A handful of third-party reports indicate data speeds have slowed on some networks with the resurgence of unlimited plans, but it seems customers aren’t feeling the heat. In fact, a new study from J.D. Power shows unlimited customers report fewer problems than their tiered-plan counterparts.
According to J.D. Power’s “2017 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study—Volume 2,” unlimited data customers (18 percent) are more likely than tiered plan customers (13 percent) to report “faster than expected” data speeds. They also report fewer network quality problems than limited data customers, with an average of 11 issues per 100 connections noted by unlimited customers compared to 13 problems per 100 observed by tiered customers. J.D. Power indicates this trend held across the board on individual measures of the occurrence of data problems (15/100 for unlimited vs. 16/100 on tiered), messaging problems (5/100 vs. 6/100), and calling issues (12/100 vs. 15/100).
Interestingly, J.D. Power’s network perception results, which are based on responses from 35,105 wireless customers from January through June, overlap with the decreased speed findings in OpenSignal and Ookla Speedtest data.
J.D. Power Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Practice Lead Peter Cunningham said the survey responses indicate that unlike tiered options, unlimited plans bring with them certain psychological benefits for customers.
“Whether a customer has unlimited data or a data allowance on their wireless plan should not really affect their overall network quality, but our data shows that—consistently—wireless customers who are not worried about data overages have a much more positive perception of their network’s quality,” Cunningham commented. “This is a critical insight into wireless customer psychology for carriers who’ve been engaged in battle over unlimited data plans for the past several months.”
J.D. Power noted the positive network perceptions have held up even as the number of unlimited customers on all networks has increased from 23 percent to 28 percent since its last study. The firm notes Sprint leads the pack with the highest percentage (59 percent) of unlimited customers, followed by T-Mobile (47 percent), AT&T (24 percent), and Verizon (14 percent).
Though J.D. Power said Verizon won on network performance across all six of its studied regions, OpenSignal and Ookla both pegged the carrier as one of two (the other being AT&T) struggling to handle the load of new unlimited customers.
Verizon recently tweaked its unlimited plans to optimize video streams in an apparent attempt to better manage network traffic. But as more consumers switch to unlimited on the nation’s two most populous networks it will be interesting to see whether consumer perception around the unlimited experience holds.