Virgin Mobile's new unlimited data plans make sense

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: July 14, 2011

While some wireless companies are still promoting unlimited data plans, it’s a game that seems to be leaning more towards tiered data plans rather than the truly unlimited ones. While the two big dogs are now locked in the Tier Wars, it’s the other carriers that are still clinging to the fact that their subscribers can consume as much data as they want, whenever they want. At least, that’s the plan for now. If Virgin Mobile’s recent changes to their plans are any indication, then it looks like even the smaller carriers out there may be looking to other options, rather than tiers, to sustain their subscriber's data consumption.

For a few more days, Virgin Mobile is offering truly unlimited data and messaging services, coupled with a certain allotment of Anytime minutes. I say “truly” because for now, there’s not going to be any changes to the way that the consumer uses their phone. Even if the heavy user goes over a specific amount of data in a month, Virgin Mobile won’t penalize you in anyway. That’s changing on the 20th of July, though. On that date, VM will begin to throttle data for any user that manages to go over 2.5GB in a single month. There are no specifics on how much Virgin Mobile will throttle the data, but it is outlined that the throttle will turn off once the month is up, and the user’s data statistics are reset to zero for the new month.

People aren’t going to like hearing that their data is going to be throttled, of course. What’s worse, though, is that people will be paying more than they currently are to get their data throttled. If you’re currently a Virgin Mobile customer and you’re paying either $25 for 300 Anytime minutes, or $40 for 1,200 Anytime minutes, then your plan is about to get a slight price jump. The former’s price will be taking a ten dollar price hike to $35, while the latter will be seeing only a five dollar increase to $45 per month. And for those who are paying $60 for unlimited minutes, along with unlimited messaging and data, your plan is actually dropping by five dollars, to $55.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Virgin Mobile is dropping the monthly price for their unlimited minutes and data/messaging to attract more customers, especially in light of the price increases to the other two plans. However, with the talk of throttling data, I’m wondering if people will even take notice to the fact that they have to reach 2.5GB of data before the throttling even begins. For a heavy user, getting to 2.5GB in a month would be a pretty impressive feat. But, for the average user, it’s something that they will probably never come across.

Virgin Mobile has the right idea here. They’re still allowing for the general consumer base to get their hands on “unlimited” data, but they’re throwing in some stipulations just in case. So for the heavy user who needs more than 2.5GB of data in a month, they’ll still have access to it, but their speeds won’t be as fast. Not being able to get it as fast as before may be a hassle, but at least you aren’t being charged a ridiculous amount of money per MB (or GB) for overages.

I know it’s already too late for Verizon and AT&T (and T-Mobile, incidentally) to change their mind regarding their plans, as the two companies obviously believe that tiered data plans are the best way for them to continue. But, I really wish this was the path they chose, similar to Virgin Mobile’s, rather than straight-out tiers. Whether or not the average consumer needs unlimited amounts of data every month, it’s a catch-phrase that they’ve attached themselves too, and therefore want it. That’s why Sprint, as well as some rural carriers out there, still flaunts “unlimited data” the way they do. It’s not just a way to stand-out amongst the competition; it’s a means to attract the customer’s eye, because it’s something that those customers are looking for. So, giving the customers what they want is a good way to gain new subscribers, and it’s a great way to make sure they stick around. Offering up unlimited data, but adding that speeds could change with a certain amount of data consumed in a month is a great way to promote unlimited data (and therefore giving the customer what they want), but also managing your network.

What do you make of Virgin Mobile’s new unlimited plans? Do you think the price increases (and decrease) are worth it? And do you think that throttling data after 2.5GB is a good plan? Let me know in the comments what you think.