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New York, NY

1 edit

Going Cheap and Capped

The following discussion is relevant to those urban heavy web users like me who have a significant need for mobile computer web access, and who have chosen therefore to go with a wireless Internet company as their sole provider. Those in my shoes are now facing a situation where that solution to their web needs is increasingly untenable. So I hope the following discussion of my chosen solution to the current squeeze will prove helpful to some.

As some regular readers of the DSL Reports/Broadband Reports web site probably know, I'm a regular mobile wireless user. I've been using nothing but laptops for almost a decade because much of my Internet usage consists of connecting on "away" sites rather than at my home.

Because of that fact, for years I have always chosen to have my wireless provider be my only provider, to save both money and the hassle of dealing with two different plans and two different monthly bills for Internet.

As my needs have evolved and plans have changed, I've found myself migrating from provider to provider. I started out about ten years ago with the strongest wireless provider of them all, Verizon Wireless, at a time when they were still allowing unlimited usage.

Then, several years ago (forget precisely when, but those curious can search my posts if they really want to know; I believe it was in the middle or late oughts, around 07 or 08), Verizon Wireless pulled the plug on unlimited data, so I switched to Sprint.

Then, two or three years ago, Sprint killed that, and I moved to Sprint resellers, which typically offer larger packages. I chose a provider with a monthly 50 gig soft cap which I figured would never give me a problem, -- and it didn't, for almost a year.

Without any very significant change in my surfing habits however, I found my data usage creeping up. I believe this was largely due to the fact that web sites are becoming more graphics- and multimedia-intensive (though a hard-drive failure, which necessitated a massive download from my ftp site, did not help!). Youtube is an excellent example of this: as we have moved into this century's teens, HD clips, which used to be a rarity there, have now become almost the norm.

So, finally, I faced the fact that the 50 gig cap no longer worked for me. At that point I switched to a slightly more expensive but totally unlimited plan from another Sprint reseller. It quickly became apparent however that even for this plan my usage might become a problem (in the first month I zoomed up to 112 gigs). Working with that provider, we worked out an amicable arrangement where I would try to stay roughly in the 80 to 90 gig range, which was not a significant problem for me, though, clearly, it meant that I would once again have to monitor my usage rather than ignore it completely, as I originally had hoped to do.

The very same forces that were driving up my monthly usage figures (graphic-intensive web sites, HD video, etc. etc.) were having a similar effect on other users. It became so significant that my provider had to abandon unlimited data and switch to a 60-gig cap, which abruptly made my monthly 80-90 gig figure almost certainly untenable in the long-term (though I did manage to stay under the lower cap for two months).

Which left exactly one national wireless Internet provider offering unlimited service of which I was aware, and they only offered connectivity with trailing-edge technology (namely Sprint's 4G Wimax, a technology which Sprint long since decided to phase out in the coming year or two, since they are now in the midst of a rollout of their 4G LTE network).

So, kicking and screaming, I finally went the two-provider route.

For many users, the reasons for choosing a wireless Internet provider as their sole means of computer access to the web have to do with brutal necessity; there simply is no other option that affords a minimally acceptable web experience. DSL, Cable, etc., all the options which many American urban areas enjoy, are simply not available to them; it's wireless or nothing.

My situation is different. I live in a location, Manhattan, zip 10022, where there are robust non-mobile home options. Despite having that option, I originally chose to go with wireless as my sole provider because of my mobile needs. Due to the foregoing however, I have finally switched to a two-provider solution.

And here's the solution I chose.

I picked a robust home connection, and added on a cheap and capped mobile service. For my home connection I picked Verizon FIOS, which offers special promotions in my building once a year. I picked the 50/25 tier and here's what I'm getting on that connection in terms of speeds:

As you can see, my performance exceeds minimum spec, and I am very pleased with the service so far. (Actually that's an understatement; I've NEVER had an Internet connection with speeds like this, and it's a revelation!)

For my cheap and capped mobile service, I chose T-Mobile. Their deal is to throttle the connection speed once one exceeds the monthly cap, not to charge, suspend or terminate. Like Sprint, they offer two 4G services, their older HSPA service and their newer LTE service. More to the point, they not only offer many more tiers of capped service than any other provider but also charge less for those same data packages than other providers. I am not used to differentiating between my road use and home use, so I had to take a wild guess as to which tier to go with; I picked the 6.5 gig tier.

Since I sometimes travel with more than one laptop, I needed a hotspot, not just a modem stick. T-Mobile offered me two. I saw no significant difference in spec or ability between the two, so I chose the cheaper one, the Sonic 2.0. A disappointing peculiarity of the T-Mobile hotspot modems, apparently, is that one cannot specifically request to be connected to either LTE or HSPA; instead, the device automatically tries the faster, newer LTE first, then falls back to HSPA if LTE is not available.

There are four locations where I regularly need mobile computer Internet access, and I promptly took advantage of T-Mobile's 14-day trial offer to check performance in all four locations (all in Manhattan). All four locations had LTE, so I was unable to ascertain the quality of HSPA performance in those areas. T-Mobile minimum specs for their LTE is 6 megs down/2 megs up. Here's a typical result with my T-Mobile connection:

As you can see, the performance is superb, well above minimum spec. Just as notably, it runs rings around Sprint, even though Sprint's minimum LTE spec is identical, 6 megs down/2 megs up.

Here were my final Sprint LTE figures before I pulled the plug:

Yes, I know Sprint is in the midst of an upgrade and rumors are rife that when the upgrade is complete Sprint will be awesome, possibly better than any others. I am not very confident of that fact however. The fact is that in my area this upgrade started last March, and the only immediate result of that upgrade, or long-term result for that matter, has been spotty performance and inconsistent speeds. Sure, the possibility exists that when the upgrade is complete a lot of those problems will disappear. But an upgrade that has dragged on for nine months, and has yielded only a loss in performance quality rather than a gain, clearly has significant problems associated with it. And, just as clearly, it does not inspire confidence that Sprint knows what it's doing or is capable of delivering the supposed post-upgrade performance.

However the fact also remains that T-Mobile's superb NY performance may in no small measure be due to the fact that they have a significantly smaller subscriber base than Sprint. It may very well be that as more subscribers sign on, and the T-Mobile LTE networks become challenged by two-fold, three-fold and/or four-fold increases in the number of users, the magenta network may ultimately prove to be as disappointing as, or perhaps even more disappointing than, the yellow network.

But that is a worry for tomorrow. For today, I would say, as one heavy urban user who has access to both robust home Internet and wireless Internet and who has heretofore gone with wireless as his sole provider because of significant mobile needs, that a two-provider route along the lines outlined above has proven to be a generally satisfactory solution for me.

And I think it deserves mentioning that this two-provider solution was already suggested to me some time ago by DSL Reports user Jim in VA. At that time, the 60 gig cap was not definite, so I was still hoping to make the wireless-as-sole-provider setup work. But that was not to be. Once the 60-gig cap came down, Jim's advice emerged as the most logical alternative, and I decided it was time to bid a fond farewell to my long-time association with Sprint.

Anyway, I hope the above discussion proves useful for someone.

In the meantime, as I expected, I have a small and growing collection of questions regarding T-Mobile which T-Mobile users reading this post may be in a position to answer.

For example, is there any way to differentiate the connection between LTE and HSPA? I can see the option to switch to 3G, 2G or 4G. But the one 4G category accommodates both LTE and HSPA; is there a way to drill down on that setting and specifically select the one or the other?

I can no longer access my T-Mobile hotspot's Admin Page through the URL, »mobile.hotspot , though I was able to yesterday. Instead I had to call customer support for the direct IP number (, and use that number to successfully access it on my browser. Anyone else having this problem? What is the solution?

Finally, any chance of a T-Mobile forum here?