Finding the perfect cellular data plan
Trying to Capture a Unicorn… AKA finding the perfect cellular data plan. We’d like to share some of the learnings of our search.
Living and working on the road full-time, you encounter many challenges. Some of them are relatively simple while some are extremely complex. We have found that with our ongoing need to have very reliable Internet, one of the more difficult challenges is finding a reliable, unlimited cellular data plan.
For those of you who are experienced in the hunt for a good data plan, the words “reliable” and “unlimited” are not usually in the same sentence. Along the way we have learned that unlimited (data plans) are as rare as the unicorn. What I mean by that is when Cellular carriers say “Unlimited”, they usually mean “…up to a certain amount of data usage” or “…at a certain (usually a slow) speed”. Having a data plan that slows down drastically when I hit a certain limit is problematic. To be honest, it sucks. When they slow it down, it typically goes to “3G speeds” which is code for S L O W…. I’m talking slightly faster than that old dial up modem slow. Some of the other data plans I have an countered are rate limited (also known as) “speed capped”. This is the equivalent of your mom and dad putting a “governor“ on their 1967 Pontiac GTO 442 they will let you borrow for your High School Prom. It’s capable of going a lot faster but is limited to a top speed way below those capabilities. As cellular providers continue to build out their high speed 4G LTE networks and begin rolling out their very fast 5G LTE networks, these will become more and more common.
To be clear, I am not saying you shouldn’t buy these but you need to be aware of what you are buying. Over the past year we have had AT&T and T-Mobile primarily. Our initial AT&T plan came from a well-known provider of RV technology and when it worked it was fine but, when it didn’t work, the only contact I could make with them was sending emails back-and-forth. Typically it was 1 to 2 day response time and it nearly always ended with “…it looks like you have a bad Sim card, go to a Walmart and pick up another Sim card. Take a picture of all the numbers and send it to us along with your account number and we will reactivate it“. Like clockwork, 1 to 2 days later we got an email that said we should be working. They were right, it usually did work but this is after 3 to 7 days of being out of service not to mention many fun filled trips to my local Walmart! This was not a problem everywhere if we had good T-Mobile service. Unfortunately, that was not always the case and it resulted in us moving to another location on more than one occasion.
Another strategy we tried was to watch for specials directly from the cellular companies. This past year, T-Mobile had a 100 GB for $50 a month. We jumped on that and still use it. A few months later, AT&T offered something similar but unfortunately they discontinued it before we could take advantage of that.
Cindy and I typically go through between 350 to 500 GB a month. This may seem like an extraordinary amount of data but as I started to track how much we were using, I found our work data was only half of the monthly total. On one particularly gloomy Sunday, we decided to catch up on our favorite YouTube channels and stream some movies. I was shocked to find out that we used almost 40 GB in one day. I’ll remind you, we weren’t working that day, that was just streaming content on a single television (not a 4K TV!).
This past September we finally made it to the Eastern time zone and we also discovered that not having Verizon was a big hole in our cellular plan strategy. We were just outside of Louisville, Kentucky and found that while we had a good AT&T signal, it seemed like there was too many people and not enough bandwidth to share among them. Our AT&T was dreadfully slow and made working difficult. That’s when I switched to our T-Mobile plan and it worked quite well. As I mentioned before, it was only 100 GB and we went through that in less than two weeks. Fortunately, we had been looking for good Verizon plans and found one that wasn’t the unicorn I’d hoped for, but it did help us fill the gap that we would’ve had when we exhausted our 100GB of T-Mobile service.
Currently we have plans with all three carriers. Verizon has been performing very well in most locations but I have to mix it with the others to ensure we have enough bandwith for the month. Is this perfect? Nope. We are constantly searching for “our Unicorn”. More data, faster speeds and lower prices are the ultimate goals but as our work life is critical to our Nomadic lifestyle, getting 2 of the 3 is a good start. Our Cradlepoint router tracks the amount of data we use on each data Sim and even alerts us when we get to a pre-determined threshold, a very useful function when trying to avoid getting our speed slowed down to near dial-up speeds. I’ve discovered that this is a balancing act that we RVers have become very good at.
To summarize, I’m not sure if there are anymore Unicorns to catch some of us have met people who claim to know someone who has or at least seen one. Cindy & I will continue to search for the elusive Unicorn, after all, isn’t that part of our adventure? If and when we find it we will be sure to let you know.
Here are some things, let’s call them “Best Practices” that we would like to share with you:
- If staying connected is important, you should plan on having a couple different cellular providers. Remember that all carriers do not have ubiquitous coverage.
- Consider using a hotspot or even your phone if it can be used as a hotspot. We use a hotspot as a “Plan C” (Plan D is our phones as a hotspot).
- Keep your cellular router and antenna running while you’re on the move. Cindy reminded me that it saved us a long walk when we blew a radiator hose. No cell signal but, our antenna gave us enough to call Coach Net for help!
We would like to wish you a Joyous, peaceful, and safe Holiday Season!
Safe Travels – Bryan & Cindy
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