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Unlimited Data Plans and The Consumers Who Still Have Them

July 22, 2014 - Written By Ray Greer

Carriers in the US have long known that the business is changing. Consumers have been using more data than anything else they offer, and so, carriers have changed their business models. Going from offering tiered minutes with unlimited data, to tiered data with unlimited voice and text. Though there are those consumers who have been with certain carriers long enough to have been “grandfathered” into unlimited data plans. Such is the case for AT&T who has 44% of their consumers on “grandfathered” unlimited data plans.

Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) has put together a report that surveyed 500 people. The purpose was to find out how many people across the four biggest US carriers-Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile-are currently on unlimited data plans. In some cases, CIRP has even proved that carriers may be stretching the truth when it comes to the numbers they present in regards to the matter. Above we noted that AT&T’s numbers, according to CIRP are at around 44% of consumers on their network are still using unlimited data plans. However AT&T presents numbers less than half that saying “81% of smartphones are on metered plans.” That would put 19% of users on unlimited plans. In most instances, AT&T consumers with unlimited data plans are “grandfathered” in with the option.

AT&T has an official stance on the matter, but there’s a grey area. The stance essentially states that consumers can upgrade their plans, and keep the unlimited data. It becomes a bit grey when consumers upgrade to LTE capable devices. AT&T would prefer that consumers lose unlimited data when they choose an LTE device with an old plan. While this is currently a decision that’s made by the consumer, AT&T does reserve the right to migrate their plans and remove the unlimited data. To do that, AT&T must provide a notice of this change one billing cycle before the change takes effect. Still, AT&T does have an impressive number of consumers on unlimited data plans, though the other carriers aren’t standing still in this fight either.

Sprint and T-Mobile are the two US carriers that are bringing up the rear when it comes to market rankings. Due to that struggle, they take a different approach to marketing and plan offerings. Instead of offering tiered data plans, they offer only unlimited data plans-with a catch. T-Mobile for example offers their Simple Choice Plans that range from $50/month to $80/month. The $50 plan allows for “unlimited data, though there is a 1GB cap. The cap means that once you pass that 1GB, your data gets throttled to lower speeds. The rest of the plans offered by T-Mobile allow for 3GB, 5GB and truly unlimited data plans. These offerings help keep T-Mobile in the battle of the carriers. Sprint and T-Mobile both have 78% of consumers on unlimited data plans. Verizon is a different story though.

According to the report, one of the reasons Verizon is top dog in the US carrier market is because of their data offerings. Verizon doesn’t offer unlimited data, and instead has shared data plans. This allows for them to charge more to the customer than the other carriers. One example given by the report shows that 14% of customers on Verizon are paying $200 or more per month. Which carrier are you one, and what type of data plan do you have? Let us know on our G+, or down below.