us cellular

If you're in the market for a no-contract cell phone and you want unlimited data, your options aren't exactly legion. Today US Cellular announced one more, albeit with some big drawbacks in the small print. For a limited time, you can pick up a new no-contract phone and enjoy unlimited talk minutes, texting and data for $50 a month. That's the same price as the carrier's current 1GB plan.


As with US Cellular's previous plans, "unlimited" only means "unlimited" in the very selective way that some carriers use the term. To put it bluntly, your service is unlimited for the first 500MB, then it's throttled down to 1X (2G) speeds. Here's the legalese from US Cellular's terms and conditions:

No Contract Unlimited Data Speed: Full applicable data speeds apply for the first 500MB of usage. Data speeds shall be slowed to 1x thereafter for the remainder of the billing cycle.
No Contract Data is only available on certain phones. Application charges may apply when accessing applications. Customer must have a positive account balance in order to purchase applications. Not all applications are available for purchase by No Contract Data customers. Not all phones support all applications. U.S. Cellular reserves the right to terminate your service if more than 200 MB of your data usage in any month is used in U.S. Cellular's non-licensed markets. See store for details or visit uscellular.com.

Compare that to the $70 "unlimited" plan at T-Mobile, which is truly unlimited in both data and speed. US Cellular's plan is more or less exactly like T-Mobile's $50 plan, which offers 500MB of full-speed data and throttles down afterwards. Sprint's unlimited options start at $80 for a single phone, but requires a contract or a full-price phone. US Cellular's new promotional plan only makes sense financially if you're in an area that has excellent USC 4G and poor T-Mobile or Sprint coverage... and with the former's smaller network, that's unlikely to say the least.

US Cellular is offering the Moto X ($300 after rebates), the Samsung Axiom ($130), the Kyocera Hydro XTRM ($130), and the ZTE Director ($50) with the new plan. The carrier is still offering the more expensive standard plans alongside the $50 unlimited option, so there's no telling how long the promotion will last.

Source: US Cellular

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • Alex

    Yeah but it's unlimited! Until you get to 500MB and it gets limited.

    • KingofPing

      Quantity. Amount.

      Anyone who claims they thought USC meant throughput is intentionally playing the idiot. In this day and age we *all* know better.

      Should they be limiting throughput? Probably not. But we should focus maybe on that and not some absurd translation of a common concept that even a 6 year old understands.

      Unlimited Data. (...not Unlimited Speeds)
      Maybe they should word it like that for the intentionally obtuse.

      I know I'm going to get downvotes for this, as it's not the "popular" take on such things, but honestly...we all know what they meant.

      • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

        In this day, 2G is, in essence, useless. I was stuck on it when I traveled recently, and the vast majority of my apps simply gave up. Web browsing was pointless to attempt. Maps were a disaster. So 2G is just short of not being data at all, which means when you throttle me to it after X megabytes you are, in essence, cutting off the Internet. You're also drastically reducing my battery life since my background apps will take much, much longer to get anything done.

        • KingofPing

          Slow speeds suck. I don't think you'll get any arguments here. We all know this just as we all know what USC means.


          I am on EDGE frequently with my tablet. FB works, reddit works, haven't tried maps, but most of my single-player games also work fine (even those that connect to Google Play Games). Sure, they all load slower; but then, I expected that. Slow speeds = slower loads. (Maybe I just take that for granted?)

          I am also not sure how well EDGE correlates to 2G...so it's possible the comparison is meaningless)

          • Matthew Merrick

            CDMA 1X is so much worse than EDGE 2G, its barely even comparable. It makes dialup look fast. I mean, hey, technically Sprint's shitty 3G and T-Mobile's HSPA+42 are both technically 3G, and the discrepancy there is insane.

          • KingofPing


            Now I really wonder why everyone complains so much about only getting EDGE...

          • http://twitter.com/anishbhalerao Anish Bhalerao

            EDGE is kinda 2G, only slightly faster.
            2G points to GPRS, which is basically super slow.
            EDGE is sort of 2.5G in nominal talk, and an "extension" to 2G/GPRS in official language.

            And on EDGE, as you mention, background sync works pretty well as long as you are not travelling too fast (coz that's when the phone keeps changing cell towers and EDGE becomes a pain). Also foreground Internet works in most apps. Maps works OK. Navigation works just fine.

            In short, as long as you are ready to be slightly patient, it works.
            Yes it is ultra slow when it comes to LTE and HSPA+, but it still works, albeit constrained.

        • Braden Abbott

          This is not relevant, EDGE is definitely unreliable for data, you have to retry page loads constantly and the way you aim your phone and where you stand effect the speeds and throughput, but in reality when carriers throttle you, you stay on LTE, they never force you down to 3G or 2G, they just lower your speeds on LTE so you don't experience that unusable feeling unless you are trying to stream HD video.

          • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

            Odd. When I was on StraightTalk and they throttled me down to 2G speeds, my phone became just as unusable as you're describing. Waze was completely useless. Now would just circle. My phone became a brick. I drove straight to the T-Mobile store at the end of the day and signed up for real unlimited service and never looked back.

          • Braden Abbott

            Yeah I guess if they throttle you down far enough things time-out but you still get the reliability of LTE or HSPA+, I applaud Aio for making their throttling policy transparent and clear, you get 256kbps after you hit the limit which is fast enough to download over 5MB in 3 minutes so streaming music is possible

      • h4rr4r

        They are limiting total data. You get 500MBs + whatever you can download via 2G for the rest of the month, which is very little since it is so slow.

        • KingofPing

          Theoretical limits of consumption based on speed are fun, aren't they?

          All speeds have theoretical total limits; so by your logic there is no such thing as "unlimited".

          Aren't semantics fun too? /s

          But honestly/seriously:
          Slow speeds suck. We all get that, here. That's not the point. We *know* what USC means when they say "Unlimited Data"....and while we might think it sucks, we aren't really being mislead.

          It is that faux shock in the article and from some of the other posters that prompted my original post.

          • h4rr4r

            Yeah, I know they are a bunch of liars. That does not change the fact that they should be calling this a 500MB plan and not an unlimited one.

          • KingofPing

            They say unlimited data, you get unlimited data (IMO, as I disregard theoretical limits), but not unlimited speed.

            Well, we disagree. No big, right? Millions of folks in the world, millions of different viewpoints. Frankly, it's amazing anyone agrees on anything... :-p

          • h4rr4r

            No, they should be sued into the ground here.
            This is simply fraud. This is a 500MB 3g and unlimited 2g plan. Advertize it as unlimited 2G and I will agree.

          • KingofPing

            Very Anger.
            Much Litigious.
            So Rigid.

            (This isn't an insult or slam. You feel very strongly. I am not about to go head-to-head with that kind of resentment. The above is a meme jokingly used to *hopefully* end the discussion amicably)

          • solbin

            T-Mobile advertises their plans the same way:

            "All plans come with unlimited talk + text + web."

            Even though they throttle. What is the difference??? Should T-Mobile be sued into the ground as well?

          • h4rr4r

            I would of course prefer the FTC just did its job.

  • Konstigt2

    Please stop it with all these "carrier X did this" and "carrier Y did that" and concentrate on Android... :(

    • Marc Edwards

      I think it's relevant seeing as how android devices are usually smartphones. It's something the demographic is likely to be interested in. Alas, I'm in the UK so not many of the articles like this are relevant, they just make me a bit jealous of better pricing...

    • sweenish

      They kind of go hand in hand.

  • vwbeetlvr

    I downloaded the 492 megabyte Dead trigger 2 update in less than two minutes on my Verizon unlimited 4g. How can this even be called unlimited?

    • Jason Rittenhouse

      unlimited frustration?

  • andy_o

    "more or less exactly like". I don't know, I'd say it's uniquely generic.

  • Scott Breitbach

    "US Cellular's new promotional plan only makes sense financially if you're in an area that has excellent USC 4G and poor T-Mobile or Sprint coverage... and with the former's smaller network, that's unlikely to say the least."

    Clearly you've never been to Iowa (where US Cellular has most of their coverage, historically). Here our choices if we want good coverage are Verizon or US Cellular. iWireless (a T-mobile affiliate) comes in a distant third, but even their 3G coverage is spotty. Forget about Sprint or AT&T, unless you live in one of the bigger cities.

  • Frank Lopez

    I cant support a company like US cell. They clearly using unlimited to hook uneducated consumers.

  • ProductFRED

    I'm on T-Mobile, and as much as I love them, they do the same thing and no one bats an eye. They have the same $50 plan with the same exact features. While I wouldn't want the speed to be limited, the data isn't cut off, so it still is unlimited. That being said, is the plan worth $50? No, not really. Calling and texting are standard these days. What most people are really paying for is data. So if you think about it, $50 for 500 MB is f*cking insane.

    • KingofPing

      Standard doesn't=free. They still need to charge for those services.

      I am *very* glad the days of per-minute billing are gone, though and I do firmly believe it probably won't be too long before we start seeing much higher ceilings on "first-tier" data allowances (That $50 will probably get us 2.5GB in a year or two).

      ...and of course when that happens, because we are what we are, we'll still think it's too much for too little. :p

  • solbin

    Say what you will. At least this takes care of overage data charges, which are absolutely ridiculous in how much carriers charge. This is something that ALL carriers need to adopt, and US Cellular should change their other plans accordingly.

    It isn't a good plan for me, but for someone who doesn't use much data (or stays on wifi a lot) this could be a good plan for them. You won't be able to do much with 1x data, but you could still at least google something or check email.

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    >offers unlimited data
    >puts a 500MB cap

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    Personally, I think the author of this post has a harder time understanding what "unlimited" means than US Cellular.

  • Sam

    Back in 2012 after black Friday they offered a 4g unlimited plan for 40 a month that had no strings. I got it and use over 20- 30 gig a month with no interruptions at full speed ( anywhere from 10-12mbps). I'll never change my plan since that won't come around again.