T-Mobile will let you stream video without eating up your data

"Binge On," which incorporates services like Netflix, WatchESPN and even Verizon's Go90, is the company's latest move designed to shake up the industry.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Expertise Mobile | 5G | Big Tech | Social Media Credentials
  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
3 min read

T-Mobile CEO John Legere at the Uncarrier X event. The company's latest announcement is aimed at binge watchers of TV shows and other video.

LOS ANGELES -- T-Mobile customers will get a chance to clear through their backlog of "Scandal" or "Veep" on their smartphone.

The company's new "Binge On" program, unveiled Tuesday, will let you stream videos from Netflix, HBO Go and more than 20 other services. T-Mobile will work to add more streaming services over time.

The video is optimized at a lower quality so it won't use unnecessary data, CEO John Legere said here Tuesday, at the company's Uncarrier X event. He added that the service is a free addition for T-Mobile customers on the higher-end 3GB data tier. Customers on the 1GB plan won't get unlimited video viewing, but they'll get access to the optimized stream, which should give them three times as many videos as normal. Binge On goes into effect Sunday.

This latest of T-Mobile's "Uncarrier" moves, which are designed to shake up the industry, eliminates one of the most pressing issues for customers with a limited allocation of data. The biggest culprit for data usage is video, the streaming of which is projected to rise 400 percent by 2020. An hour of video a day -- an episode of "Game of Thrones," say -- would bring your monthly total to 14 gigabytes of data, way past the standard plan of 5GB a month, according to T-Mobile's own site.

"Embracing free video is the riskiest Uncarrier move T-Mobile has launched yet, but it's also potentially the most disruptive," Jan Dawson, analyst for Jackdaw Research, said in a blog post.

The announcement comes as services such as Netflix and YouTube gobble up more data and carriers clamp down on usage. Verizon and AT&T no longer offer unlimited data plans, and T-Mobile and Sprint are also slowing down their heaviest users.

The program is possible because under Binge On, T-Mobile customers won't get the high-quality stream that would appear on a big-screen television. The optimized stream delivers video at a resolution of 480 pixels, lower quality than high definition. The quality is comparable to DVD, Legere said. "Just try it," he added.

The technology that lets T-Mobile optimize its video, which can identify that the data is video and treat it accordingly, is proprietary to the company, Legere said.

One notable exception to the announced services is YouTube. Legere said Google's video service didn't meet the technical qualifications for the optimized stream in time but that he'd be happy to add it when possible. Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray said the process for meeting the technical requirements is relatively simple.

T-Mobile has been able to drum up a wave of excitement for its services in other ways beyond simply cutting prices. Past Uncarrier moves have included the elimination of wireless service contracts, free international text messages and data, and access to streaming music that doesn't eat into a subscriber's data plan.

Legere calls Binge On an extension of the music plan, but with video. In addition to key services like Netflix, he noted that he will allow rival AT&T's DirecTV and Verizon's Go90 video services to stream for free "just because we can."

The Uncarrier campaign has been an unqualified success, with T-Mobile consistently signing up more customers than its rivals. In the third quarter, the carrier added 843,000 customers who pay at the end of the month, more than all its rivals combined.