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In T-Mobile's 'Simple Choice' plan, 'unlimited' meets limits

A new voice plan billed to make life easier for consumers sick of asterisks shouldn't instead make it harder. How T-Mobile got today's launch wrong.

You got me to take a second look at you, today, T-Mobile.

Your new "Simple Choice" calling plan sounded far more attractive to me than the idea that I could buy an iPhone 5 on installments, without a contract. Unfortunately, that second look left me with a bad impression. It's all about the word "unlimited."

When I went to your "Uncarrier" page, where you talked about how you weren't going to act like a wireless carrier anymore, I was optimistic, especially about the Simple Choice calling plan:

Unlimited talk, text, and Web, you said. "No asterisks attached," you promised. Sign me up, I was thinking. Then I clicked to learn more.

The more detailed page made my head hurt. Look, I've marked up what I had to study, to figure out this new, simple plan:

As you can see, it's all about the word "unlimited." You promised me no asterisks about this plan. I suppose technically, you don't have them. But you do have the footnotes that normally go with them.

Unlimited, to me, means that there are no limits. "Lacking any controls" and "not bounded by exceptions" are definitions that Merriam-Webster provides.But you seem to have a different view.

Unlimited, it seems, is limited after the first 500MB of data. After that, you're limited to a lower speed, unless you pay more. Do you even appreciate the irony of making someone with an "unlimited" plan to actually have an "unlimited unlimited" plan?

That's not the way to make yourself seem like a fresh, new wireless carrier breaking out of the old mold. That's the type of confusing language that we consumers hate from wireless carriers, who have managed to tack on all types of charges over time in a way that seems to only rival the airlines.

I look forward to the next version of Simple Choice, in hopes you'll get it right that time, a plan that doesn't required a FAQ to understand. Now that would be a simple choice.

Postscript: I've responded to a number of people in the comments below, but let me clarify a few further points:

At $70 for real, unlimited coverage, this seems like a very good value. I'm not questioning that it may be a great plan compared to Verizon, AT&T or Sprint. I'm questioning the marketing of something that's supposedly simple, that lacks caveats but turns out to have them. That's especially an issue when T-Mobile is playing the "good guy" with no hidden traps card.

If T-Mobile positioned its $70 plan as the "unlimited" one and then said for less money, people could have limited plans at $50 or $60, I'd also be very happy. But to suggest that all its plans are unlimited, when the data is clearly limited on some in terms of speed, that's just not using a commonly accepted definition of unlimited.

Some have asked what happens if you have an "unlimited" plan that doesn't have unlimited high-speed data. From the CNET FAQ page about the new plans, you'll drop down to 2G speeds.

Finally, some have asked about Hotspot data with the plan. You get that up to 500MB, according to the FAQ. After that, you have to pay extra -- even if your phone itself has unlimited high-speed data.