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What Does Unlimited Data Mean? Unlimited Data Plans Explained

a hand holding a phone with a fire and flames coming out of it

Unlimited data means just what you’d guess based on the name – data that doesn’t run out. 

You don’t need to carefully budget for your data usage, and you can browse the internet as much as you like.

But, somewhat confusingly, there are multiple types of unlimited data plans. Carriers offer plans that span from entry-level to premium high-speed data plans, and everything in between. Plus, many carriers throw in extra perks to different plans, like streaming service subscriptions, roaming, or the ability to use your phone as a hotspot.

In short, unlimited data really is unlimited – but not all unlimited data plans are created equal.

Want to quickly find out what plan works for you? Check out our free, unbiased Plan Finder – we’ll help you find the best phone plan deals from top providers based on your needs in just a few seconds.

Want all your unlimited data questions answered? Read on.

What Is Mobile Data?

Mobile data, or cellular data, is the information sent and received by your smart device using a cellular connection. You use mobile data whenever you connect to the internet without using Wi-Fi.

What Are the Different Types of Unlimited Data?

There are two different types of data: premium data and deprioritized data. Here’s how they’re different:

Premium data

Also called priority data or high-speed data, this data gives you the best 5G or 4G LTE network speed a carrier can deliver wherever you are. With premium data, you’ll get the very best network coverage the carrier can deliver without worrying about a slow down in speed and coverage dropping for any reason other than poor signal.

Deprioritized data

The word deprioritized doesn’t sound good, but deprioritized data isn’t bad. With deprioritized data, you’ll still have access to 5G and 4G network speeds, just like premium data. 

However, it’s called “deprioritized” because if the network gets congested (too many users on the same network at the same time), you’ll temporarily experience a slow down in data speeds. This can slow your data speeds by up to 30 percent until the network you’re on frees up. For most people, this drop in speed isn’t noticeable.

What Kinds of Unlimited Data Plans Are There?

There are three kinds of unlimited data plans: entry-level unlimited plans, mid-level unlimited plans, and premium unlimited plans. Each one comes with a different amount of premium and deprioritized data.

You can get unlimited data plans from a variety of carriers. Here’s a quick selection of our guides on unlimited data plans by carrier:

Entry-Level Unlimited Plans

If you’re in the market for a budget option, entry-level plans may be the best fit for you. These plans give you unlimited deprioritized data, but either only a small amount of high-speed data or, in some cases, none at all. 

These plans work best for light data users who don’t frequently use their phone as a hotspot, if ever. Users on these plans mostly use their phones to browse news articles, check social media, and stream short videos. 

Examples of these plans include:

Mid-Level Unlimited Plans

These plans offer a mix of high-speed data and unlimited deprioritized data at slower speeds. They typically cost more than the entry-level plans but offer more high-speed data. These are a good compromise for cost-conscious users who need more data than the entry-level unlimited plans provide.

If you use your phone as a mobile hotspot around three times per week, play some games on your phone, maybe stream a few weekly shows, and browse social media for around an hour a day, then this plan type is most likely a good fit for you. 

Premium Unlimited Plans

If you go for a truly premium unlimited data plan – that is, one from AT&T, T-Mobile, UScellular, or Verizon – you get high-speed data with no throttling or premium data limit, ever. With other providers such as Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile, be sure to check the fine print – sometimes their premium plans don’t guarantee premium data when the network is busy.

This kind of plan is ideal for heavy data users who frequently use their phones as hotspots, browse social media a lot, and binge-watch videos and shows. 

Here are some premium plans that never slow your data down:

What Else Is Included in Unlimited Data Plans?

Unlimited data plans come with more than just data. Many carriers offer a mixture of other perks and features you should know about if you’re shopping for the best deal. Let’s have a look at all the different features you might consider.

Video Quality

Unlimited data plans support different levels of video resolution, from as high as 2160p down to 480p. Most premium plans offer users video resolution at the 2160p level. Most lower-end unlimited data plans offer users video resolution at the 480p level.

If you use your phone to watch movies or you’re a gamer, you might want to consider a plan that supports video resolution at the 720p level or higher. If you aren’t doing a lot of video streaming, a lower video resolution will probably be just fine.

Hotspot Data

Hotspot data allows you to connect a computer or another WiFi-capable device to the Internet by sharing your smartphone’s data. Carriers offer hotspot data at 5G, 4G, or 3G speeds. Most 5G and 4G LTE hotspot data is capped to a certain amount, while slower 3G hotspot data is typically unlimited.

If this sounds like a useful benefit for you, you may want to audit your current hotspot data usage to see how much hotspot data you’ll need. Then you can take that number into account when picking an unlimited data plan.

Add-On Features

Some carriers include subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix, international roaming – which means you’re able to make calls, text, and access the internet while abroad – and, in some cases, meal delivery services and data protection services. 

If you’re a streaming services user or travel abroad frequently, you should take a moment to calculate how much money you’d save by signing up for a plan that includes that perk instead of subscribing a la carte. Those costs can add up.

Taxes and Fees

To make the math slightly more complicated, some carriers include taxes and fees in their advertised “top line” price while others do not.  Taxes and fees will generally add 10 percent to the overall cost of your plan if it’s not integrated into the plan’s price. Check if the plan includes taxes and fees when making your final decision on which unlimited data plan to use.

What Unlimited Data Plan Features Do You Really Need?

Just because carriers offer all these perks and features doesn’t necessarily mean you need them. The most important consideration of an unlimited data plan is having the right amount and the right type of data. You should feel confident that you will not run out of 5G or 4G data based on your phone habits.

For many users, deprioritized data is more than sufficient to provide a high-quality wireless experience. If you’re a gamer or you stream movies on your cell phone all the time, then you might opt for an unlimited data plan with a data allotment including premium data and 720p or higher video resolution.

All the other elements of an unlimited data plan, such as streaming services or hotspot data, are very specific to your unique needs. 

How Did Unlimited Data Become the Norm?

You may remember that before unlimited data plans were introduced, users were given a set amount of data with their phone plans. If you went over your data cap, you were charged expensive overages for that billing cycle.

As smartphones advanced and people began using cellular data for more and more things, companies started offering plans with unlimited data to keep up with their customers’ needs.

The Bottom Line

As you now know, there is a wide variety of unlimited data plans. It may seem hard to find the right plan for you among the millions of unique cellular plan options. Luckily, Navi is here to help. Our free, unbiased Plan Finder will find the right unlimited data plan for you. You can also use our Phone Deal Finder to choose the right smartphone to combine with your plan. 

Want to browse unlimited plan details from top wireless carriers all in one place? Take a look at our Plan Guides, and also be sure to check out our Plan Comparison pages to compare the best plans head-to-head. 

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