T-Mobile New Unlimited Data Plan Caps Video at Sub-HD Quality Unless You Purchase $25 Monthly Upgrade

Wireless carrier's Binge On unlimited video-streaming program is effectively obsolete with T-Mobile One plan

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Courtesy of T-Mobile

T-Mobile is launching what it says its a totally unlimited wireless voice, texting and data plan — but there’s a key catch from the self-appointed “Un-carrier.”

The T-Mobile One plan, the only option that will be available to new customers, will start at $70 per month for a single line (versus $95 monthly for a similar plan previously). That includes unlimited talk, text and 4G LTE smartphone data.

However, the wireless carrier will cap video from Netflix, YouTube, HBO and other services at standard-definition quality (of about 480p resolution). Customers who want to stream high-definition video must purchase an “HD add-on” for $25 per month per line — with T-Mobile apparently assuming that most people will be fine with watching SD video on a relatively small mobile screen.

Sprint also launched a new plan Thursday, dubbed Unlimited Freedom, which undercuts T-Mobile pricing with a single line starting at $60 monthly. But Sprint also limits the quality of streaming video to up to 480p, with no option to watch anything higher than that. Furthermore, the Sprint plan caps gaming at up to 2 megabits per second and music streams at up to 500 kilobits per second.

For T-Mobile One customers, the company’s Binge On program will effectively become obsolete.

Under Binge On, launched last fall, T-Mobile has struck partnerships with more than 100 streaming services to exclude them from counting toward wireless subscribers’ data caps. Partners include Netflix, YouTube, HBO, Amazon Video, Showtime, Dish’s Sling TV, ABC, Apple Music, Disney, Dish Network and Fox and Epix. The move to make all video unlimited under T-Mobile One may assuage critics who complained Binge On violated network neutrality principles, by favoring only services of T-Mobile’s own partners.

Like T-Mobile One, the Binge On video services are capped at about 480p resolution. Partners have the option to stream at higher resolutions — including up to Ultra HD 4K — but that is excluded from Binge On, meaning it counts toward data-usage totals for customers on previous plans.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile will also levy an additional charge for T-Mobile One customers who want to use their smartphone as a mobile hotspot: That will cost $15 extra for each 5 gigabytes of data used.

Even with the caveats, the carrier can boast of having a more straightforward unlimited LTE data offering than its two biggest competitors. Currently, Verizon doesn’t even offer an unlimited LTE data plan. AT&T this week announced new Mobile Share Advantage plans that provide unlimited data usage but limit bandwidth speeds to 128 Kbps for the remainder of the billing cycle once customers hit preset usage thresholds.

T-Mobile One will be available to postpaid customers as of Sept. 6, with a prepaid option to be available later. Existing T-Mobile customers can choose to keep the plan they have or sign up for the new T-Mobile One. The company didn’t say how long it would keep prior plans grandfathered in for current customers.

According to T-Mobile, its customers already use massive amounts of wireless data. Compared with AT&T and Verizon users, T-Mobile subs stream three times more music, twice as much video and use 50% more data.