At the end of every year we do a wrap-up of major changes in the mobile internet industry.
But this year, there's been so many significant changes since that major update that we thought it would be worthwhile to present a quick mid-year review to keep all of our readers up to date.
First, here's a quick video re-cap (9 minutes) going over the most significant updates:
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Cellular Data: "Unlimited" Data Plan are Back!
In February all of the carriers introduced brand new unlimited plans.
But of course, these all come with limits hidden within the fine print - especially for mobile travelers seeking home internet replacements - a particular need cellular carriers are not yet ready to provide.
Those limitations come in the form of:
- Network Management: This is when a carrier reserves the right to de-prioritize the traffic of high bandwidth users. They generally have a threshold before this kicks in (22-32GB of usage in a month). After that threshold is reached, if the customer is on a cellular tower that is experiencing congestion, their usage might be slowed down relative to other users. Once the tower is no longer congested, full speeds resume. For RVers visiting heavily populated areas with overused towers, this might feel like like throttling in practice at times. But when on underused towers, you may never experience it.
- Mobile Hotspot Throttling: Almost all of the new "unlimited" plans come with a gotcha that after 10GB of mobile hotspot usage, speeds will be slowed down for tethering/mobile hotspot use.
Of particular note is Verizon's heavily advertised New Unlimited Data Plan, which includes the mobile hotspot restriction. This restriction even applies to their Mobile Hotspot Jetpack / MiFi unlimited lines - essentially limiting them to 10GB usage.
This is a particular pain point that many Verizon representatives are not clearly disclosing even to this day to new customers.
After nearly 4 months of these plans being out, we're still hearing mass confusion and disappointment over hotspot usage with these plans.
Be an informed consumer before walking into your carrier's store!
- Our Guide to Unlimited Data Plans
- ALERT: Verizon Now Enforcing 10GB Hotspot Limit with New “Unlimited” Plan!
- Verizon Terminating Certain “Rural” Customers For Excessive Usage
Cellular Data: Our Current Top Pick Data Plans
We're constantly tracking data plans, here are current top picks for mobile travelers seeking a home internet replacement:
- Verizon - A grandfathered/legacy unlimited data plan is the best option for most US nomads who need lots of bandwidth and nationwide high speed coverage - the plans are not subject to network management or throttling (except HD video). The options for obtaining these plans are a bit complex and always changing. Monthly rates vary from $45-249. For more information: Guide to Verizon Unlimited Data Plans.
- Note: Verizon's new unlimited data plans only include 15GB of high speed mobile hotspot use per line (including Jetpacks) and are subject to network management. All Verizon plans are now subject to video streaming throttling, with the option to turn it off for $10/mo.
- AT&T - When activated on a Unlimited Plus plan, dedicated mobile hotspots are exempt from the 10GB high speed hotspot cap the smartphones are subject to. This is by far the best deal on AT&T right now with costs as low as $20/mo when added to a multi-line plan, or $90/mo standalone. However it seems AT&T could be making shifts to no longer allow these types of devices on unlimited (more Info: AT&T Mobile Hotspots “No Longer Eligible” for Unlimited Data Plans).
- Alternate: Wireless Home Phone & Internet plans on the Home Base device can also be activated in select rural markets for $60 for 250GB or $100 for 500GB.
- T-Mobile - T-Mobile One+ International smartphone plans include sunlimited 4G personal hotspot use for $95/month which is a great option (those over 55 qualify for a $20/month discount!) - however hotspot use is de-priotized a bit over on device use.
- Alternate: Reseller Millenicom still offers the older style 'Simple Choice' data only plans that include unlimited video streaming for as little as $35/month, as well as unlimited hotspot data plans for $70/month.
- Sprint - Joining a non-profit (such as Calyx Institute or PCs for People) to obtain an unlimited Sprint plan due to some prior agreement the carrier inherited is the most affordable option out there. Pricing starts at $10/month (yes, $10 - we didn't miss a 0). For more information: Non-Profit Sprint Plans.
- Alternates: If you prefer a direct carrier relationship, Sprint offers a mobile hotspot plan for an extra $50/mo on their Unlimited plan, or $75 as a stand alone option - neither are subject to hotspot caps. And FMCA members have access to an unlimited Sprint hotspot plan for $49.99/mo.
Mobile Satellite Internet
The advertised speeds are promised at 25Mbps, but initial customers are reporting seeing as much as 50Mbps down and 3Mbps up.
Of course every satellite option comes with the normal drawbacks like latency, bulky equipment, and set up hassles.
But for those who really want to venture off into the boonies, it's great to have this option back!
But do keep in mind - to enable mobile service on the Gen5 system, you can NOT purchase service directly from HughesNet. Only certain resellers are able to enable mobile service, so do your homework and read our guides.
- Our Guide to Satellite Internet
- Satellite Internet Update: Iridium, OneWeb, SpaceX, and HughesNet
- Mobile Pricing Revealed for HughesNet “Gen5” Satellite Internet Service
Mobile Routers & Equipment
Starting at the end of 2016 and continuing into the year - most of the major mobile router manufacturers have refreshed their product lines to integrate in the latest in Wi-Fi networking and cellular technology.
Here's some of our past coverage of these product announcements:
- WiFiRanger Revamps Entire Product Line – Embracing 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Cradlepoint Announces New Flagship COR IBR900 Mobile Router
- Cradlepoint Embraces LTE-Advanced, Multi-Carrier Radios
- Pepwave Launches Next Generation Surf SOHO, MAX BR1 Mini
- Peplink Embraces LTE-A at Last, but Basic MAX BR1 Update Seemingly Delayed
We've had some hands on time with many of these new products, and our reviews have been updated and field testing results shared with our members.
The Mobile Internet Handbook - New Version Coming
Our last edition of The Mobile Internet Handbook came out in early 2016 - and it is getting a bit dated.
We have just started a re-write and are aiming to have the new version out in fall sometime.
The 2016 edition is still packed full of relevant and useful information however, as we took a lot of time to make it more focused on the theory and less on products & plans (as those change so often).
But we are considering the old version end of life, and have priced it accordingly for now.
If you don't need this information immediately, we do recommend holding off for the 5th Edition to come out later this year (no promises yet on a date - so much will depend on how many breaking stories we need to cover between now and then.)
Once the new version is released, our premium MIA members will of course get their PDF copy update for free - and they already have access to much of the updated information in our various guides throughout the website.
If you'd like the 2016 Edition at the new 'clearance' pricing in the meantime (which includes a $5 off membership coupon should you decide to join the MIA later):