We all want it, that $25 unlimited everything smartphone plan, but even the ones that advertise amazing rates and unlimited service may not be right for many users. To explain, carriers like SIMple Mobile, Net10 and Straight Talk love to tout their “Unlimited Data” feature. While the $40-50 price tags on these unlimited services seem great when one signs up, there aren’t always unlimited uses for that data that is given. This is where we jump in and take a look at why carriers like Straight Talk are throttling or cutting off user’s data in the middle of an “unlimited” month’s use for no reason.
At first look, unlimited data means as much as you want, however you want, but with a deeper dig into the Terms Of Service, Straight Talk really lays down the law on what is ok and what isn’t acceptable when playing on their network. First, looking at the TOS a bit closer reveals what you are allowed to do with that Straight Talk SIM card in your phone.
6. STRAIGHT TALK UNLIMITED TALK, TEXT AND MOBILE WEB ACCESS PLAN INTENDED USE: Straight Talk Unlimited Talk, Text and Mobile Web Access Plans may ONLY be used with a Straight Talk handset for the following purposes: (i) Person to Person Voice Calls (ii) Text and Picture Messaging (iii) Internet browsing through the Straight Talk Mobile Web Service and (iv) Authorized Content Downloads from the Straight Talk Mobile Web Store. The Straight Talk Unlimited Plans MAY NOT be used for any other purpose. Examples of prohibited uses include, without limitation, the following: (i) continuous mobile to mobile or mobile to landline voice calls; (ii) automated text or picture messaging to another mobile device or e-mail address; (iii) uploading, downloading or streaming of audio or video programming or games; (iv) server devices or host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, automated machine-to-machine connections or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing; or (v) as a substitute or backup for private lines or dedicated data connections. This means, by way of example only, that checking email, surfing the Internet, downloading legally acquired songs, and/or visiting corporate intranets is permitted, but downloading movies using P2P file sharing services and/or redirecting television signals for viewing on laptops is prohibited. A person engaged in prohibited uses may have his/her service terminated without notice or a refund.
The most obvious line of prohibited use is, “uploading, downloading or streaming of audio or video programming or games.” This means, no Netflix, no Hulu, no Pandora, no YouTube or you get no service. This also means no video chats with Facetime, Tango or Skype. You can also add no Slacker Radio, Crackle movies or tethering to that list as well. For the average user, these won’t affect the day to day usage of their devices and they will be happy to pay the lesser fee of $45 a month for Straight Talk’s Unlimited Plan. For others, it means looking elsewhere for a more durable service, even at higher prices or lesser coverage.
Although there was no official statement of how much data is too much data per day/week/month, a Straight Talk phone representative explained that data is monitored by their system and anything over 100MB per day is flagged. After flagging, the account is slowed for 48 hours or until the customer reports the data issue and requests it to be reset. The connection is allowed to be reset up to 20 times in one calendar month before the account is suspended or cancelled. This means, according to our basic math skills, that you can use 2GB of data (100MB x 20 days) without having any major throttling or suspension issues. The representative continued to say that the reason there is no hard number is that it will float based on market and network strains. Areas of higher usage may suffer throttling faster than one with fewer users and repeat offenders may have their cap reduced to keep their accounts in good standing. When asked about throttling speeds, the agent once again stated that there is no guarantee of any services or speeds, but overage throttling usually resulted in speeds of 2G caliber at best.
Overall, if you are not a heavy data user, Straight Talk provides an excellent price for a good service. If you are a heavier user, you might want to take your money elsewhere, and you will probably have to part with more of it to keep that unlimited feeling you want. Otherwise, check out the Sprint MVNO’s that are still offering unlimited data like Boost Mobile or even T-Mobile’s Monthly4G service. Both of these have great advantages over post-paid contract services and will save you money in the long term.