Will T-Mobile’s unlimited streaming service turn out to be a good deal for its customers — or for itself?
by Jennifer Schiavone
Late in 2015, T-Mobile announced “Binge On,” which
allows subscribers to stream video from certain services without the data use counting against their monthly limits. “T-Mobile is unleashing entertainment and giving customers exactly what they want,” said CEO John Legere. But is it as good as it seems?
What do subscribers get?
At its launch, “Binge On” boasted 24 participating services, including Netflix, HBO, Showtime, Hulu, ESPN, DirecTV, Sling TV and Fox Sports. Subscribers with data plans higher than 3GB per month can stream video through these services without worrying about hitting their monthly data cap. The carrier is in talks with other services such as YouTube to expand their offerings. They claim any service that “meets the technical requirements” can apply to be part of “Binge On,” and that neither customers nor providers will pay to be included.
Who’s really saving?
“Binge On” might sound like a dream come true for mobile subscribers. However, “Binge On” comes with a caveat: The free streaming video will be limited to 480p (standard definition) — even for customers with unlimited data plans — despite the fact that most streaming services also offer their content in high-definition 1080p video. Though the quality loss would be hard to spot on most cell phones, tablet users and those who use their phones to send video to laptops and TVs will definitely notice the change.
Why limit the quality?
T-Mobile stands to save big on bandwidth if most of their users switch to “Binge On.” Video will make up 75 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic by 2019, according to networking giant Cisco, and limiting that traffic to standard-definition can save the carrier from having to invest in expanding network capacity to meet high-definition demands. Users who would rather stream in high-definition can opt out of “Binge On,” but any video streaming they do will go back to counting toward their monthly data allowance.
What about Net Neutrality?
Some industry watchers have questioned whether “Binge On” violates net neutrality — the principle that internet service providers ought to enable equal access to all content and applications. T-Mobile counters that FCC rules do not currently prohibit the practice. Others have expressed concern that T-Mobile’s choice to limit “Binge On” to certain services will stifle competition in the streaming-video market.
It remains to be seen whether AT&T or Verizon will offer their own data-cap-busting services. But for now, T-Mobile users can indulge in unlimited mobile viewing of their favorite entertainment — as long as they’re not hoping to do it in high-def.
Last modified: July 27, 2017