America’s largest carrier by subscriber numbers, Verizon, has announced a number of changes to it’s unlimited plans. These changes mean the carrier now offers two unlimited plans, Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited, with the former plan costing $5 less a month than before.
These two plans come with a catch: the video streaming quality is being reduced. Verizon is putting a cap on the data transfer limit for anything it identifies as “streaming” in order to cap the quality of videos: the company is not processing streaming websites but is instead restricting the available bandwidth.
For smartphone customers using the $75 Go Unlimited plan, and prepaid customers, the video bandwidth will allow video streaming at 480p resolution. Tablets, which are added to an existing plan with a $20 monthly cost, support up to 720p resolution and bandwidth. Customers on the Beyond Unlimited benefit from 720p streaming on smartphones and 1080p streaming on tablets. In Verizon’s own words, “there is no visible difference in quality on a smartphone or tablet when video is shown at higher resolutions (than 720p on phones and 1080p on tablets).” This ignores the fact that millions of customers spend thousands of dollars on a smartphone these days with screen resolutions far higher than 720p. Verizon is also capping the available bandwidth for all customers on legacy plans, which means the maximum video resolution that will be achieved from a smartphone on Verizon’s network will be 720p.
The reason for Verizon’s changes appears to be buried in their press release: “We’re doing this to ensure all customers have a great experience on our network.” This is something T-Mobile has been saying for some time: Verizon’s network is not designed to provide customers with unlimited data, and network transfer speeds are dropping since the carrier introduced unlimited data plans. In short, Verizon is restricting video streaming bandwidth to preserve network resources for customers.
From a business perspective, Verizon’s plan makes perfect sense. Many customers will likely not notice a difference between a 720p-resolution video on a 1440p-resolution device, and a 1080p-resolution video on the same device. From a public relations perspective, Verizon’s unlimited plans now come with bigger caveats than before – after years of telling customers they did not need unlimited data, now it appears they meant it. Clearly, Verizon recognizes that some customers will be unhappy at their mandatory change of terms and service, and are giving customers who signed up earlier for a Verizon unlimited plan earlier this year an additional 5 GB mobile hotspot data allowance. Verizon also goes on to explains that their network is America’s best and most reliable, a fact that will be contested or ridiculed by T-Mobile soon.