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FAQ: Is ‘Unlimited’ Really Unlimited?

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I think that the word ‘unlimited’ is probably the most overused word in the mobile world. If you look at the plans, it seems like you can get just about anything unlimited — unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, unlimited international minutes and even on a few select plans, unlimited data. But, what do they mean when they say ‘unlimited’ and is it really unlimited?

Fair Usage Policies

The short answer is no. Nothing is truly unlimited in the mobile world, regardless as to what is advertised. If you look at the fine print on just about anything–even the basic unlimited talk and text that most people take for granted–there is something called a ‘fair usage’ policy.

Fair usage policies basically set limits to protect the company. Generally speaking with talk and text most users will not actually cross the threshold that sends up red flags. Data, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. Most companies handle unlimited data a little different and simply offer a limited amount of “High speed” data and throttle the rest to lower speeds.

Throttled Data

Throttled data simply means that your phone will not be able to access higher speeds. You’ll still be able to connect to the internet but it will be considerably slower. How much your data is throttled varies from company to company but is generally around 128 kbps, which is drastically slowed. To compare, a high speed connection can be up to around 5 Mbps. There are around 1000 kb in a Mb, so that’s going from 2000 – 5000 kbps to 128 kbps (give or take). You’re definitely going to notice that. While basic tasks will definitely still be an option, streaming and other things are likely to either be extremely slow or else not work at all.

Is it legal?

Absolutely. After all, you aren’t the only one that is using the network, and heavy usage can really put strain on the network. Companies do have the right to limit usage, but there are some rules and conditions for doing so. Specifically, companies have to properly notify customers that ‘unlimited’ isn’t as unlimited as it seems. The FCC has fine multiple companies for breaking this rule.

Additionally, thanks to the net neutrality rules, companies cannot selectively throttle services (such as video streaming). This means that it’s an all or nothing sort of thing. Either your usage is throttled or it isn’t, which really helps customers get the most out of their data.

In short, it’s important to understand what the limitations are for your prepaid plans because companies do have the right in their Terms of Service to terminate your service without notice, and no one wants that. So be smart and always read the fine print!

Do you have any other questions about unlimited plans? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!