Guide to Unlimited Cellular Data Plans: Understanding the Limits

Many RVers, cruisers and nomads are seeking a home internet replacement so they can work remotely, stay in touch with loved ones and even keep entertained.

Unlimited cellular high speed data plans are in high demand for the mobile community who would like to affordably use hundreds of GBs of data a month.

Unfortunately, none of the cellular carriers yet have the resources to provide home internet service if everyone cut the cord - so their plans are designed around the assumption that their customers have a DSL or cable connection for their primary internet usage 'at home'.

Their cellular phones plans are designed for use when traveling away from the home or office.

So while all of the carriers proudly advertise unlimited data plans, they have redefined the term “unlimited”  to try to find balance between capacity and consumer desire.


These days 'unlimited' basically just means no automatic overage charges.

Not all unlimited plans are created equally and many come with limitations and gotchas.

Understanding these restrictions is the key to determining if an unlimited data plan will meet your needs, especially if you're seeking a home internet replacement on the road.

The sections included in this guide:

Understanding Unlimited Plan Restrictions

The most typical restriction on unlimited plans is the practice of slowing down the speeds delivered either always, or after a specific point of usage. Sometimes, unlimited high speed data is only provided for certain activities.

For a quick (5m) video overview of the differences between Network Management & Throttling - and Mobile Hotspot Caps:

Slowing Speeds Down 

Slowing down speeds can get a bit confusing. Don't let terms like Throttling and Network Management trip you up.

  • Throttling: Is when a carrier or reseller always slows down speeds. This might be for the entire month, or only after a certain amount of data is used. Here are some examples:
    • Verizon's 'Safety Mode' on their tiered data plans slows speeds to 128kbps after the data cap is reached to help customers avoid overage charges.
    • Many carriers only allow 10-15 GB of high speed mobile hotspot use, which is then slowed down to super slow speeds for the rest of the month.
  • Network Management: 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 (22-50GB 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. Once the tower is no longer congested, full speeds resume. You might not even notice it.
    • Example: Think of it as if you were driving on a highway that has a high occupancy / car pool lane. During normal traffic, all lanes are at full speed because there's not much traffic. But during rush hour, if you qualify to use the car pool lane, it's beneficial to avoid bumper to bumper traffic in the 'normal lanes.' Network management is like this - after you hit your threshold, you can no longer use the carpool lane. That will only matter during rush hour.

Mobile Hotspot / Tethering Restrictions

These restrictions typically matter the most to travelers trying to replace a home internet connection, especially those who need to work remotely or homeschool. The hotspot capability on carrier direct unlimited plans is intended for occasional use, like getting a laptop online while away from a typical home or office internet connection for a few hours. The carriers clearly do not want their customers using these plans to replace a cable or DSL internet connection, such as you would have in a sticks and bricks home.

What is mobile hotspot and tethering?
  • Personal Mobile Hotspot is using a smartphone or tablet's cellular connection as a modem to get other devices (like laptops, tablets or streaming devices) online by creating a WiFi hotspot on the smartphone or tablet device.
  • Tethering is using a USB cable to directly attach the phone/tablet to a computer or router.

Both activities are treated the same by the carriers in terms of how data is categorized. Many unlimited data plans limit how much data can be used for this purpose at high speed, as unlimited data is currently intended by the carrier to be for 'on device usage.'

If the carrier offers a dedicated mobile hotspot device to add on to the unlimited plan (such as a Jetpack/MiFi), a hotspot data restriction might even apply to that line.

The good news is, there are 'alternative' unlimited data plans without these restrictions that we track, which you can learn more about below.

Video Throttling

Streaming video over the internet has become one of the most data intensive things people do on the internet. And the carriers have been trying to capitalize on that demand.

Most unlimited plans these days include unlimited video streaming, however some carriers place restrictions on video streaming to curtail data consumption.

Get the Book

Did you know that one hour of streaming HD video can consume 3-4 GB of data? That's a lot of data!

Restrictions may come in the form of throttling down speeds for video streaming, or restricting the resolution itself.

Check out our guide to TV & Entertainment on the Road for a lot more details on utilizing cellular data for video streaming, including the best practices for legitimately getting around your mobile hotspot cap to view video on your larger TV screen.

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Which Carrier is Best for RVers?

Of course, before you get too far into researching the unlimited data plans offered by each of the carriers, you should also consider which carriers are most ideal for YOUR needs. Each of the carriers varies quite a bit in the coverage they offer. For those relying on mobile internet, we usually recommend having at least two carriers on board (redundancy.)

We keep a separate guide updated comparing the carriers for nomadic use:

Unlimited Plan Options by Carrier

Each carrier currently offers an "unlimited" data plan for smartphones and tablets. There are also 'alternate' options offered either by finding an older grandfathered-in plan, 3rd party resellers or a prepaid plan - some which might be available for data only devices.

This chart offers a quick comparison summary of the limitations & pricing. Further plan details can be found below as well:

Current Best Pick Data Plans for RVers & Cruisers for Each Carrier:

Quick Video Overview with our top picks:

Top Pick Plans:

Last update: 6/15/2018

Detailed Unlimited Options by Carrier

For full details on each carrier's plans & policies, please refer to our Selecting Cellular Data Plans – Pricing & Carrier Guide.


Verizon has had different unlimited data plans over the years, from those that are grandfathered-in from when unlimited was first offered before 2011 (and have pretty much no limitations), to their new "unlimited" smartphone plans that began being offered February 13, 2017.

The NEW Unlimited Data Plan

On August 23, 2017 Verizon adjusted their unlimited plans - introducing two different choices, with additional limitations to understand.

  • Throttling & Network Management:
    • Go Unlimited / Go Unlimited 55+: Lines on there plans are always subject to network management
    • Beyond Unlimited: Lines on this plan are subject to network management after 22GB of usage in a month, per line.
    • Above Unlimited: Lines on this plan are subject to network management after 75GB of usage in a month, per line.
  • Mobile Hotspot / Tethering Use:
    • Go Unlimited / Go Unlimited 55+: All mobile hotspot use is at 600 kbps.
    • Beyond Unlimited: The plans include 15GB of high speed mobile hotspot use in a month per line, and then speed for mobile hotspot is reduced to 600 kbps for the remainder of the month.
      • A data boost of 5GB of high speed mobile hotspot data can be purchased for $35 - and each line can have up to 20 data boosts (ie. up to 100GB) per billing cycle. This is a flexible, albeit pricey, way to add a bunch of data when needed sporadically.
    • Above Unlimited: Lines on this plan include 20GB of high speed mobile hotspot use in a month per line, and then speed for mobile hotspot is reduced to 600 kbps for the remainder of the month.
      • A data boost of 5GB of high speed mobile hotspot data can be purchased for $35 - and each line can have up to 20 data boosts (ie. up to 100GB) per billing cycle. This is a flexible, albeit pricey, way to add a bunch of data when needed sporadically.
  • Video Optimization:
    • Go Unlimited / Go Unlimited 55+: Video on smartphones is reduced to DVD quality at 480p, and on tablets reduced to 720p.
    • Beyond Unlimited: Video on smartphones is reduced to 720p, and on tablets & tethered devices reduced to 1080p. For $10/mo per line you can enable 4K video streaming.
  • Additional Devices: 
    • Single Line: Verizon will activate a single line. You can add a (limited number) of hotspot/tablet lines for $20/line on top of a single line account.
    • Multi Line: Two or more smartphones on an account bumps the base price up to multi-line pricing. Up to 10 devices may be on a consumer account. $20 tablet/hotspot devices can be added to multi-line plans.
  • Hotspot / Data Only Devices:
    • Above Unlimited:  Mobile hotspot devices (Jetpacks/MiFi) can be added for $20/month each. Hotspot devices are also subject to 20GB high speed hotspot cap.
    • Beyond Unlimited: Mobile hotspot devices (Jetpacks/MiFi) can be added for $20/month each. Hotspot devices are also subject to the 15GB high speed hotspot cap.
    • Go Unlimited / Go Unlimited 55+ are not eligible for adding hotspot device lines.

Unlimited Data History - Grandfathered Plan:

  • "February Unlimited" - Originally launched in February 2017, Verizon's return to unlimited plans. The plans launched with only 10GB of high speed mobile hotspot use, but were automatically upgraded to 15GB when Beyond Unlimited replaced the plan in August 2017. The February plan pricing was cheaper (particularly for multi-line accounts) and Verizon continues to honor the pricing for those who had it.
    • Should you keep it? If you have this plan, and are happy with 15GB hotspot data, there's no reason to upgrade to Beyond Unlimited and pay more for the same thing.
  • gUDP / Legacy Unlimited Data Plans - Up until 2011, Verizon offered a truly unlimited smartphone data plan - even allowing for mobile hotspot use without throttling or network management. They continue honor grandfathering for most customers, but high usage customers who are out of contract are regularly getting termination letters and some in contract customers are starting to get termination letters.
    • Should you keep it?: If you still have this plan, it is worth getting it / keeping it in contract to best protect it. For as long as Verizon will continue to honor these plans, they are considered gold. There are ways to legitimately use this plan in a data only device (router or mobile hotspot) and reduce the costs to as low as $44.95/month.
    • For an overview of these plans: Grandfathered/Legacy Unlimited Data Plans.
Alternate Options:

There are some other options for unlimited Verizon Data:

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  • Grandfathered/Legacy Unlimited Data Plans - To learn more, including getting a list of rental vendors, refer to our Guide to Verizon Unlimited Data Plans.
  • Flashed Devices ($5/mo!) - Some vendors have discovered ways to flash the identification information of older prepaid Verizon flip phones onto modern day Verizon hotspot devices - allowing the hotspot devices to get online using data plans that were originally intended for downloading ringtones or checking e-mail for just $5/mo.

    This practice is very much against the terms of service with Verizon - and there may even be questions as to the legality of this practice (we're not lawyers). For more on these plans, refer to our Guide to Verizon Unlimited Data Plans.

  • PopData: For those on tiered postpaid Verizon data plans post October 2016, the carrier allows customers to purchase 30 minute ($2) and 60 minute ($3) unlimited data sessions, giving a lot of flexibility for consumers to handle large file transfers when needed.
  • Verizon Prepaid Unlimited Data Plan - Verizon directly offers an unlimited smartphone plan, but only includes unlimited data on the smartphone and 3G speed (600 kbps) mobile hotspot use. Also, all use is subject to network management at all times, and video is reduced to 480p resolution.
  • Xfinity Mobile - Xfinity Mobile service is a hybrid wireless service combining Verizon's cellular network with the network of 16 million Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots. Xfinity Mobile is only available to Comcast cable TV and internet (both!) customers. So if you do not have Comcast cable in a stationary neighborhood, this service is not available to you. The plan includes 20GB of high speed data per month, and then is reduced to 1.5 mbps (still quite usable).
  • US Mobile - US Mobile is a prepaid MVNO that offers unlimited data plans on the Verizon network, however speeds are throttled after 14GB of use in a month.
  • FMCA - The Family Motor Coach Association offers an "unlimited" data plan with Verizon to their members for $49.99/month. It includes 25GB of highspeed mobile hotspot use, then "2G speeds" afterwards - and we have multiple confirmed reports of unusable speeds after the 25GB.



AT&T has experimented with unlimited data plans for a long time. They have options for smartphones, tablets, and connected cars. There are also some occasional rental options that come up.

'Unlimited Enhanced' Smartphone Plans

  • Throttling & Network Management Policy:
    • Unlimited Enhanced Plus: The plans are just subject to network management after 22GB of usage in a month per line.
    • Unlimited Enhanced Choice: The plans are always subject to network management.
  • Video Optimization:
    • Unlimited Enhanced Plus: HD Video streaming is restricted to 1080p on device, and 'Stream Saver' needs to be manually turned off to get HD.
    • Unlimited Choice: Video is restricted to SD quality and Stream Saver can not be turned off.
  • Mobile Hotspot / Tethering Use:
    • Unlimited Enhanced Plus: Includes 15GB of high speed mobile hotspot use on each smartphone or tablet line, which  drops to 128kpbs (2G speeds) after 15GB/month.
    •  Unlimited Enhanced Choice: Includes no mobile hotspot use on smartphones & tablets.
  • Additional Devices: 
    • Single Line: AT&T will activate a single line at the base price - this device must be a smartphone. You can add two tablets ($20/mo) or wearables ($10/mo) to a single line account.
    • Multi Line: A second smartphone goes to multi-line pricing, and there may be up to 10 devices on an account.
  • Hotspot / Data Only Devices:
    • Select Connected Cars can be added on unlimited plans without being subject to the high speed data cap. This does require a built in Onstar system to qualify (no aftermarket devices like the Mobley).
    • AT&T does not allow other data only devices to be added to Unlimited Enhanced plans. This includes hotspots, USB modems and Wireless Internet devices. Only tiered data plans are available for these device types, including Wireless Internet plans that include up to 100GB of data for $100/month.
  • International Data Use:
    • Full plan data usage in Mexico/Canada, however roaming off AT&T's network partners may be limited to 2G speed. This feature is primarily aimed at smartphones and tablets and does not apply to certain devices including wearables & connected cars. Check with AT&T to ensure your device is eligible for unlimited North America data roaming.

Unlimited Data History - Grandfathered Plans:

  • 'Unlimited Plus' and 'Unlimited Choice': Officially retired on February 28, 2018 these plans were quietly replaced with the 'Enhanced' plan versions. The big feature of the Plus plan was the ability to add mobile hotspot devices to the plan that were not subject to high speed caps, even as a stand alone plan. AT&T had a grace period up until May 6 for existing customers to add on hotspot lines that would be grandfathered in.
    • Should you keep it? If unlimited data is an important part of your setup and you have this plan on a data only device, we highly recommend keeping it as long as you can!  Smartphone and tablet lines only allowed 10GB of high speed hotspot use, however. So, if you don't have a dedicated data only line on this plan to protect, it may be worthwhile switching to Enhanced for the 15GB cap. Compare pricing if you have multiple lines!
  • Connected Car "Mobley" Plan: Available for much of 2017, this plan officially retired in September 2017. A too-good-to-be-true unlimited plan for $20/month only subject to network management after 22GB of usage in a month. Using the the aftermarket ZTE Mobley Connected Car Device with a power adapter allows use of the plan without a vehicle's ignition being on. This was a stand alone plan not requiring any other AT&T account, but was only available through AT&T's Connected Car department.
    • Should you keep it? Those who have the plan are currently grandfathered-in, and this plan is definitely worth keeping for as long as you can!
    • Use in other devices? While the Mobley SIM at present time will work in other hotspot devices, these plans were clearly activated as for Connected Car devices only. There is risk in the future AT&T could enforce these terms of service.
  • Original iPhone Unlimited Plan: These older plans included no mobile hotspot use, and became subject to network management like modern plans are.
    • Should you keep it? For most still on these older grandfathered plans, we recommend considering switching to their NEW Unlimited Enhanced Plus data plan to get the mobile hotspot benefit and Canada/Mexico access.

Prepaid & Alternate Options: 

  • Connected Car Onstar Plan: If you have a vehicle with the Onstar system built in, you can generally qualify for an unlimited standalone $20/month data plan through the Connected Car department. This plan only works when the vehicle's ignition is on. The plan is no longer available for aftermarket devices like the Mobley.
  • Tablet Prepaid Unlimited Plan: AT&T has brought back their unlimited tablet plans for $29.99. The plans are subject to network management after 22GB of usage, and do not include any mobile hotspot use (however many report the SIM card works just fine in a hotspot device, but place it there at your own risk, as it is a violation of terms of service that could be enforced in the future.)
  • AT&T Prepaid: AT&T offers two prepaid smartphone plans with unlimited on device service. One does not include any mobile hotspot use, and their higher tiered level plan includes 10GB of high speed mobile hotspot.
  • Rentals/Resellers: You'll find rental lines on places like eBay and other online shops. Here's a listing of some vendors who have been in touch with us.
  • GoPhone: AT&T's own prepaid subsidiary, GoPhone offers an unlimited call, text, and data plan that is always slowed to 3 mbps speeds, and is subject to network management at 22GB. All streaming is at 480p. Mobile hotspot/tethering is not permitted. This plan does, however, allow free roaming in Canada and Mexico.
  • Cricket Wireless: A prepaid brand owned by AT&T, has an unlimited data plan for smartphones that is always slowed to 8 mbps speeds (very suitable for most online tasks, including streaming video) and starting April 2, 2017 is subject to network management after 22GB of usage in a month. Customers can add on 10GB of high speed hotspot use for $10/month on select phones. (While SIM cards from unlimited Cricket plans do work in hotspot devices with unlimited service, Cricket has started to enforce their terms of service for unauthorized use. We have reports starting in late 2017 of text messages being received and now termination of accounts starting in early 2018.)
  • Skyroam: International global SIM provider prominently advertises 'Unlimited Data' for $8/day or $99/month on their proprietary hotspot device. While intended for international travel with automatic roaming, in the US Skyroam uses AT&T as the carrier. However, read the fine print - Skyroam throttles speed to '2G' after 500mb of usage in a day, or 15GB in a month.
  • AT&T Wireless Home Internet & Phone- While not unlimited, AT&T offers a 100GB for $100/month plan on their Wireless Internet devices.


T_Mobile_logo_Magenta_lowT-Mobile One

In September 2016, T-Mobile began offering T-Mobile One plans which included unlimited data. Since launch, they have made several modifications to the plan to meet customer demands and in response to other carriers.

There are caveats to this plan to consider.

  • Throttling & Network Management Policy: The plans are subject to network management after 50GB of usage in a month per line. They change this threshold several times a year based on what represents the top 3% of customer usage.
  • Mobile Hotspot / Tethering: The carrier offers three tiers of plans, each with their own mobile hotspot features:
    • One (base plan): Includes unlimited hotspot use at 3G speeds.
    • One+ (+$10/month): Includes the first 10GB of mobile hotspot at full 4G speeds per line, and then drops to 3G speeds afterwards (512 kbps).
    • One+ International (+$25/month): Unlimited 4G mobile hotspot use and not subject to the Canada/Mexico 5GB/mo cap. However, the carrier reserves the right to de-prioritize mobile hotspot use under on device use, and high data users who are primarily using the plan for tethering may be contacted by the carrier to discuss options (this seems to be an issue if you consistently consume more than 50GB of total data per month and over 50% of your usage is mobile hotspot).
  • Video Resolution Throttled: One plans include free video streaming at 480p resolution. One+ plans include HD video streaming.
  • Hotspot Devices:
    • T-Mobile currently does not offer an unlimited data plan on dedicated mobile hotspots. Tiered data plans are available.
Prepaid & Alternate Options:
  • Resellers/Rentals - Most of these resellers offer plans based on the 'T-Mobile One' smartphone plan and those plans are subject to the same limitations including video throttling (SD/5Mbps) and Network Management at 50GB. As with all resellers, always assume service could be terminated with little notice. Listings here are for informational purposes, and not endorsements or advertisements for these resellers.
    • Millenicom: Offers the Ultimate LTE plan for $70/month, with unlimited 4G hotspot use in North America (Canada/Mexico restricted to 5GB/mo) - but video streaming reduced to 512kbps speeds (lower resolution). The plan can be upgraded to HD video and unlimited Canada/Mexico for $25/month. The plan is only available on select devices however.
    • Unlimited LTE Advanced:  $79.99/month that includes full 4G/LTE hotspot use and HD video in the US only (no international use included)
    • Infinte LTE Data:  $79.99/mo plus equipment rental.
    • Unlimitedville (Pink): $149/month on their device.
    • 4G Antenna Shop: Pricing Varies
    • UnlimitedtoGo (Pink) - $129.99/mo
    • Konnected Technology - $89.95/mo
    • Timbuktu Wireless - $119.99/mo
  • T-Mobile Prepaid: Offers a prepaid One unlimited plan for $75/month with unlimited 4G LTE data on device, and mobile hotspot data at 3G speeds.
  • Metro PCS: T-Mobile prepaid subsidiary offers an unlimited plan with 4G LTE data on device, and 8GB of mobile hotspot data for $60/month.
  • Project Fi: Google's cellular plan that combines T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular introduced 'Bill Protection' in January 2018 and is advertised as unlimited. Pay a max of $60/month for data (billed at $10/GB) and use up to 15GB a month at full speed. After 15GB, speeds are reduced to 256 kbps - or you can opt into $10/GB billing for high speed.


Sprint LogoSmartphone Unlimited Plans

All of Sprint's data plans are 'technically' unlimited as on their tiered data plans (those in which you purchase a bucket of data for each month), after the cap is reached, speeds are throttled for the rest of the billing period to 2G speeds.

Sprint also offers an unlimited high speed smartphone data plan to consumers, an ability to add on an unlimited tablet plan to any line of service, and there are non-direct options for unlimited data plans lurking around too.

  • Throttling & Network Management Policy: The plans are subject to network management after 23GB of usage in a month per line.
  • Mobile Hotspot & Tethering Policy: Sprint's 'Unlimited' data plans include 10 GB a month of mobile hotspot & tethering use per line.
  • Video Resolution Throttled: All video streaming is at HD quality on smartphones and tablets.
  • Hotspot Devices: Hotspot lines are not available to be added to unlimited plans, however the carrier offers a 50GB hotspot plan for $50/month.
Prepaid & Alternate Options:
  • Non-Profit Low Cost Unlimited 4G Plans: Due to terms of how Sprint purchased Clear a few years back, they inherited terms to provide unlimited data plans to non-profits. By joining non-profits like Calyx Institute (open to all) or PCsForPeople (low income qualified) you can get access to Sprint unlimited data plans for as low as $10/month.
  • 2-in-1 PC Devices: Sprint has an unlimited on device data plan for select 2-n-1 Snapdragon based PC-like devices for $15/month  that might be worth looking into.
  • Rental/Lease Vendors: As with all resellers, always assume service could be terminated with little notice. Listings here are for informational purposes, and not endorsements or advertisements for these resellers.
    • No known leasing vendors at this time.
  • Boost Mobile: In February 2016, this reseller added mobile hotspot usage to all of their smartphone plans. Their unlimited smartphone plan includes 20GB/month of hotspot usage and is subject to network management after 23GB of usage a month.
  • Virgin Mobile: In March 2017, this Sprint's prepaid subsidiary added an unlimited plan option to their line-up. No hotspot usage is included in the base price, but 2G per month can be added for an additional $10/month.
  • Project Fi: Google's cellular plan that combines T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular introduced 'Bill Protection' in January 2018 and is advertised as unlimited.  Pay a max of $60/month for data (billed at $10/GB) and use up to 15GB a month at full speed. After 15GB, speeds are reduced to 256 kbps - or you can opt into $10/GB billing for high speed.
  • 50GB Plan - While not unlimited, Sprint does offer a $50/month dedicated hotspot plan that includes 50GB of data  month.

Related News Stories:

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