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Give Me Unlimited Data Or Give Me Death

If you haven't seen the latest T-Mobile commercial touting its $10 4G data plans, you should. I won't totally give it away, but it's pretty humorous. The spoken line, "Sometimes you just gotta pay more to be ...slower. It makes sense if you don't think about it," is delivered by the AT&T character in a perfectly monotone, yet arrogant way. The 30-second spot got me wondering just what you actually get for $10 from T-Mobile, and what you might get measured in real applications from other data plans. If you've never played the data plan calculator game, it's a fascinating exercise that will scare the daylights out of those of us hooked on unlimited data plans.

Some context is in order. I am a Verizon Wireless customer with an unlimited data plan. I can't claim blind loyalty to Verizon Wireless, and if a better deal came along on a network that has a similar reputation, I'd have no problem bolting to a different carrier. I'm flat-out addicted to the bottomless data package. I got it bad, baby ... and can't imagine having to actually watch my usage. At this point, I am resolute about having an unlimited data plan, especially after looking over what the various carriers' calculator tools say you can expect for your monthly data fee.

Starting with T-Mobile's $10 plan (before murky taxes and fees), you get a (snicker) whopping 200MBytes a month. To the uninitiated, 200 is a potentially big number, so this might be a good deal. That's until you do the analysis using T-Mobile's own data calculator and find that your Hamilton gets you 25 e-mails a day, 20 daily Web page views, and two photos, files or documents sent or received a day. Sure, this is only an estimate, but you'll notice it leaves out downloading of apps, and games, streaming music and Web-based video. Yet as the very pretty T-Mobile spokesgal in the commercial is making her pitch, the featured smartphone spins around jauntily and clearly shows the YouTube control panel. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but this might make the average consumer think that $10 a month will let you actually do some streaming of video. In reality, T-Mobile's same calculator tells us that 5 minutes a day of streaming video adds up to 450MBytes, or two and a half times what your plan allows. Don't dare fall asleep while streaming music, or you'll pay for it big time.

Let's jump to AT&T's calculator and bring up what might be more typical expected daily use on a data plan (at least for me). If I do this sort of activity in a given month ...

  • Send or receive 50 e-mails, no attachments
  • Send or receive 50 e-mails, with either photos or other attached files
  • Download two songs or apps a day
  • View 50 Web pages a day
  • Stream 1/2 hour of music a day
  • Stream 10 minutes of video per day

... then I've exceeded AT&T's 2GByte DataPro plan and am facing a nickel for every megabyte I go over. Plus taxes and fees, of course. This doesn't take into account tethering or using my device as a wireless hotspot, either.

Then there's the plan I have now. I pay my set amount every month for data (plus taxes and fees), and I just use it without worry. Because it's unlimited. Other than the iPhoners now being courted, new Verizon Wireless customers get a little over 3GBytes for what I pay for unlimited data. I think that stinks. At the top end, Verizon Wireless offers a 10GByte plan for $80 a month (plus taxes and fees). Again--I say that this stinks. Verizon Wireless hooked me, and now they're moving my cheese. The day when I need a new phone, I would imagine my good thing will come to an end and I'll need to start monitoring my traffic to not go broke. Carumba.

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