Why You Probably Don’t Need That Unlimited Data Plan

More than you need

Key Takeaways

  • AT&T has followed T-Mobile's lead, adding more perks and removing the data cap on its most expensive cell phone plan.
  • Many of these carriers used to offer “true” unlimited data, but in recent years started limiting the amount of high-speed data customers could use.
  • Experts say the need for truly unlimited data plans has fallen over the years, especially as broadband has expanded and access to more public Wi-Fi has increased.
Streams of data flowing from brightly lit smart phone on white shelf

PM Images / Getty Images

As more carriers start to offer truly unlimited data plans, experts say the reasons users might have originally needed these more expensive plans have changed, and they may not be worth your money anymore.

Several years ago, when AT&T, Verizon, and other big telecom providers started ditching unlimited data plans, users worried about how much data they’d use each month. Now, after a few years of offering unlimited plans with high-speed data caps, big telecom companies once again are changing how unlimited data works. This time, T-Mobile and AT&T are starting to remove the caps, offering truly unlimited data on their more expensive plans. But experts say those plans might not be worth the price.

"Most people don't really need true unlimited data plans," David Lynch, an expert on cell phone carriers and plan options, wrote to Lifewire in an email. "Free public Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere and the average person doesn't use more than 7 gigabytes of high-speed data."

Finding Its Worth

Experts like Lynch say the want for unlimited plans comes from the fact that we used to have them. As such, many users feel it’s something cell phone carriers should offer, especially in a time when so many rely on their phones for communication and entertainment.

The reality of the situation, though, is these plans typically end up being more costly than you need them to be. This is especially true if you don’t use an excessive amount of data every month.

For the most part, the average American only uses 7GB of data each month, per a study originally conducted in March 2020. This number saw some fluctuations throughout the year, as more users found themselves stuck at home, where many—a reported 162 million in 2019—didn’t have access to broadband internet. So, seeing an increase in mobile data made sense. 

"Most people don't really need true unlimited data plans."

However, it’s important to note that just because some users don’t have broadband access, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll use an excessive amount of data each month. Because of this, Lynch recommends looking at how much data you’re actually using before picking a more expensive plan.

"As for the future of data plans, I hope people will resist the urge to sign up for a true unlimited data plan as they're expensive and unnecessary. Less expensive prepaid plans with 5–10 GB of high-speed data are a better option for most consumers," he explained.

Sweetening the Deal

It also looks like the idea of unlimited data isn’t necessarily as enticing as it once was. With users relying less on their mobile data to get by, big telecom companies have started adding additional perks to their plans. 

AT&T, for example, includes HBO Max in its most expensive plan, which currently costs $50 per line. Other carriers continue to change and shape the perks they offer to help bring in new customers, often creating new deals for those who change to a plan with a larger data pool.

A man uses a mobile phone at Shibuya crossing

Bronek Kaminski / Getty Images

We’re also at an unusual time for carriers, where the push for a new network is well underway. As companies like T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T expand their 5G networks, Lynch says companies are trying to steer customers back to the more expensive options. These newer networks offer better bandwidth and overall capacity, meaning unlimited plans are more feasible than they’ve been in the past.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that true unlimited data plans are making a comeback at the same time carriers are expanding 5G networks," said Lynch. "Carriers know the number of customers who exceed the highest data caps is extremely small, so reintroducing true unlimited plans doesn't really cost them anything."

Was this page helpful?