Verizon’s customers will no longer have the option to watch 1080p video on their smartphones thanks to a move from the carrier this week to permanently throttle streaming quality on handsets.
As reported by The Verge, Ars Technica, and CNET, the shift comes as Verizon splits the single consumer postpaid unlimited option it began offering in February into two new buckets – neither of which offer 1080p on smartphones. And that’s just one of several changes Verizon is making in the new plans.
Starting Wednesday, Verizon will offer two variations of its unlimited plan: a budget $75 per month “Go Unlimited” option with AutoPay and an $85 per month “Beyond Unlimited” plan (again, with AutoPay).
As before, the Go Unlimited plan will offer users unlimited 4G LTE data, but the new plan comes with the caveat that users can face reduced speeds any time there is network congestion rather than after a usage cap. Similar to basic unlimited plans offered by competitors like T-Mobile and Sprint, Verizon’s Go Unlimited option also limits video streaming quality to 480p on smartphones. That figure is slightly higher for tablets, at 720p, but 1080p is out of the question on both devices. The plan will continue to offer hotspot capabilities, but Verizon is capping speeds there at 600 Kbps. Verizon is also scrapping the feature that offered free calls, text, and data in Mexico and Canada on this tier.
For an extra $10 per month on the Beyond Unlimited plan, customers will get unlimited 4G data that will only be slowed in instances of congestion after 22 GB of usage in one month (though that cap jumps to 25 GB for customers who sign a two-year contract). Streaming quality for smartphones is a bit better at 720p and tablet users on this plan can get full HD video at 1080p. The plan also offers 15 GB of high-speed mobile hotspot data, and retains the free calls, texts, and data in Mexico and Canada.
Why the changes?
The move helps Verizon match the two-tiered unlimited offerings of its rivals and provide an unlimited option at a lower price point. But as noted by Jeffries Analyst Mike McCormack, the tweaks also seem to be network driven.
“Verizon’s Unlimited push earlier this year undoubtedly placed a heavy burden on the network. Today’s move allows Verizon to address potential congestion via lower resolution video and a price increase to preserve HD-quality streaming,” he observed. “It may also be an indication that the company’s small cell strategy is taking longer to implement, or is not providing the needed capacity to keep up with demand.”
For context, rival T-Mobile has long claimed that Verizon’s reintroduction of unlimited was a shock to its network. Based on Ookla Speedtest data, the Un-carrier has repeatedly claimed that Verizon’s network speeds have dropped since the return of unlimited.
“Watching what the carriers’ new unlimited plans are doing to their networks is like watching a train wreck in slow motion – emphasis on slow,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere quipped in May. “This is what happens when you unleash unlimited data on a network that wasn’t built to handle it.”
Verizon’s Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer countered by noting that Verizon considers “wireless performance as a combination of coverage, reliability, and speed” rather than just measuring one of those metrics.
But Palmer and other Verizon executives’ confidence in the network appeared to be undermined by reports that surfaced in June showing Verizon was capping streaming speeds on Netflix. And earlier this month, a new report from OpenSignal found 4G speeds on Verizon and AT&T’s networks have been “dropping steadily” since the introduction of unlimited earlier this year. More on that here.
Verizon did not immediately respond to an email seeking more information on the changes. However, the carrier said in its press release its network has “never been stronger.”