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The Next Big Thing
Unlimited plans are back: Do you know why?Cooley offers up the ins and outs of the new unlimited wireless plans before you belly up to one.
The next big thing in wireless plans is back, it's unlimited. I'm Brian Cooley from CNET in search of the next big thing. You remember unlimited plans were a really big deal a few years ago, then they kind of got pushed aside, you didn't hear so much about them. Instead the big four carriers were lot more about generally value plans. Things that were family buckets, shared minutes, or the prepaid carriers, or just very low cost plans. But all of a sudden now, unlimited is absolutely front of the burner. Now all four of the big guys' unlimited plans offer unlimited talk and unlimited text. Then there's a small asterisk alongside unlimited data. After anywhere from 22 to 28 gigabytes of data in a given month, depending on carrier, Each one will then start to slow your data speed for the remainder of that month. Now note, those caps are pretty generous. The average American right now uses around 2 gigabytes a month. Ericsson projects that by 2021, that will rise a lot, but still be around 9 gigabytes. So these should be pretty generous for all but the person who wants to live On their mobile phone connection. Now I'm not going to bore you with all the pricing and service details on these plans. They have a whole bunch of footnotes that you can imagine. But two things I want you to be aware of. If you're gonna use your phone as a hotspot under one of these plans, all the carriers have a separate and lower cap for that Ten gigabytes before the hotspot function itself is throttled for the rest of the month. And AT&T is a little different. Their hotspot function is only through a connected car. And all the big four now support HD video streaming not just SD as part of that big bucket. But no, that is the easiest way to approach the cap in a given month. So what's brought unlimited back? It wasn't just us asking for it. No, the industry has changed. In developed markets like the US The wireless business is now largely a zero sum game. There just are not a lot of new users coming on with their first smartphone, so now growth among the big carriers is by stealing from each other, and that means trying to improve their, and that means trying to improve their ARPU, average revenue per user. These plans run a wide gamet of $50 to $100 a month, and roughly in ascending order of Consumer brand and coverage perception. But note these prices are all generally higher than the past plans that emphasized a little more value for the money. Another big trend pushing this is a move toward at least perceived simplification. Take a look at T Mobile's One Plan for example, or the way AT&T is trying to try and simplify by bundling wireless with DirecTV service. Choosing a wireless plan, to my eye, is still more complicated than it should be. But, these unlimited plans for both data, talk, and text start to at least normalize one entire set of factors so you can focus more on the other numbers, the ones that have dollar signs in front of them. Know what's next at CNET.com/NextBigThing, I'm Brian Cooley.