similar limits, too.

Still, that allotment should be enough for most people, and would seem to give Verizon a plan it can sell to hungrier users in an increasingly data-heavy time. The carrier describes the new offering as an “introductory” plan, so expect more details to emerge soon.

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Verizon announces new unlimited data plan

Verizon just made a rather surprising weekend announcement: unlimited data plans are coming back. The carrier says that beginning tomorrow, it will offer what it's calling Verizon Unlimited. The plan will cost $80 for an individual line or $45 for each line on a four-line family plan. Those prices are described as “introductory” and require both paperless billing and AutoPay to be enabled. Customers will get full LTE speeds until they reach 22GB of usage, after which they’ll be subject to reduced data speeds and de-prioritization.

Hotspot tethering — up to 10GB at LTE speeds — is included, as are calls and texts to Mexico and Canada. Verizon Unlimited also allows for 500MB-per-day roaming in those countries, and you can pay $10 for a 500MB LTE TravelPass elsewhere in the world. The carrier isn't completely moving away from “bucketed” data plans and will continue offering 5 GB, S, M, and L options to subscribers who don't use large sums of data each month.

Verizon is already pitching its unlimited plan as superior to T-Mobile's, noting that it includes HD video as opposed to the 480p/DVD-quality video that T-Mobile One customers get by default. However, Verizon specifying only “high definition” leaves room for the carrier to limit users to 720p video. Verizon claims it has been working “tirelessly but quietly” to deliver a new unlimited plan designed for power users and meant to eliminate concerns about exceeding data caps.

We’ll need to wait until tomorrow for the full specifics and any annoying fine print attached to Verizon Unlimited, but today’s announcement marks a pretty significant change for the mobile industry. The massive popularity of smartphones gradually pushed all the major US carriers away from unlimited data plans, and now they’re coming back into favor — but almost always with asterisks. T-Mobile led the way back and no longer advertises tiered plans. But the company reduces video quality unless customers enable an “HD day pass.” Sprint extends similar oversight to music streaming quality and even gaming speeds.

Verizon stopped offering unlimited data to new customers way back in 2011, though a subset of existing subscribers (myself included) have held onto their grandfathered plans in the years since. AT&T offers unlimited data only to customers who also use its satellite/TV services, while T-Mobile and Sprint offer the plans to everyone. Each company has a different limit at which they’ll start prioritizing other subscribers over those who chug through an unlimited plan. AT&T matches Verizon at 22GB. For Sprint it’s 23GB. T-Mobile has a slightly higher threshold of 26GB. All carriers insist that speeds are only reduced in rare instances when their wireless networks are heavily congested.


Verizon joins the unlimited wireless data party

Verizon will begin offering unlimited data plans to customers starting Monday.

The largest U.S. wireless provider will let customers keep their current plans or opt for an $80 monthly plan, for a single line, with unlimited data, talking and texting. Customers must agree to AutoPay and paper-free billing. Families can also pay $45 per line for four lines (a total of $180).

The move comes amid growing competition in the wireless space. Verizon had been an unlimited plan holdout as T-Mobile and, to a lesser extent, Sprint have gained ground on Verizon and No. 2 provider AT&T with their unlimited offerings. As customers use their smartphones for more video and photo sharing via social media networks, T-Mobile and Sprint have grown their user base with users who don't want to worry about using more data than their plan allows.

Verizon hopes to stem any further exodus with the offerings. "Verizon is offering something nobody else can: The unlimited plan you want on the wireless network you deserve," said Ronan Dunne, president of Verizon’s wireless division, in a video posted Verizon's website Sunday.

The move by Verizon was "inevitable," said Roger Entner, a telecom analyst with Recon Analytics. He had expected Verizon to begin offering unlimited wireless plans, but the company's announcement comes "a bit earlier than expected. But only by months, not by years. ... They are fighting back hard."

As wireless networks have become better and able to handle more capacity, unlimited data plans make sense, Entner said. The company had said that the cost of delivering a gigabyte of data had dropped 40% to 50% as its network had evolved.

"This forces AT&T also to follow suit," he said. So far, AT&T's unlimited wireless plan is available only to those who subscribe to either of their pay-TV services DirecTV or U-verse.

Verizon last offered unlimited data options to customers in 2012 before killing the plans in favor of tiered data buckets where users share data with other members of their family.

Last year the company made its first move back towards unlimited, introducing a "Safety Mode" where customers who exceeded their mobile data limits would see their data slowed to 2G speeds instead of being automatically billed overage charges for additional gigabytes.

While the competition does still undercut it on price, Verizon's plan delivers high definition video and lets you use your smartphone as a wireless hotspot for up to 10GB of data at no additional charge. T-Mobile and Sprint limit their mobile video streams to a lower resolution, though both carriers allow for users to purchase the ability to stream in HD.

Also last week, Sprint announced a new five-line unlimited data plan for $90. In comparison, T-Mobile charges $70 per month for the first line and $50 for the second. Four lines would cost $160 (each additional line is $20 monthly, up to eight lines).

Under Verizon's plan (more info on verizon.com) five lines would cost $200 each month (not including taxes or other fees). Verizon charges $180 for the four lines, with each additional unlimited line costing $20 up to ten lines. Customers can add a tablet to their plan for $20 monthly and a smartwatch for $5.

Verizon will send through data at full LTE speeds until a customer surpasses 22 GB for the month, then it may prioritize data during busy times to prevent network congestion that could affect other customers.

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