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Unlimited Data Plans Make a Comeback

But what does the return of unlimited data plans mean for your business?

By Dennis Jones


Flash back a few years ago: unlimited data plans were a thing of the past. They’d been phased out by big carriers who had deemed that offering unlimited data, talk and text plans was a financial no go. The context: sharp increases in smartphone use had made consumers increasingly digitally dependent. And that digital dependence meant that mobile subscribers were placing a lot of stress on carrier infrastructure. Something had to give. And that something proved to be unlimited data plans.

Now, fast-forward to last summer. T-Mobile and Sprint launched their new unlimited data plans on literally the same day. T-Mobile went whole hog on unlimited, promising to completely phase out its monthly packages of data allotments. As a side note: although T-Mobile and Sprint began what would soon become a carrier arms race, they technically weren’t the first carriers. AT&T had introduced an unlimited plan back in the beginning of 2016, solely targeted at its DIRECTV subscribers.

AT&T wouldn’t wait too long before rolling out an unlimited offering to all of its eligible subscribers. That move left Verizon as the sole holdout. But by February 2017, Verizon launched its own unlimited plan, the first in more than six years.

The official return of unlimited data plans

The unlimited data plan wars were now over. And the winner? Well, mobile consumers, of course, those of us who could comparison shop, forcing downward price pressure on highly-coveted unlimited data plans. And prices would go down.

But that’s not the whole story. Certainly, the appeal of unlimited data plans over capped, monthly data plans is pretty obvious, especially for subscribers who rely on heavy allotments of mobile data – that’s pretty much all of us these days. But the comparison isn’t necessarily between unlimited and capped; it’s between unlimited and actually unlimited.

So what do I mean? The short answer is that unlimited data plans don’t always entitle you to unlimited data at optimal speeds. Some plans are transparent. They stipulate that they won’t support optimal speeds once subscribers reach a certain data threshold. You know, the kind of threshold ordinary subscribers would pass if they’re dependent on mobile devices to perform a lot of high bandwidth activity. A lot of mobile professionals fit into that category, which means IT shouldn’t rely solely on unlimited cellular plans when creating and executing their enterprise mobility strategies.

Consider unlimited Wi-Fi as a supplement to your unlimited data plans

So what’s the rub if you’re considering a corporate unlimited data plan or relying on employees to get (and expense) their own unlimited data plans? Well, you should consider that cellular is not ideal for all types of data consumption. Wi-Fi provides a better experience for streaming and using high-bandwidth applications. A fact that subscribers have noted. Smartphone users already spend more than half of their time on Wi-Fi, meaning your users already supplement mobile with Wi-Fi.

Finally, Wi-Fi is available in many places where cellular is not. So if your team travels internationally, your costs will also be higher due to roaming charges.