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updated 8/27/2012 11:54:42 AM ET 2012-08-27T15:54:42

Aside from iPhone 5 mania, one of the hottest smartphone topics is caps on monthly data use. The end of unlimited data began with AT&T, then trickled to Verizon and T-Mobile, then to no-contract providers such as Virgin Mobile.

But T-Mobile did an about-face this week by reintroducing unlimited data plans at nominal prices. As we reported recently, based on studies by NPD Connected Intelligence, most consumers are unlikely to go over the 2-5 gigabyte caps that most providers typically enforce. But a small percentage of users do push against or exceed limits. If you are one of those people, what are your options?

[SEE ALSO: Why You Probably Don't Need an Unlimited Data Plan ]

Through it all, Sprint has continued to offer unlimited data for smartphones on its two-year contract plans, and it had also done that with its two no-contract companies, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. But Virgin is cutting back to a 2.5-gigabyte limit per month. (And because it's a month-to-month, no-contract service, no one is "grandfathered in" with unlimited service.)

Like many wireless providers, Virgin won't completely cut you off after you exceed the cap, but it will noticeably reduce the data speeds. For this reason, companies with de facto data caps still sometimes refer to their services as "unlimited." Technically speaking, that is true, but in practical terms, not so much.

Boost Mobile continues to offer unlimited data, but with a big footnote:

"Monthly data usage includes 2.5GB Per Month of Full-Speed Data. Boost Mobile reserves the right, without notice, to limit throughput speeds when monthly data usage on the $55 Monthly Unlimited Plan exceeds 2.5GB."

TechNewsDaily contacted Boost for clarification and got this reply via email from spokeswoman Danielle Babbington: "As we have referenced earlier this year, we have not started throttling yet and will notify customers well in advance before we start." So Boost is far from a sure thing.

Verizon had for a long time offered unlimited data (at 3G speeds only) on its no-contract plan, but that was phased out in June.

T-Mobile's reintroduction of unlimited data defies the status quo. It applies only to its two-year contract plans, and prices range from $70 to $90 per month. (See details below.)

No-contract provider MetroPCS has also recently introduced an unlimited plan providing 4G service — but also with footnotes. According to the company, the unlimited plan, using LTE technology, is "only available for a limited time but offers benefits that can last a lifetime." In other words, people who sign up within an unspecified promotional period will be grandfathered in for unlimited data, even though they don't have a long-term contract. How long will this deal last? The company isn't saying.

[SEE ALSO: How Much Smartphone Data Do I Need?]

 

Unlimited plans compared

Here are some of your options, in detail:

  • Sprint: Unlimited data contract plans starting at $80 (with minimal voice minutes and unlimited text).
  • T-Mobile: Unlimited data (as well as calling and text) for $70 per month if you purchase the phone outright or $90 per month if you accept a vendor subsidy on the phone price.
  • Boost Mobile: Unlimited data (and calling and text), for now, available for $55 per month, with the price dropping the longer you maintain service, down to $40 per month after 18 months.
  • Metro PCS: Unlimited data (and calling and text) for $55 per month if you sign up during the promotional period, however long that lasts. 

© 2012 TechNewsDaily

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