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Sorry, T-Mobile: Your shared data plans are just as lame as Verizon’s

Updated 4 years ago
Published Jun 13th, 2012 11:45AM EDT

There are some valid reasons to criticize Verizon’s new “Share Everything” plans — the main one being that they don’t offer as much value as Verizon’s old unlimited data plan — but T-Mobile doesn’t have many of them. That didn’t stop the carrier from promoting an old blog post on its Twitter feed earlier this week that outlined the value of T-Mobile’s family plans compared with the shared plans of “some of their competitors.” While the post never mentioned Verizon by name, the fact that T-Mobile promoted this piece on the same day Verizon announced its shared plans makes it pretty clear that T-Mobile still thinks its points and conclusions are still valid. But does T-Mobile really offer “simple, unlimited data plans” that differ significantly from Verizon? Not quite.

The blog post, written by T-Mobile senior vice president of marketing Andrew Sherrard, made three claims. The first was that T-Mobile offers more flexible and affordable plans than the competition.

“At T-Mobile, customers have the option of only paying for the amount of data each member of the family believes they will need,” he wrote. “Customers can choose affordable, no-annual-contract data for tablets and other data-only products they share – paying every month or buying in daily or weekly installments.”

A Verizon customer service representative told me that users can add tablets that they already own to their Share Everything plans without having to sign a service agreement for them. The only time Verizon customers would have to sign a service agreement for tablets is when they’re buying tablets being subsidized at a lower price by Verizon. If a Verizon customer wants to pay full price for their new tablet, he or she can add it to a Share Everything plan with no service agreement. This is, not shockingly, the same as what T-Mobile offers: Subsidized tablets that require two-year contracts and unsubsidized tablets that don’t require any contracts.

Second, Sherrard claimed that T-Mobile offers “unlimited data plans” where “there is no surprise data cap or bill shock.” This is a legitimate point in T-Mobile’s favor, although it’s not as great as Sherrard made it out to be.

First, it’s true that T-Mobile’s HSPA+ customers never have to worry about overage fees on their services since they technically are allowed to consume an unlimited amount of data per month. But T-Mobile customers do have to worry about service degradation since T-Mobile knocks its HSPA+ customers down to slower speeds if they exceed their monthly data cap.

T-Mobile’s system is akin to an all-you-can-eat buffet that tells customers they have to wait two hours in between plates: technically people can eat as much as they want but they won’t be able to get it as quickly as they want.

And finally, Sherrard claims that T-Mobile customers get more from what they pay because they get free tethering services if they have data plans of more than 5GB of HSPA+ data.

“[W]ith a capable T-Mobile smartphone… customers can power up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices with fast, 4G data,” he wrote. “So rather than needing to account for each device on a shared family data plan, customers can use their existing data plan to power multiple devices, while still saving hundreds of dollars annually.”

From reading this, one would never guess that Verizon is actually offering complimentary tethering to all of its Share Everything customers, regardless of their monthly data cap. But this is the case: Verizon Share Everything plans ditch the $20 monthly tethering fee that the carrier traditionally charged.

OK, enough with fact-checking T-Mobile’s public relations verbiage for now. It’s time to do an apples-to-apples comparison between Verizon and T-Mobile by looking at two shared plans that offer roughly the same total package.

The first is T-Mobile’s “Classic Unlimited Plus” plan that delivers unlimited talk and SMS for two smartphones and a 2GB monthly HSPA+ data cap with no tethering that sells for around $140 per month. The equivalent of this for Verizon is a Share Everything plan that includes two smartphones with unlimited talk and text for $40 each ($80 total) and a 4GB data plan that charges $70 a month with free tethering included. The total for the Verizon plan, then, is $150 a month. That’s $10 higher but remember that it comes with tethering while T-Mobile’s does not.

Another one: T-Mobile’s “Classic Unlimited – Premium with Smartphone Mobile HotSpot Service” plan delivers unlimited voice and SMS for two smartphones along with 5GB of monthly HSPA+ data and free tethering for $170 per month. The Verizon Share Everything equivalent is two smartphones with unlimited voice and SMS ($40 each, $80 total) with a data plan of 10GB per month and free tethering that costs $100 a month. This brings the total for the Verizon plan to $180 a month, which, again, is just $10 more per month than T-Mobile’s.

So, other than offering users the assurance that they’ll never get whacked with data overage fees, does T-Mobile really have a case that its own family plans are better than Verizon’s? The answer appears to be, no.

Updated to clarify that T-Mobile’s data allotments are unique to each device while data is shared with Verizon’s new plans.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.