What happens when you reach your data cap depends on which phone plan you’re on and which carrier you have. Different carriers enforce data caps differently. In order to know what happens when you use all your data, you’ll need to check your specific plan’s details. You’ll likely be able to find this information by logging into your account and viewing a recent phone bill. Carriers also tend to include this information on their websites.
Generally speaking, two things can happen when you reach your data cap:
- Your data speeds will temporarily be slowed until the next billing cycle
- Your data will be cut off and you won’t have access to data until the next month
Which carriers slow your data speeds?
With these types of plans, you have a specific amount of data at full speed (4G LTE or even 5G). Say your phone plan includes 10GB of high-speed data. After you use 10GB in a given month, then you’ll still have access to data, but it will be at a slower speed. Most carriers reduce your data speeds to 2G, which is virtually unusable, so it more or less feels like your data has been cut off. But still, it’s better than accumulating data overages.
Some popular carriers that offer these types of limited data plans include:
- U.S. Cellular
- Cricket Wireless
- Mint Mobile
- Ultra Mobile
- Simple Mobile
- Page Plus
- Straight Talk
Which carriers cut off your data?
Instead of slowing your data once you’ve used your monthly data allowance, a carrier will cut off your data until the next month. This is sometimes referred to as a “hard data cap.” For instance, if you’re on a 5GB data plan and you use all 5GB of data before the month is over, then you won’t be able to access data or use apps that require a data connection until the next billing cycle. You can, however, connect to WiFi wherever it’s available and still access the internet from your smartphone. Some carriers that offer hard data caps include:
- Metro by T-Mobile
- Gen Mobile
- Boost Mobile
- US Mobile
- Red Pocket
- Reach Mobile
Is unlimited data truly unlimited?
The term “unlimited plan” can be misleading—some unlimited plans don’t actually include unlimited high-speed data. There are three different types of unlimited plans to be aware of:
- Unlimited plans with data deprioritization: A data deprioritization threshold refers to the amount of high-speed data you can use before you may experience slower data speeds during times of network congestion. These reduced data speeds are only temporary, though, and there’s a chance you may never actually experience slower data speeds. These are the genuine unlimited plans in which all of your data is full speed.
- Unlimited plans with data throttling: Throttling refers to the dramatic slowing of your data speeds—so much so that you can barely use your data. Carriers typically throttle a customer’s data speeds once they’ve reached a specific data use limit that month. And the slowed speeds remain for the rest of your billing cycle, as opposed to just during network congestion.
- Unlimited plans at slow speeds: Some unlimited plans offered by MVNOs include unlimited data at speeds much slower than 4G LTE, slow enough that your online activities will likely be disrupted.
Unlimited plans with data deprioritization thresholds are the clear winner here. If you’re a heavy data user that likes to stream video and music, go live on Instagram and Facebook, and play online games then you’re going to want to go for an unlimited plan with a high data deprioritization threshold, such as 50GB, 75GB, or even 100GB. Below you can compare popular unlimited plans with high data deprioritization thresholds.
Verizon Do More Unlimited Plan: 50GB
T-Mobile Magenta Plus Plan: 50GB
Verizon Get More Unlimited Plan: 75GB
AT&T Unlimited Elite Plan: 100GB
What to look for in a data plan
With so many carriers and phone plans on the market, it can be hard to narrow down your search, which is why we’re here to help. Here are some things you’ll want to take into consideration before choosing a phone plan that’s right for you:
- Plan price: You’ll want to set a maximum monthly budget before browsing available phone plans. MVNOs tend to offer more affordable plans than major carriers.
- Data speeds: As mentioned, you’ll want to check what data speeds the carrier offers with any given plan.
- Data caps: Are you a light data user or a heavy data user? You can check how much data you’re using each month in your phone’s settings. Once you’ve figured out your average monthly data use, you can then choose a plan with a data allowance that works best for you.
- Coverage: No point in getting a phone plan if you don’t get good service. Use our coverage search tool to check if you get coverage near where you live and frequently travel.
- Mobile hotspot: If it’s important that you be able to connect your laptop or tablet to the internet wherever you go, then you may want to consider a plan that has a mobile hotspot.
- Prepaid or postpaid: Prepaid plans, which you pay for upfront, can save you money while allowing you to avoid a credit check.
- Travel perks: Some phone plans include international roaming and texting, which can come in handy if you don’t want to incur colossal roaming charges when traveling.
- International calling: If you have loved ones who live abroad, you may want to consider a plan that includes free international calling or cheap add-ons.