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T-Mobile and Sprint Have New Truly Unlimited Data Plans, But There Are Some Downsides

After being banished for years, unlimited data plans are coming back. T-Mobile and Sprint are reviving unlimited data this week, but like usual with remakes, it’s not going to be as good the second time around. Both plans unsurprisingly skew expensive, but there are a few restrictions on these plans that might rankle even more.

T-Mobile’s plan seems particularly limited, which is a surprise for a carrier whose data plan moves we’ve generally been on board with. T-Mobile One is the name of their unlimited plan, and it’s heavily skewed toward families. It’s a front-loaded plan — it’s $160 for a family of four, but that’s broken down into $70 for the first line, $50 for the second, and $20 each for any additional lines up to eight total. That’s not too bad for families, but couples and singles will find it more expensive than what T-Mobile has been offering up until now.

There are some additional restrictions. The most surprising is that T-Mobile One plans will only allow for streaming video in 480p. We’re not surprised that a carrier would refuse to allow unlimited HD streaming, but we are surprised that T-Mobile would make standard resolution streaming the default for their flagship plan. If you do want unlimited HD streaming, it’ll cost an extra $25 per month — still reasonable for families, but at $95 per month for a single line, it’s not looking very attractive.

Tethering is similarly disappointing. With T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plans, you got an allotment of high speed tethering before you got throttled to 2G speeds, which are virtually worthless on a PC or Mac. Tethering is now 2G from the start, with each 5 GB of high-speed tethering data costing another $15 per month.

We’re not done with the surprises — while existing T-Mobile customers can keep their current plans, it sounds like T-Mobile will replace their Simple Choice Plans with T-Mobile One once the plan becomes available on September 6. They’ll still have more reasonable prepaid deals, but for post-paid service, it sounds like T-Mobile One is going to be the one choice.

Sprint is rolling out a slightly better unlimited plan. Unlimited Freedom the same price as T-Mobile One for a family of four, but it’s less front-loaded — the first line is $60, the second is $40, and subsequent lines are $30 each. The plan comes with the same restrictions on video streaming, but there are also bitrate restrictions on music streaming (although those won’t be as noticeable as with video) and gaming (2 Mbps). They do include 5 GB of high-speed data for tethering, though, which gives them an edge over T-Mobile. Sprint’s new plan is available starting tomorrow.

Both plans are pretty lackluster, especially for one or two people. We’ve thought prepaid was the way to go for a while, and these plans only nudge us further in that direction. For families of four or more, the two plans make a little more sense, but they aren’t revolutionary by any means.

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