Is the wireless industry limiting consumers with unlimited data?

August 23, 2017
4 min read

It’s easy to run into marketing for unlimited data plans these days as all of the major US wireless carriers are, once again, offering unlimited options. Carriers are responding to an increased demand for data, particularly among Millennials and iGens, who love to consume mobile video. But not everyone wants or needs unlimited data, and there’s something carriers can offer consumers that might be more valuable that unlimited data — better control and customization.

25% of consumers say they don’t need unlimited data
According to Mintel’s Mobile Network Providers US report, only a third of consumers subscribe to an unlimited data plan, and 25% say they don’t need unlimited data. As you might expect, those who agree that they “do not need unlimited data” are most heavily concentrated among those who are not Millennials or iGens. In particular, 38% of those ages 55 and over say they do not need unlimited data.

Despite the fact that many consumers do not need or want unlimited data, some carriers have attempted to streamline their offerings to include only unlimited plans. Not surprisingly, carriers who’ve gone this route have discovered that it’s not so easy to go all-unlimited when not everyone wants that option.

T-Mobile was the first provider to streamline options into a single plan that includes unlimited talk, text, and data (plus an upgrade option for HD streaming). Although T-Mobile is holding fast to its unlimited-only promise, it just recently launched a discount for customers ages 55 and over. T-Mobile undoubtedly recognized that this age group is least interested in unlimited data, and probably not keen on having to pay a premium for it. So, rather than lose this segment altogether, T-Mobile introduced a discount.

Sprint also tried to streamline its service plans to unlimited-only options. Not long after going all-unlimited, however, Sprint acknowledged that some customers didn’t want to pay for unlimited and quietly re-introduced a 2GB plan.

Moving beyond one-size-fits-all packages

One might argue that offering everyone the same unlimited plan reduces the confusion created by offering too many different options for selecting a data plan. That may be true, but there are ways to reduce confusion without forcing customers onto a one-size-fits-all package.

xfinity mobile picA new player to the space, Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile, may have cracked the nut on offering data options in a simple and straightforward way. Xfinity Mobile customers can choose either an unlimited plan, promotionally priced at $45/month, or pay by the gigabyte of data, at $12/month per gig. So far, Comcast reports that the majority of its Xfinity Mobile customers have opted for “By the Gig.”

One of the attractive features of paying for data by the gig is that it gives consumers better control over their data and their spending each month. The customer knows exactly what they will pay for each gigabyte of data (before taxes and fees, anyway). Rather than being tied into a fixed price for a specific data allotment, the consumer has greater agency over how much they are spending.

As outlined in Mintel Trend ‘Make It Mine,’ consumers want to be able to customize their products and services, but on the flip side, consumers are overloaded with options and need help making sense of it all. Comcast has managed to simplify the confusion of selecting a cellular service plan, while offering better flexibility for customers to fit their wireless plan to their specific needs. It is telling that even with the attractive promotional pricing of Xfinity Mobile’s unlimited option, more customers are choosing By the Gig

Xfinity Mobile, like its competitors, is more than just its data plans, and there will be many factors influencing long-term customer satisfaction. However, the fundamental structuring of its data options seems to offer a solid foundation upon which to build.

Emily Groch is Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications. She provides omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights to wireless, TV, internet, over-the-top, and home security service providers across the US and Canada.

Emily Groch
Emily Groch

Emily Groch is Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications, providing omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights to telecom providers.

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