It's no surprise that everyone wants to know how to get unlimited internet and data these days.
With internet prices continually creeping up - 21% over just a two-year period, as reported by CBS News - you're probably looking for every possible way to shave a little bit off of that monthly payment. Am I right?
As your wireless internet service bill grows, technology marches on in the form of ultra-high-definition video streaming and other data-hogging applications. Americans are using more data than ever while high-speed internet providers continue to penalize customers who go over their limit.
Fortunately, unlimited internet access and data plans are out there if you know where to look.
Below, I'll help you figure out whether you really need unlimited data, who offers unlimited internet plans, and how much it will cost you. I'll also touch on the best way to get unlimited cellphone data, which can be just as elusive as unlimited home internet.
In This Guide
Key Considerations of Unlimited Data Internet Plans
Unlimited Internet access and data are in high demand right now. Data caps have been an issue of hot debate as of late, leading many to wonder - consumers and tech experts alike - what exactly is the future of unlimited home internet? Does it have a future? And what will the implications be, with online streaming media becoming higher quality all the time?
Just the word "unlimited" may be enough to strike suspicion into your heart, as consumers have become a bit jaded by the fees that continue to pile up on their internet bills. Sit back and take a deep breath, because I'm going to demystify the issue of unlimited broadband internet service for you.
Data caps, UBP, overage charges, oh my! If you're not sure what these terms mean, don't worry, I'll explain.
- Data cap: a preset amount of data your internet service provider allows you to use in downloading or uploading information on the web. If you exceed this amount, you may be asked to level up to the next plan tier, or you may be subject to...
- UBP: Internet usage-based pricing, otherwise known as overage charges, is a system whereby your provider charges you an additional fee for exceeding your data cap.
Not all data caps come with UBP, but all UBP is the result of a data cap. In lieu of usage-based pricing, your provider may request that you scale back your data usage, or they may actually throttle your bandwidth (slow your internet down after you hit a certain amount of data).
Data caps are going up
Both AT&T Internet and Comcast Internet have recently raised their data caps. The majority of Comcast residential customers with Xfinity internet service now have a 1TB (terabyte) data cap. AT&T's caps go in graduated tiers, ranging from 150GB for their high-speed DSL up to 1TB for the higher tier cable internet plans.
Related: AT&T Internet Plans
By now you may be asking yourself why data caps matter in the scheme of unlimited internet plans. Data caps are significant because historically speaking, unlimited broadband internet was the norm. Even after the major providers put data caps in place they were seldom enforced.
There is some concern among those who watch the communications industry that the fanfare surrounding these increased data caps may simply signal a move toward enforcement. Although, both AT&T and Comcast are allowing grace periods of two billing cycles during which you can exceed your limit without penalty.
Unlimited may not actually mean unlimited
You may have noticed that I didn't mention one of the main internet players in the above data cap section. That's because Verizon's internet plans are somewhat of a standout when it comes to unlimited home internet.
Verizon's fiber plan, FiOS, is technically supposed to be "unlimited". That's the way it's marketed, anyway. Here's the thing, though - the company posted on its own blog in 2014 that it "doesn't cap usage in any way". In reality, it does cap your monthly allowance - but only if your data usage is extreme.
According to DSL Reports, Verizon has sent warning letters to multiple customers stating that if they continued excessive use over their monthly allowance, their accounts would be terminated. Granted, the offenders were using terabytes upon terabytes per month, which is highly unusual for a typical residential household. Still, if "unlimited" doesn't actually mean unlimited, it begs the question of whether the service should be advertised as such. You can check out the fastest Internet in your area here.
Before you switch your plan or service provider, you should make sure your network is optimized to reach the highest speeds possible. Network optimization is the process of optimizing your Internet connection to be the best it can be. If you want to try network optimization before purchasing a new plan with higher speeds, here's what to do.
1. Reboot your router. This may help solve any glitches and make it perform faster.
2. Try using an Ethernet wire to optimize your speeds. As long as your computer is close enough to your router to connect, this is a great, inexpensive way to increase speeds.
3. Change your router's location. This may help your signal if your router is in a dead zone.
4. Update your router's firmware.
5. Learn how to extend WiFi range with an external access point.
Unlimited Internet Providers
Most major internet providers now impose some sort of data cap, with the exception of Charter Internet and Verizon. Also, look out for the installation fees. Here's a breakdown of five of the largest providers' policies:
- AT&T: Lower cable speeds get 300 GB of data, higher tiers get 1 TB. Overages are charged at a rate of $10 per 50 GB, with a maximum of $100 in overage fees per billing cycle. You get a grace period of three billing cycles before being charged overages. An unlimited internet plan costs $30 per month unless you combine your AT&T cable television and internet bill - then you get unlimited, free internet. The fiber plan includes unlimited data.
- Comcast: Most residential Xfinity customers receive 1 TB of data with their Comcast internet plans. Overages cost $10 per 50 GB with a maximum of $200 per month, and you won't be charged until your third month of exceeding the limit. Comcast offers an unlimited internet plan for $50 extra per month.
- CenturyLink: This provider imposes download limits rather than overall data caps. The cap is 150 GB for speed plans of 1.5Mbps or less, and 250 GB for plans over 1.5Mbps. While CenturyLink is currently trialing a usage-based program in Yakima, WA, the rest of their customers will not be charged for overages but may be asked to change to a higher tier.
- Cable One: Data plans range between 300 GB and 500 GB per month, based upon speed package. Cable One Internet claims not to charge overage fees, however, some users report being notified that they will be automatically upgraded if they consistently exceed their data limit.
- Cox: Cox Internet imposes a usage-based policy. All of their plans include 1 TB of data, with the exception of their fiber offering, Gigablast, which includes 2 TB. Overages are charged at $10 per 50 GB.
As you can see, unlimited high-speed internet plans are few and far between - at least when it comes to cable internet. The good news is that fiber optic internet is spreading as fast as the infrastructure can be installed, and most fiber plans come with unlimited data usage.
Even satellite internet providers are offering increasingly popular unlimited internet plans. Satellite Internet plans are also good for those who live in rural areas.
What About Free Internet?
If you go to a coffee shop or airport, you may notice your free Internet usage is limited to a certain number of hours. If you'd like to bypass such limitations, there is a way. You can actually spoof your MAC address to bypass Internet limits.
The MAC address is the code that confirms the connection between your device and the wired or wireless router. If you want free unlimited WiFi access, all you have to do is download an app that will spoof your MAC address. Such apps include Mac Makeup and SpoofMAC.
Who Needs Unlimited Internet Plans?
Fortunately, for most people, it's virtually impossible to use up all of the data they get in a month's allotment, even without unlimited home internet. According to Wired, Comcast says the mean usage among its customers is 75 MB per month. That's less than a tenth of the terabyte permitted. Even so, depending upon your household's usage, you may find yourself needing more than that. But do you truly need unlimited internet? The answer is...maybe, but probably not.
Fortunately, for most people it's virtually impossible to use up all of the data they get in a month's allotment, even without unlimited home internet.
Here's a look at how much data is eaten up by some common internet activities:
- Normal web surfing: 18 MB per hour
- Social media: around 50 MB per hour
- Video streaming - SD: three-quarters of a GB per hour, HD: 2 GB per hour, ultra-HD (4k): between 7 and 18 GB per hour
- Online gaming: 20 MB per hour
- Video chatting (Skype, etc): about a third of a GB per hour
Households which may benefit from an unlimited home internet plan:
- Those with a family member (or more) who work from home.
- Families with multiple devices streaming HD video on a regular basis.
- Households with a Smart TV capable of streaming ultra-HD (4k) video.
- Households which use video chat frequently, either for work or talking to long-distance family and friends.
The trick to determining whether you really need unlimited internet service is adding up all of the hours that each person in the household spends performing each type of activity. Of course, if you already know you're exceeding your limit (because you've been hit with overage fees) then you know you at least need to move up a tier, if not move to an unlimited internet plan.
A Note on Wireless Unlimited Data Plans
If it's an unlimited plan for your cell phone that you're after, they're out there. For a time, these unlimited wireless internet plans seemed to go the way of the dinosaur. They're back, and some allow you unlimited access at the full 4G speeds you normally get. You can check how much cell phone data you really need with our cell phone data calculator.
Unlimited data plans range between $50 and $100. Sprint, for example, offers unlimited data plans with high-speed data for $60 per month, including 5 GB of mobile Internet hotspot data. Once you reach the 5 GB limit, your mobile hotspot's mobile Internet speed is restricted to 2G speeds.
Boost Mobile goes one better with their unlimited high-speed data for $50 per month, including 8 GB of high-speed mobile hotspot use. Many companies even let you turn your phone into a hotspot these days. And now, with unlimited data in such high demand that Verizon Wireless is even offering an unlimited plan with unlimited talk, text, and data for just $45 per line when you purchase four lines.
At the $100 price point sits AT&T. The caveat? You must also be subscribed to DirecTV or U-Verse television. It's not the best deal, but if you're already married to AT&T it's at least available to you.
On a side note, the carrier got into trouble with the FCC recently and was hit with a $100-million-dollar fine. The reason? Failure to disclose to unlimited customers that they would be throttled to dial-up speeds after hitting a certain amount of data. As the Washington Post reports, AT&T is fighting the charge.
How Data Works and Why It Matters
One of the main reasons internet providers use for charging extra for unlimited data usage is "fairness". The CEO of Comcast, Brian Roberts, has - rather infamously - compared data transfer to gasoline and utilities. If you use more, you should pay more.
That argument doesn't quite hold water, as it's actually quite cheap for internet providers to transmit data - whether it's 10 MB or 100 GB.
The biggest issue with the lack of available unlimited internet plans is that technology is advancing at such a fast pace that in no time, ultra-HD video streaming, online gaming, and things like virtual reality devices will easily eat up a large amount of data in a very short time.
There are times when increased usage causes providers to have to make minor infrastructure improvements, however, some argue that the costs do not justify the increased rate charged for excess data. That belief seems to be borne out in the fact that not all providers impose data caps. Regardless of the reasoning, cheap unlimited internet isn't as easy to come by as it used to be.
Now that you know how to get unlimited Internet, make sure to take every detail outlined in this article into consideration.
The biggest issue with the lack of available unlimited internet plans is that technology is advancing at such a fast pace. In no time, ultra-HD video streaming, online gaming, and things like virtual reality devices will easily eat up a large amount of data in a very short time.
Internet providers will have to keep pace, either by further raising the data caps or by making unlimited access affordable. If you're searching for local internet providers, then be sure to use our handy zip code checker tool to find the best provider available in your area.
In the meantime, find the best deal you can with a high data allowance, and utilize the tools provided by internet companies to track your data usage so you don't risk overage fees. Also, beware of pesky installation fees.
If you're shopping for new internet service, be sure to use our zip code checker tool to see the speeds and prices available from the providers in your area. You can also consult our buyer's guide to Internet providers for rankings, comparisons, and analysis of the major providers.