NEW YORK – Unlimited wireless data is back. After sliding off the menu of cellphone plans, data plans with no caps are making a comeback at smaller wireless companies trying to compete with AT&T and Verizon.
T-Mobile USA, the nations fourth-largest cellphone company, said Wednesday it will start selling an unlimited-data plan again Sept. 5, after halting sales of such plans early last year. A day earlier, No. 5 carrier MetroPCS cut the price of its unlimited-data plan as a promotion for a limited time.
The moves by T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS, neither of which sells the iPhone, come as their three larger rivals are thought to be gearing up to begin selling the iPhone 5 in a month or so.
No. 3 carrier Sprint Nextel Corp. already has an unlimited-data plan and credits that with helping it attract customers for its smartphones.
AT&T, the nations second-largest carrier, stopped signing up customers for unlimited data plans two years ago, while No. 1 Verizon Wireless stopped last year. Both shifted toward lifting all limits on calls and texting, but limiting data usage.
From a network management perspective, that makes sense, as calls and texts use very little network capacity, while video downloads and other data use can clog the network and slow the service for everyone. The iPhone and the data use it encouraged initially caused big problems for AT&T in New York and San Francisco. Sprints network is showing signs of congestion in some tests.
Limited-data plans pose problems for customers, however. Its easier to figure out how many minutes of calling you need in a month than it is to figure out how many gigabytes youll use.
T-Mobile is launching the plan because its what customers want, said Kevin McLaughlin, vice president of marketing at the Bellevue, Wash., company. He said the company is confident it can keep its network fast and dependable even with unlimited-data users on it.
T-Mobiles unlimited plan will cost $30 a month when added to a regular calling and texting plan and $20 when added to a cheaper Value plan for customers who bring their own phones. MetroPCS Communications Inc.s unlimited plan will cost $55 a month during the promotion period, down from $70, and will include unlimited texting and calls.