Verizon’s 5G upgrade imposes new hotspot data limits on older phone plans

A Verizon 5G sign.
Getty Images | Bloomberg

Verizon says the January 19 launch of 5G on its C-Band spectrum will bring fast wireless speeds to 100 million people in the US—far outstripping the limited geographic reach of its millimeter-wave spectrum that provides even faster 5G speeds. But there is a drawback for people who currently have unlimited 5G hotspot data on the millimeter-wave network: a monthly data cap on hotspot usage.

For the “Beyond Unlimited” Verizon smartphone plan that has existed for a few years, customers currently have 15GB of hotspot data at 4G LTE speeds and unlimited “5G Ultra Wideband” hotspot data. Going forward, the C-Band and millimeter-wave spectrum will both be included in what Verizon calls Ultra Wideband, and Verizon will no longer provide unlimited Ultra Wideband hotspot data to those who currently have it. Beyond Unlimited plan subscribers will instead get a total of 15GB of high-speed hotspot data regardless of which network slice they’re using and will face hotspot data slowdowns after using that up.

Practically speaking, this may not be a big change for many people because Verizon’s millimeter-wave 5G spectrum has such limited geographic availability to begin with, and the unlimited hotspot data only applies to the use of that spectrum. But it’s always good to be aware of changes, given how convoluted Verizon’s service plans tend to be, and it might make sense for some people to switch to newer plans with hotspot limits of either 25GB or 50GB.

3Mbps speeds after hotspot limit reached

Verizon confirmed the new 15GB hotspot limit on the Beyond Unlimited plan to Ars today. “Beyond Unlimited has 15GB of premium mobile hotspot. After that allowance is used, those customers will receive unlimited mobile hotspot data speeds of 3Mbps when on 5G Ultra Wideband and 600kbps when on 5G Nationwide/4G LTE,” a Verizon spokesperson told us. Verizon’s “5G Nationwide/4G LTE” includes 5G deployments on spectrum previously used for 4G and on any other spectrum besides millimeter-wave and C-Band. To get 3Mbps hotspot speeds after using 15GB, you’ll have to be either in a C-Band or millimeter-wave area.

Beyond Unlimited isn’t the only package affected by the hotspot change. For any other affected plan, Verizon told us that “people on plans with 5G Ultra Wideband mobile hotspot will transition to having an allowance based on their plan.” Thus, whatever limit you have on 4G hotspot usage will soon apply to all 4G and 5G hotspot usage combined, without any separate unlimited allowance for millimeter-wave hotspot usage.

Verizon promises 90–170Mbps speeds

Verizon said its C-Band rollout this month will reach over 100 million people in more than 1,700 US cities while providing “typical download speeds of 90–170Mbps, with higher speeds and peaks over 1Gbps in certain areas” and “typical upload speeds of 15–30Mbps, with peak upload speeds over 100Mbps.”

The C-Band spectrum being rolled out this year is between 3.7 GHz and 3.8 GHz, and carriers plan to use the rest of their C-Band frequencies (3.8 GHz to 3.98 GHz) in 2023. Verizon and AT&T delayed their deployments by six weeks due to a dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration, and the C-Band rollout will be limited near major airports for six months.

Non-hotspot data allotments unchanged

Beyond Unlimited, which originally cost $85 a month for one line, is no longer offered to new customers or those who are changing plans. In contrast to those on Beyond Unlimited or other older plans, customers who buy the new plans Verizon touted this week can get up to 50GB of high-speed hotspot data.

There is a positive for people on Beyond Unlimited when it comes to regular smartphone data. The plan includes unlimited 5G Ultra Wideband data on your smartphone, but that’s always only been useful when you’re in a millimeter-wave area. That allotment will continue to be unlimited even after the C-band is added to Verizon’s Ultra Wideband, Verizon told Ars. “5G Ultra Wideband data for smartphone data will still be unlimited on those plans and are not slower in times of congestion… None of the allotments on the plans as they stand are changing,” Verizon said.

PCMag on Wednesday reported that the hotspot changes are coming to older plans and explained why it’s happening:

The carrier confirmed to PCMag that later this month, hotspot data allowances will start to apply to subscribers on the carrier’s fastest 5G network. This change will apply both to people on existing plans and those on the carrier’s new plans, the carrier said.

Until now, people with plans that include Verizon’s millimeter-wave 5G network had unlimited high-speed hotspot on millimeter-wave 5G but limited high-speed hotspot on “nationwide” 5G and 4G. That’s because of the massive capacity on the millimeter-wave network, where phones can use up to 800MHz of spectrum at once. That network just has more airwaves than anyone can use up right now.

PCMag said Verizon’s initial C-Band rollout has a capacity of 60 MHz.

New plans offer 25GB or 50GB hotspot

Details on the latest Verizon plans are available here. The “5G Get More” plan that costs $90 per month plus taxes and fees for a single line includes 50GB of “premium mobile hotspot data,” which is followed by unlimited lower-speed hotspot data. The hotspot speeds after you use 50GB are 3Mbps on Ultra Wideband and 600kbps on other parts of the network. For regular smartphone use, the Get More plan has “unlimited premium network access,” meaning there are no slowdowns after you hit a certain threshold.

The “5G Play More” and “5G Do More” plans that cost $80 for a single line both have 25GB of premium mobile hotspot data each month before the automatic slowdowns. For regular smartphone usage, these two plans have 50GB of full-speed data. After that, smartphone data usage can be temporarily slower than other users’ traffic during times of congestion but won’t be affected if you’re not in a congested area.

There’s also a $70-per-month “5G Start” plan that doesn’t include any mobile hotspot data and doesn’t get any “premium” smartphone data before potential slowdowns during times of congestion. All of the plans have per-line discounts if you buy for multiple people. For example, the $90-per-month “5G Get More” plan costs $80 per line if you buy two lines, $65 per line for three lines, and $55 per line for four lines.

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