T-Mobile’s mobile plans aren’t getting any simpler.
The carrier last week announced an update to its flagship “T-Mobile One” plan. Now, instead of having the single “T-Mobile One Plus” add-on that was unveiled shortly after the original One plan’s launch, there will be two add-on options: the One Plus plan, and a new “T-Mobile One Plus International” plan.
T-Mobile says the latter will do everything the One Plus plan does, but add “unlimited international calling” to mobile numbers in more than 30 countries and landlines in more than 70 countries. It will also include unlimited 4G LTE tethering, if you want to turn your phone into a mobile hotspot on the go.
The move has both ups and downs. On the plus side, the One Plus add-on now costs $15. Previously, it cost an extra $25. That’s on top of the base One plan, which starts at $70 for a single line, $120 for two lines, and an additional $20 for any of the next six lines beyond that. (So, a three-line plan costs $140, a four-line plan costs $160, and so on.)
The One Plus plan also gives unlimited Gogo in-flight WiFi through Gogo, which would seem very convenient for frequent flyers. This is good.
On the flip side, the One Plus International add-on costs an extra $25, and is the only way to get LTE mobile hotspot data. On its own, the base One plan includes unlimited hotspot data, but only at speeds up to 128 Kbps. That’s extremely slow. Originally, if you wanted to upgrade to LTE tethering speeds, the plan was to pay $15 per month for every 5GB of data you wanted to use.
That was thrown out with the One Plus add-on. Pay for that, and you get unlimited tethering at speeds up to 512 Kbps. That’s still not good, but it’s at least better. However, when the One Plus add-on was announced, T-Mobile got rid of the option to buy 5GB buckets of LTE tethering data.
Now, you can get unlimited LTE tethering, but it starts at $95 per month for a single line. There’s a catch, too: You can’t activate the plan online. T-Mobile says the One Plus International plan is only available to new customers by calling the carrier directly. Existing customers, meanwhile, have to go through the T-Mobile app to take $10 off the One Plus plan if they want that. If they don’t, they’re now on the One Plus International upgrade by default.
Besides that, all the red flags that arose when the One plan was first announced remain. On its own, the base One plan offers “unlimited” texts, calls, and LTE data, but caps all video you watch at a less-than-HD resolution of 480p, and, as mentioned above, keeps mobile hotspot data at those crippling speeds.
The One Plus plan, which now starts at $85 per month for a single line, negates that to an extent. Alongside the meager tethering boost, that plan gives you an unlimited supply of what T-Mobile calls “HD day passes.” Those allow you to watch high-def video, but they have to be manually activated each and every day, instead of simply making HD the default. (On the base One plan, a single HD day pass costs $3.)
In all cases, none of the One plans are totally unlimited — on the admittedly low chance that you use more than 28GB of LTE data in a month, T-Mobile says you may notice “reduced speeds” during moments of network congestion. And in order to get the advertised rates, you need to set your billing to auto-pay; every plan costs $5 more otherwise.
The ‘One’ plan isn’t quite ‘radically simple’
When T-Mobile introduced One, it called the plan a “radically simple subscription to the mobile Internet.” If the mess of caveats above are any indication, it’s hard to say that’s true.
Having unlimited data is great, but before the One plans existed, T-Mobile already sold an unlimited LTE data package through its “Simple Choice” plans. It cost $95 per month for a single line — the exact same as the fully-loaded One Plus International plan — and let you stream HD video without having to flip a switch every day. It also threw in a generous 14GB of LTE tethering data. And if you didn’t need unlimited data, you could pay less than $70 for a lower amount, without having to look at individual prepaid plans. (Which remain solid deals.)
Today, T-Mobile still makes some Simple Choice plans available, but again, you have to take the step of calling the company or visiting a local store to get it.
David Becker/Getty ImagesSo it’s clear where T-Mobile wants you to go. The thing about making one catch-all plan, though, is that the plan itself has to be good. On its own, the One plan has clear compromises. But instead of improving it, or at least toning down the “unlimited” rhetoric, T-Mobile is fracturing much of what was already there, selling those features through add-ons that get you back to the same high price point, and raising the cost of entry under the notion that unlimited data is something for which everyone is willing to pay extra. “One” has become three.
Yes, Verizon and AT&T do many things worth yelling about, but generally speaking, you don’t have to jump through this many hoops just to buy a block of data and use it however you want. The latter is just as bad about charging extra for tethering with its unlimited plan, but its standard metered plans aren’t as fussy, and those are at least still easily accessible.
I’m sure T-Mobile knows its user base. Lots of people are fine with 480p video — especially if they own a smaller phone — and plenty others don’t even know what a mobile hotspot is. If those people heavily stream music and video on the road, the One plan isn’t so bad a deal.
But that’s not everyone. Moreover, it stands counter to the company’s marketing. For all of its boasting about being the “un-carrier,” T-Mobile is still throwing a good chunk of obfuscation and fine print in the way of its heaviest users. That’s pretty carrier-like, if you ask me.