Hey, Unlimited Data Isn’t Dead!

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Kacper Pempel / Reuters

While the biggest wireless carriers seem hellbent on taking data away, T-Mobile is reversing course and bringing unlimited data back.

Starting September 5, T-Mobile will offer truly unlimited data plans. That means no more throttling to slower speeds if you use too much data in a month.

(MORE: Running the Numbers on AT&T’s New Shared Data Plans)

The new plans won’t cost a lot, either. Subscribers to T-Mobile’s Classic plans will pay $30 on top of voice and text coverage for unlimited data. That’s a minimum $70 per month for a plan with 500 minutes and no text messages, and a maximum of $90 per month with unlimited voice, text and data.

Users can save even more by bringing their own phone and getting a Value plan, where unlimited data rates are reduced to $20 per month. A basic T-Mobile Value plan with 500 minutes will cost $55 per month, and a plan with unlimited voice, text and data will cost $70 per month.

The Value plan should prove interesting later this year, when T-Mobile will allow Apple’s iPhone to run at full data speeds, as All Things Digital reports. Unless T-Mobile starts selling the iPhone directly, users will still have to pay full price ($650 and up) for an unlocked version, but they can save money in the long run on a cheaper data plan. (T-Mobile already has more than one million unlocked iPhones running on its network, but they’re held back to 2G data speeds due to the nature of the network.)

There’s just one catch: With unlimited data, no mobile hotspot use is allowed. For that, you’ll need a 5 GB data plan, which costs $25 per month on the Value service and $35 per month on the Classic service.

A Comeback for Unlimited Data

As the Associated Press points out, unlimited data is enjoying a bit of a renaissance at smaller wireless carriers, who need a way to compete with AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Sprint has always offered unlimited data, and says it will continue to do so as it rolls out its 4G LTE network. MetroPCS has dropped the price of its unlimited data plan from $70 to $55 per month for a limited time.

AT&T and Verizon, meanwhile, are attempting to charge more for fewer gigabytes with their new shared data plans. Unlimited voice and text are mandatory with these new plans, so they’re a worse value than basic individual and family plans if you’d prefer to have more data instead.

Users who are grandfathered in to unlimited data plans are getting pushed aside by the major carriers as well. AT&T throttles these customers when they use more than a few gigabytes per month, and Verizon no longer allows them to purchase new phones at subsidized rates.

Fortunately, the advantages for the two major wireless carriers are eroding. Their coverage is still better overall — though even that depends on where you live — but their phone selection is no longer markedly superior. Apple now sells unlocked iPhones for GSM carriers such as T-Mobile, and offers the iPhone directly through Sprint. If Android’s more your thing, the unlocked Galaxy Nexus is only $350, and works fine on T-Mobile’s network with the cheaper value plan. Samsung’s Galaxy S III is available on all four major carriers, and is coming to MetroPCS later this year.

I doubt that AT&T and Verizon will ever return to unlimited data, at least not without charging a hefty sum. But with three of the five largest wireless carriers now committed to unlimited data, at least you’ve got alternatives.

MORE: Verizon’s New ‘Share Everything’ Plans: Good Deal or Total Ripoff?