True unlimited mobile data does not exist anywhere (not even in the USA)

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Let me get this out of the way right off the bat, true unlimited mobile data plan does not exist in America. Or anywhere else.

So you ask me, “What do you mean by true unlimited?”

I answer by asking you, “How do you define unlimited?”

Unlimited internet data

I am using the USA as an example, because very often, people in other countries hear about “unlimited” data plans there and start clamouring for same in their own countries. So, let me help you understand what unlimited data is in practice.

Ordinarily, unlimited would mean, ‘without restriction’, ‘not confined’ and so on. But to the carriers, unlimited means, ‘as long as you don’t use too much data, you’re not restricted.’

You see, the way unlimited mobile data works is, if you’re a heavy user of data, the speed of your connection is slowed way down (throttled) after you reach what is called a “threshold” or “reasonable limit”. In some cases, the subscriber is cut off completely after crossing that mark.

For example, if you’re on a 4G or 3G unlimited data plan, your connection can slow to as low as 128kbps once you have crossed the threshold. I have to say here that the threshold is different depending on what data plan you’re on. A lot of the prepaid plans are usually upfront about the amount of bandwidth you enjoy at optimum speed before your connection slows down. This is not true unlimited data in my opinion.

True unlimited data for me would be to be able to use data the way I want without any form of restriction. That would be heaven for me really, but I’m not sure that it is realistic. The plans tend to have a severe impact on infrastructure. There are always a set of subscribers who download so much data (video, audio and games) at the expense of other subscribers.

It is worth noting by the way that in the USA, both AT&T and Verizon have long discontinued unlimited data plans.

As a Nigerian who has experienced the so-called unlimited data plans, I honestly must say that the slowing down of internet connection some way into my data plan subscription is always a bitter pill to swallow. As a matter of fact, it is always a very painful experience. I would rather buy an internet plan with a data cap that has the same speed all through my subscription period. That is my preference anytime any day.

But do stop dreaming about truly unlimited data plans. There is always one limit or the other. Those plans are only unlimited in name.

14 comments

  1. half bread is better than none… that your supposed slow 128kbs na im we Nigerians dey pray for most times on our useless networks

  2. Thank God you said mobile network, cause I know for a fact that most Americans download heaven and hell mostly via wifi that is connected to fiberoptic networking, it was only of recent Verizon warned a subscriber to cut down on his usage cause he consumed 50tb of data in a month. How did the subscriber do this? He was running various servers on a residential data plan.
    Back to the topic, I know for a fact that there is no network in Nigeria be it fiberoptic or wireless that can or gives data of 1tb not to talk of 50tb per month at a cheap price and fast speed, even the visafone blackberry plan of 10tb is ridiculously slow, the only way Nigerians can get unlimited data with high speed is via major fiberoptic operators like mainone, glo one, etc the problem with them is the high cost and limited coverage, imagine they sell 1mb for about $250 per month.
    What we Nigerians need is at least 10tb of fiberoptic data to our homes and from there we can create our own wifi network for our phones. Least I forget, the US has lots of open wifi hotspots. Nigerians are being shortchanged…

  3. No free lunch in Freetown,it’s very naive for anyone to expect to get unrestricted free data download anywhere in the world it’s just not feasible..

  4. “unlimited data” is a marketing buzzword from the 90s, when most subscribers simply couldn’t use enough data to reach the hidden data caps. it was like when Nigerian TelCos used to offer unlimited BIS plans, it was almost impossible to reach the 5 GB data caps in the beginning, essentially 5 GB was unlimited data because most people didn’t use more than 500 MB/month at that time. but eventually a few people started exceeding their quotas on a regular basis. the TelCos then brought in “fair usage”. basically the unlimited data bubble was busted by the exponentially increasing demand for bandwidth, ie the media downloading age and the proliferation of media downloading sites, online gaming and video/music streaming. it is also important to remember that TelCos & ISPs have limited bandwidth to offer

  5. As sweet as this sounds, unlimited internet does seem a myth. In Nigeria, regular internet is a myth what with most mobile networks offering average speeds of less than 100kbps…we just enjoy what we can while it lasts. If any network can do more, great. But we don’t count on unlimited…that’s the holy grail; the Olympus we may never experience.. just yet…

  6. I can’t comment on the US situation with data as their whole setup most of the times is confusing for me, used to using the same network across the country on the same tariff. Let me not talk of the variations of one device on different networks.

    The UK situation I’m much more familar with. There is and has been “unlimited” data, just as there were “unlimited” calls at one point in time. What changed with the latter was that most people gave up the tariffs – networks basically priced them so high and actively were trying to get subscribers to change their tariffs to something limited. I actually knew a couple of people who, up until not long ago, still held tightly to one of these tariffs even at the much higher prices. And most of these unlimited tariffs were in the very early days of cross-network phone calls

    With regards to data, you’d be surprised that some people still have their unlimited plans that took off around 2009/2010. When your contract lapses, the networks often bump up the tariff cost, or try to get you to move you to another, more limited tariff. In the case of one person, the network tried to sell them a 4G phone whilst still on the unlimited 3G tariff and made it sound like a good deal.

    The only restrictions – if I can call it that – were that you couldn’t tether (not that most people ever did), and abuse of the service let to throttling or changing your tariff; those little bits in T&Cs that people never bother to read until a transgression has been made. So yes, in a few pockets, “unlimited” still exists – at a price.

  7. you are wrong . am in india . here there is a true unlimited plan availabel i use this plan more than 2 years. operator BSNL . monthly Charge 825. speed 3.1mbps but i can get 120KB/s in INternet download manager for the whole month . per day i download around 5GB of Data .

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