A Fond Farewell to T-Mobile’s 200 MB Plan

Photograph by Sally Anscombe/Getty Images

Apparently T-Mobile (DTE:GR) smartphones are no longer for the meek when it comes to data usage. TmoNews has discovered—and FierceWireless has confirmed—that T-Mobile has discontinued its 200 MB mobile data plan for new customers that get subsidized smartphones. The pint-sized plan is still available to those who buy a phone without a subsidy or bring their own devices, but if you otherwise want to buy data from T-Mo, you’ll have to do so in increments of 2 GB or larger.

I have an embarrassing confession to make. For the greater part of last year, I subscribed to that 200 MB plan. Yes, yes, for shame. I’m a wireless technology writer. What am doing with a plan many of you would advise only your grandmother to buy? In my defense, I am: a) very cheap and was, at the time, paying my own mobile bill (no longer, thanks to GigaOM!); b) not really a gadget or app writer (we have a second Kevin who’s much better at it than I am). Sad to say, I’m more intrigued by the radio connection between the phone and the network than by the phone itself.

To be honest, I really wasn’t consuming that much data—at least not on the mobile network. While in the wild, my primary smartphone use was for e-mail, social networking, maps, and Web surfing. I’d listen to Pandora and watch the occasional video, but I was chintzy enough to take advantage of every Wi-Fi access point available. Also, years of being an AT&T customer had trained me to save my app and bigger file downloads for home or work, where a broadband network was readily available.

I still went over my 200 MB budget—quite often, in fact—and since this was before the throttled “unlimited” plans were introduced, I paid for that extra data. But the overage charges I incurred were still far cheaper than the further $20 a month I would have paid for a 2 GB plan. (Since then, T-Mobile has lowered data rates considerably.) I realize that 200 MBs may seem an intolerably low amount of data to many of you; at the time it was all I needed, though I was using my smartphone constantly.

Like all smartphone users, I became ever-more ravenous for data. Overage charges eventually well-exceeded the cost of upgrading to the next data level. I was also sick of the fact that I couldn’t use my phone as a mobile hotspot. Today I’m a 5 GB per month customer. (Ironically, my typical monthly data usage is even lower now than it was last year; because I now work from home, I’m rarely ever off Wi-Fi.) Still, in months that I travel, usage shoots well into the multi-gigabyte range.

I can understand T-Mobile’s reasoning for shutting down the 200 MB plan. The company recently reported that its average smartphone user consumes 760 MB a month. A customer on one of its super-fast 42-Mbps HSPA+ devices eats up a whooping 1.3 GB. At such levels, there are few smartphone users that can reasonably expect to remain under the 200 MB thresholds every month. The difference between the 200 MB and 2 GB plans was only $10 anyway, so any argument for thriftiness goes out the window.

But it’s never good to see a carrier reduce the number of data options for its customers—especially a carrier such as T-Mobile, whose reputation is built on undercutting rivals on price. The average consumer may have outgrown the 200 MB, but I guarantee there is still a substantial minority of people who are either using their smartphones sparingly or fighting tooth and nail to keep as many megabytes off the cellular airwaves as possible. I should know: I was that customer just a year ago.

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