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August 15, 2011

The Limits of T-Mobile’s “Unlimited” Plan + Surprise Charges

Filed under: Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:16 am

The word “unlimited” is probably the most abused word in the English language when it comes to the marketing of telecommunications and Internet services. Some companies claim “unlimited” calling, when in fact there are limits. Others claim “unlimited” Internet useage, when in fact there are limits.

The latest example of an “unlimited” claim comes from T-Mobile. They are offering a family plan with “unlimited” data, talk, and text for only $49.99 per line, when you get two lines. Here is part of their TV ad:

Unfortunately for TV viewers, the fine print is virtually unreadable because of the busy background over which it appears.


“Includes 2GB of full speed data. After 2 gigabytes speeds reduced up to 2G speeds.”

In essence, the company is saying they won’t cut off your data connection or charge you more if you exceed two gigs of downloading during a month, but they will make the experience unpleasantly slow (“throttling”) beyond that. They have placed a limit on the amount of data delivered at 4G speed you can have. Period.

Too bad they are not a little more upfront about the limit because the $49.99 price is one of the best deals out there for 4G service (even with the limit)… except for one thing:


As noted by Michael L., our first commenter, if you don’t already have a T-Mobile phone, you have to buy one from them at the full, unsubsidized price. That could mean spending as much as $500 for the fanciest phones. A T-Mobile salesperson told Mouse Print* that they spread the cost of over 20 months after making a down payment. The fact that you have to buy a full price phone is not disclosed anywhere in the company’s television advertising, and you have to dig into their website to learn the catch.

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  1. I happened to stop by a T-Mobile kiosk this weekend to talk about this program….and guess what I found out if you’re a new customer? You have to buy the phones outright – no subsidy from T-Mobile to purchase your phone – you get to spend outwards of $600 if you want the latest and greatest phone.

    Comment by Michael Lehet — August 15, 2011 @ 9:42 am
  2. You forgot to mention that real 4G isn’t available yet. See;
    You can Google for more info, of course.

    Comment by Lana — August 15, 2011 @ 9:57 am
  3. There really should be laws against this kind of blatant lying with mouseprint, where the language used to hook people is completely and utterly negated by the fine print. It’s just legalized lying. I refuse to do business with companies that do such things, even, as Edgar said, when they have a good deal without the lying. Cross T-mobile off my list.

    I have an unlimited text and data plan with Verizon that truly is unlimited. I pay well for it, but at least I know there won’t be any surprises such as overage charges or throttling.

    I really hate corporations sometimes…..

    Comment by Eric — August 15, 2011 @ 9:57 am
  4. While I am in agreement that the term “unlimited” is grossly abused these days, I think you are barking up the wrong tree in this case. The T-Mobile ad advertises unlimited data, talk and text for $49.99 per line, which is exactly what they provide. It may not be at full speed (which they don’t promise), it may not come with a free or subsidized phone (which they don’t claim), but it is unlimited, which is all that they advertise.

    Comment by PCnotPC — August 15, 2011 @ 10:38 am
  5. In reply to PCnotPC’s post: You’re absolutely correct. So I would characterize T-Mobile’s ad as Legalized Omission, aka, caveat emptor. T-Mobile takes advantage of wide-spread assumptions on the part of the public to slide this nonsense through. How about a new law that says that the Fine Print needs to be as LARGE, as the TV announcer’s voice is LOUD?

    Comment by Marty — August 15, 2011 @ 12:06 pm
  6. This isn’t that surprising since AT&T just bought t-mobile..

    Comment by 9 — August 16, 2011 @ 2:41 am
  7. I called T-Mobile to get in on this plan. I have had the same cell phone company since 1998 (it is currently T-Mobile but they keep track and even when I call the reps always laugh because I have been a customer for 13 years).

    I get a 30% discount since I am a “preferred” customer.

    A year ago I had to replace a phone (I have 2 on the plan) because it fell and broke. It is a basic phone, I had to pay $39 for the replacement but again, it is a basic phone.

    Anyway, I decided to update both phones to this plan and I wanted to buy the top of the line new HTC phones which would be $200 each after discount.

    I was floored, the rep told me that since I updated a phone a year ago I would not be eligible for at least 6 months.

    I told her that first of all, I’ve been a customer for 13 years (she agreed) and the phone I updated last year was a cheap LG that they only gave me like a $50 discount and now I want to buy TWO $200 phones and UPGRADE service on both (I have a very basic plan now, one of the cheapest).

    They wouldn’t budge, I kept saying how they are going to make a lot more money on this deal, but they wouldn’t budge.

    So I said, well, in 11 months when my current contract expires, I hate doing it, but I am going to shop other carriers.

    Comment by Jarrod — August 19, 2011 @ 9:09 am
  8. I’m disappointed in the responses about this deal not involving subsidized phones. We need all carriers to start offering plans that don’t involve subsidized phones. The cost of the phone is built into the plan. Then when the phone is paid for, it’s all profit for the carrier. T-Mobile’s plans that include subsidized phones are $20/month more (in line with the rest of the carriers.) And because the carrier’s are picking up (a large part of) the upfront cost most of the time, there’s no downward price pressure on phone manufacturers. It also means that we don’t have carrier agnostic phones. That reduces competition which keeps prices up. What would landline phones be like today if we still had to get our phones from the local telco?

    Comment by Marc — August 25, 2011 @ 8:19 pm
  9. We’ve been with T-Mobile for several years as well. When we went in to get this plan we were told as current subscribers we’d have to first pay a $200 per phone ‘migration’ fee. Wow. Way to respect your loyal customers.

    Comment by Lori — August 29, 2011 @ 9:21 am
  10. I hate T-Mobile lately. I had reached a so called ‘limit’ on my unlimited internet which was suppose to be not letting me play videos, yet browse pages. But the problem is , its a new month now , and I still can’t watch videos! I use the internet all the time on my Blackberry 9300, and its just gets ruined by that each month… Might have to leave t-mobile and go to Vodafone or Orange.

    Comment by Maxim — April 27, 2012 @ 11:17 am

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