T-Mobile 100GB internet data plan

T-Mobile has been disappointing this year for a number of reasons, mainly their big change to how they handled category 18 modems, but also with their acquisition of Sprint and other bumps in the road. There is a new plan that was just released that redeems some of that disappointment, and could be an excellent choice for those boaters looking to get T-Mobile on a hotspot or router.

T-Mobile Blocked CAT18

In the summer of 2020, T-Mobile decided to block access from category 18 modem devices for anyone using an older T-Mobile ONE or similar tablet or hotspot plan. These plans were available as early as 2016 and had fantastic features – unlimited LTE data, international roaming for free with 5GB of data included, as well as a few other things.

For me, the T-Mobile plan was excellent while cruising in the San Juan Islands given the investment in towers they had made in the last few years. The coverage and speeds were excellent. When cruising into Canada 🇨🇦 (when we could do that!), the roaming was even better, allowing me to stay connected and have full LTE data access for the 6-8 weeks I was up there.

The change this summer blocked access for the newer category 18 modems made by Telit and found in products like the Peplink MAX Transit CAT18, Peplink MAX HD1 Dome CAT18, and Cradlepoint IBR1700. It also turned people away from those products who were considering buying them to older technologies and also had them searching for data plans from other providers.

The New Plan

The new plan they've announced is available as both a post-paid (i.e. contract) and  pre-paid Mobile Internet Plan. I was not able to sign up for it using my existing T-Mobile account (post-paid) due to the age and type of my account. T-Mobile is prioritizing pre-paid accounts anyhow, so I am recommending that option for most people.

Pre-paid has a big advantage in that if your router doesn't work with the plan, or if 6 months down the road something changes and it doesn't work for you, you simply stop paying, and there are no contractual obligations.

If you have a family or group plan, this may still show up for you as an additional line you can add. Make sure you read the fine print to understand any limitations.

Here are the highlights for the pre-paid option:

  • Pre-paid – no contracts, easy to sign up
  • $50 / month for 100GB – some fine print has said a voice line is required or you are charged $40 extra, but I wasn't for the two lines I purchased, and have not heard of anyone else seeing this – it would show up in checkout.
  • 5GB 4G LTE roaming in Canada/Mexico – plus unlimited roaming (at 2G speeds) internationally
  • Bring your own device – works in hotspot and router devices like Peplink or Cradlepoint, or you can get a hotspot from them. No special setup required – just plug it in to your router/hotspot and go.
  • Unlimited music streaming – a nice feature – I stream almost all of my music

The existing or previous plans that T-Mobile offered were from $60-80/month and only allowed about 22GB of data. Some of those stopped at 22GB (which is what I was migrated to earlier this year) while others continue functioning at 3G speeds (mostly unusable) after that. To now be able to get 100GB for $50 is truly a fantastic deal!

The fine print also cites this:

Plus taxes and fees. On all T-Mobile plans, during congestion, heavy data users (>50GB/mo. for most plans) and customers choosing lower-prioritized plans may notice lower speeds than other customers. Video typically streams at DVD quality (480p).

The important points out of that bit:

  • If you go beyond 50GB/month, your connection could get super slow in time of congestion. That happens where a tower is busy which can be in rural areas just as much as in metro areas. Near my marina, when cruise ships docked, T-Mobile was essentially unusable if you were over your data allotment for the month. This restriction is not unlike similar restrictions on high monthly data or even “unlimited” plans from many other providers.
  • Video streams at 480P. I personally don't care, since I'm just happy I can watch Netflix and Hulu at anchor if the weather is bad. If you expect HD streaming on any LTE data plan, you're going to need to use VPNs or other things to get around the restrictions, and you're going to burn through your data very fast. I'd suggest using Plex or another local server solution instead.

It's important to also note that these are data-only hotspot plans. They cannot be used in a phone or other device. Voice services won't work, and I wouldn't bother trying or testing it since it might send up a flag on T-Mobile's end.

My friends over at the Mobile Internet Resource Center have a news article on this change as well with even more details if you want to get deeper into what is being offered.

5G Network

This plan talks about access to T-Mobile's new 5G network which might get you excited for faster speeds and newer technology. I wouldn't get too excited….

The various G's that providers have used in the last few years – 3G, 4G, 4G LTE, and now 5G – have been confusing. They all stand for “generation” – so 5G is the 5th generation of the technology. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and is the underlying standard that these all fit into in some way.

The problem with 5G, and it was a similar problem with 4G, is that each provider is saying they have it, but it means completely different things, and it is changing frequently.

5G for Verizon generally means technology called mmWave which is super fast, but the radio waves can't penetrate walls or glass (!!) so it is limited to outdoor use in metro areas. It is also extremely short range compared to existing 4G or LTE signals. In all likelihood, mmWave will never be usable from a boat given it's short range, and that it would more likely be deployed in metro cities.

5G for T-Mobile means a bunch of new bands/frequencies that they are using in a sort of layered fashion, plus mmWave in the future.  This included lower band (Band n71 / 600 mhz) stuff they rolled out early in 2020, and mid-band stuff (Band n41 / 2.5Ghz acquired from Sprint) that has been turned on in October 2020.

You'll notice those bands have a little “n” in front of them, which stands for “new radio”. None of the normal providers such as Peplink or Cradlepoint have devices that support these bands yet. It will be a while.

Tests with the newer 5G stuff on T-Mobile has shown about a 20% increase in speeds, so that's nice. However, if you're in this to try to increase your overall speeds, it's better to combine two SIMs/plans with features like SpeedFusion from Peplink than it is try to to shop for 5G plans and devices. Most people looking for 5G on boats should be focusing on the coverage and range that it provides, not speeds.

Bottom line, don't expect faster speeds with this plan, and don't waste any time trying to track down 5G capable routers just yet.

Signing Up

You can find the plan here.

Here are my tips for signing up for this plan, or any pre-paid plan:

  • Don't try to combine it with an existing T-Mobile account. It looks like there may be some benefits, but it seems like it is only offered to newer accounts? Not completely sure, but I would just sign up as a pre-paid customer separately.
  • Use a reliable credit card to pay for it. Pre-paid plans don't work like traditional post-paid, contract plans where you pay at the beginning of the month for the service you used last month. Pre-paid is a fixed price that gets charged at the beginning of the month and you need to have payment ready right at that time. Many people have lost amazing unlimited pre-paid plans because their card changed or couldn't be charged, and the provider usually will not try again – if the plan has been retired, and they can't charge you for it, it's gone forever.

Testing

T-Mobile plan active on Peplink HD1 Dome

I've tested this SIM in the following devices:

The most important ones to me are the CAT18 devices, which T-Mobile blocked earlier this year. This plan solves that, and allows me to once again use T-Mobile as a decent provider around the Puget Sound area with their great coverage.

In all of my testing, I was able to successfully connect to T-Mobile's network and had good data speeds. I have not reached the 100GB data limit yet, but I expect things to slow down when hitting that mark, or at 50GB in congested areas.

Keep in mind that T-Mobile could change what devices could access this plan, and there would be little recourse. Your device could also not work depending on what it is, so choosing the pre-paid plan is a smart choice in case you need to cancel. If you have a device you've tested that works, please post in the comments below so we can update the article above.

Conclusion

If you need a good, cheap plan for a router or hotspot, and you don't already have an unlimited or high data allowance plan from T-Mobile, I would jump on this right away. Carriers often only offer these types of plans for a limited amount of time.

100GB a month is quite a bit, and especially for $50 pre-paid, and no contract is required. It's a massive improvement over the previous $80/month 22GB plans that they were offering.

Not only is it a decent amount of data, but it is contract-free, fairly inexpensive, made for routers and hotspots, and gets you access to T-Mobile very easily. Highly recommend!

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20 thoughts on “T-Mobile 100GB internet data plan”

  1. Jeez Steve, have you been holding back on your boat-based time machine? “In the summer of 2021, T-Mobile decided to…”

    Lol

    I wish Canada would catchup to the US’s approach to data packages

    Reply
  2. I went to a T-mobile store today, and the sales staff were unaware of the pre-paid option and told me no such plan was available. Since post-pay is also no contract, I went for it and got a sim card. I also ordered the Inseego Mifi M2000 from them at the 1/2 price promo to be shipped to me as it wasn’t in stock at the store. However when I got home I popped the sim card into a three or four year old 4G LTE Verizon Jet Pack I had, and boom, works fine after entering the T-Mobile APN. Works well enough that I decided to cancel the Inseego order as you have to keep the plan for 24 months to get the full 50% discount (they make you finance the whole purchase price 24 months @ 0% and credit you 1/2 of each month’s payment). The Jet Pack works fine in the USB port of my Pepwave Surf router so for now, I’ll set it high in the boat and see how it does. We’ll be out in the Sound for four or five days after Christmas so I can see how it works, but long term I’ll be looking at getting one of the devices you’ve been telling us about.

    Reply
  3. I went to the online link and went all the way through to the shopping cart, but then the website wouldn’t enable the Next button. Something about invalid line number. Obviously a website bug. You know you’d expect a provider of internet access would have this whole website thing figured out by now. I’ve had similar issues with AT&T in the past.

    Reply
  4. Yay, finally got this stupid Disqust system to work. Anyway, Steve had some great advice he shared. Get the prepaid plan, don’t try and verify the MEID number with TMobile, don’t put this data plan on your family plan. I tried to get Verizon to set up an additional line data plan for my Pepwave Max Transit, by the time I was done, it took 2 months to sort out, over 5 hours on the phone with 5 different VZW people and tech support and lots of Tums. With Tmobile, I bought the sim card on the above suggested pre paid plan, and dropped it in the Max Transit, and boom, data at 16MB/sec.

    Reply
  5. T-mobile is at least very tricky here at bay area. My phone show “5G” but speed is very, very low. We talking here about a samsung S20 Ultra, 5G capable, the top of the top of Samsung.
    At the marina I can hotspot at decent speed some days. Netflix is able to reach me after 9 pm when everybody go to sleep.
    But I’m contemplate the possibility of install a 5G system at my sailboat for a while. Just waiting technology come more accesible on price

    Reply
    • 5G is a very muddy term right now, as it can refer to some of the systems that already exist and are just new bands on the same technology as 4G, or some of the newer technology such as mmWave, which will have a lot of difficulties working with boats given the range they operate at. It could be that you are being rate limited as well given that the network is likely congested there. Some people have had good luck turning 5G off on phones and actually have gotten better speeds without it. There’s a whole series of articles about the new iPhone 12 versions and Verizon’s network, and turning 5G off results in huge boosts because the new infrastructure isn’t completely rolled out.

      Reply
  6. I had to use the web chat feature to order my new SIM online for this plan. I experienced the same wonky website issues as the others but my SIM should be here today. I’ll report back if it works with my Amarok.

    Reply
    • I installed it as a second SIM in the Amarok and it works flawlessly. I have the EC25-AF 4G US T-Mobile / EP06-A 4G US T-Mobile modems in my unit and finally figured out how load balancing works and my whole world has improved in the last 30 minutes. The marina WIFI has been horrible and I was trying to get it to fail over to LTE but all I needed to do was add the WAN and LTE modems to the same load balance group and BOOM! This T-Mobile setup is definitely faster than AT&T in Kemah, TX

      Reply
  7. Update: I’ve had the sim installed in the Inseego M2000 5G hotspot for about 3 weeks now. Here are some observations.

    It is indeed faster than my 4G hotspot on Verizon, but nowhere near the “promise of 5G”. I suspect, that just like the 4G rollout, these companies are running fast and loose with regard to the “5G” buzzword. I’m seeing around 32 GB DL speeds, fairly consistently which beats hell out of the 3 – 5 GB I was seeing on Verizon 4G.

    It bears mentioning that I am located in a fringe area, so you’re mileage may be different if you are a city-rat.

    The Inseego loses connection with the network 3 – 5 times per day, requiring me to reboot the device. Once I do so, it consistently comes back online. I don’t know if this is an issue with the device, with TMobile, or with the local tower.

    The data usage displayed on the Inseego, consistently shows ~2x what I see on the T-Mobile website. Again, I don’t know if this is related to the device itself, or T-Mobile.

    Overall I’m pleased with the setup but would be ecstatic if the intermittent loss of connection were to be resolved.

    Reply
    • update to the update. I moved the same over to my Verizon Jetpack and the intermittency problem went away, so that appears to be a problem with the Inseego.

      Interestingly, while the Inseego said 5G, and the Jetpack is only a 4G hotspot (and says so), I’m getting the same speed. This confirms my suspicion that T-Mobile’s “5G” isn’t really, at least on my local tower.

      Reply
      • Not sure if this is related, but the Inseego hotspot that I was testing a year or more ago, specifically for Verizon stuff, was very unstable. It took them almost 8 months before they had firmware that stopped it from locking up almost daily, and I was one of many hundreds of folks that reported it. It could be that is involved here too, who knows.

        And yes, 5G is not really 5G in almost all places – it’s just new frequencies on the same band structure and architecture that they’re labeling as 5G. There are legitimate new technologies (mmWave) and new bands with better architecture behind them, but they are in very metro areas, and only usable by very specific equipment.

        At least for boats, things like mmWave and some of the other 5G technologies aren’t going to matter – most of them are very short distance which won’t work on the water.

        Glad you have it working a bit better!

        Reply
  8. Just curious if you’ve gone over the 100gb do they throttle at 2g speed? I just got mine but was thinking of adding a second sim just so I can be sure I’d get 200GB a month.

    Reply
  9. 15 years in QA finally paid off. I figured out how to do this. As the similar post I kept getting blocked before checkout. I tried calling TMobile as a new customer and that was futile. Instead I tried putting just a sim in the shopping cart and then used the online assistant to add the data plan. I was very clear what I wanted probably to the point of being annoying. I got a great rep named Lorne who was able to complete the transaction and the sim will be here in 3 days. I took screenshots of our conversation. All in all I spent over 3 hours trying to figure this out. But it was from the luxury of my boat, not standing in some store during covid. Their website obviously has some issues if you start with the prepaid data plan so try that but don’t beat your head against the wall if it doesn’t work. Hoping I’m still happy in 3 days. Thanks for the great info and all the helpful comments from your readers. Carry on!!

    Reply
  10. Isn’t it ironic, that those companies who specialize in internet access, seem to have problems setting up a functional web-site? ATT and Verizon are no better.

    Reply

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