Unlimited data plans are more popular than ever, to the point that it’s hard to find anything else on carriers’ websites. But limited data plans exist, and they often cost $20 less per line than unlimited options. Here’s the breakdown on unlimited data plans, plus some tips on how to reduce your data usage for a cheaper, limited data plan.
An unlimited data plan allows you to stream movies and music, browse social media, and automatically back up photos without fear of extra fees from your carrier. While a luxury for many, some people need unlimited data plans, especially if they spend a lot of time on the road or share a plan with careless family members.
Most carriers, like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, focus almost entirely on unlimited plans and offer very few limited data options. It makes sense—wireless internet is faster than ever, and popular streaming services, mobile games, and GPS apps eat through data. The competitive nature of major carriers has helped drive down the price of these plans, and it’s common for many unlimited plans to include perks like free HBO Max or Disney+.
Of course, unlimited data plans have some drawbacks. They’re expensive, they often have “soft data caps” that reduce your data speeds or streaming quality if you use too much data, and even if you use very little data, you’re stuck paying the “unlimited” fee.
While most unlimited data plans from Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile start at around $60 per line (with discounts for each line you add), limited data plans often start between $30 and $40 a line, and can go as low as $15 a line. Even if you save just $10 a month switching to a limited data plan, you’ll end the year with an extra $120, which is well worth the effort you’ll spend changing your habits and using less data.
That said, if you choose to stick with an unlimited plan, consider a prepaid plan with unlimited data from an MVNO like Cricket Wireless or Boost Mobile. These smaller providers piggyback off the Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile networks, providing the same coverage at a much lower price. Usually, there’s a tradeoff in high speed data, but they’re still fast enough to support most streaming services without issues.
Are you using enough data to justify your unlimited data plan? Checking your data usage can help you understand whether a limited data plan will work for you and help you figure out which of your apps use the most data. Of course, you might find that you use very little data, especially if you’re working from home, have recently changed jobs, or have moved to a building with poor cellular reception.
You can check your mobile data usage at any time through your Android or iPhone network settings. These settings give you a daily or monthly overview of data consumption, plus detailed info on which apps use the most mobile data. You can also use these settings to control and reduce your data usage, which comes in handy if you decide to switch to a limited data plan.
Most limited data plans provide 5GB to 15GB of data a month. Lowering your data usage can feel like a daunting task if you’re regularly hitting 25GB or more a month, though it’s usually possible with some changes to your habits. That said, if you’re always on the road or don’t have access to reliable Wi-Fi when you’re at work, you might be better off sticking with the Unlimited plan.
Keep in mind that the other people on your phone plan contribute to your data usage. Sticking with an unlimited plan may be easier than convincing family or friends to change their habits. You can check the data consumption of other people on your plan from your Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint account. Most MVNOs, like Cricket or Metro, also offer this data.
Some people use a ton of data, while others use very little. Still, anyone can switch to a limited data plan if they learn some simple habits. Keep in mind that everyone on your phone plan needs to learn these habits, otherwise you’ll go over your monthly data allotment.
Here are the habits you need to lower your data usage:
- Always Use Wi-Fi: The best way to reduce mobile data usage is to turn off mobile data and stick to Wi-Fi connections. Use Wi-Fi when you’re at home or at work, and start asking for the Wi-Fi password when you visit family or friends. Businesses offer “guest” networks for free, though you should avoid accessing your bank account or other secure data while on public Wi-Fi without hiding behind a VPN first.
- Android Tips: Monitoring and limiting your data usage on Android is very easy. You can put a limit on your phone’s data usage, disable mobile data for select apps, and even enable a Data Saver mode in the device settings. You can also turn mobile data off in the Android Status Bar by swiping down from the top of your phone.
- iOS Tips: Your iPhone Settings allow you to monitor and restrict data usage for all your apps. You can also enable Low Data mode on your iPhone, or turn off mobile data from the Control Center.
- Offline Music and Movies: Nearly all major streaming music services allow you to download albums and playlists for offline listening. You can also download movies or TV shows from Netflix, Hulu, and most other video streaming platforms. Do this while you’re on Wi-Fi to save yourself from using mobile data when you’re not.
- Reduce GPS Data: Your GPS is one of the biggest data hogs on your phone. Thankfully, Google Maps allows you to download maps for offline use. You can also avoid using mobile data with Apple Maps or Waze by searching for your destination before disconnecting from your Wi-Fi network. Just keep in mind that if you limit data usage in these apps you might not get real-time traffic reports.
- Disable Auto-Play for YouTube: Need to watch a YouTube video on mobile data? Disable autoplay to prevent your phone from caching data for any upcoming videos.
- Reduce Social Media Data Usage: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all have built-in data saver tools to prevent videos, photos, and other heavy files from automatically loading on your phone.
Depending on your daily routine, some of these habits may be more important than others. The goal isn’t to completely eliminate mobile data from your life—you’re just trying to avoid using more than your monthly allotment. Keep an eye on your mobile data usage to see which apps are safe to use on a mobile network, and if possible, practice good data habits a few months before you switch to a limited plan.
Unfortunately, postpaid limited data plans aren’t as common as they used to be. AT&T has a 4GB plan, Verizon has 5GB and 10GB plans, and that’s about the extent of your postpaid options. You might be better off switching to a limited data prepaid plan, as limited data options are still popular with prepaid carriers.
Some people are wary of prepaid plans, but they’re cheaper and provide more freedom than traditional postpaid plans. AT&T’s 15GB prepaid plan starts at just $40 a line and includes rollover data, and T-Mobile offers a 2.5GB plan for just $15 a month. Cricket Wireless, Boost Mobile, and Metro also offer competitive plans, including some cheap options for unlimited data, should you decide that a limited data plan isn’t for you.