Straight Talk’s Unlimited Data: Actually Sort Of Limited

A Straight Talk mobile plan with unlimited everything for $45 per month sounded pretty great to Thom, and he bought an unlocked Samsung Galaxy to use with the carrier. All has been well since September, when he subscribed to the plan, but now something terrible has come up. Limits. TracFone (Straight Talk is a joint venture between TracFone and Walmart) tells him that he’s running up against the plan’s unspoken 2 GB limit, and they reserve the right to cut him off.

Update: We’ve received some reports that this call may actually have been a phishing scam and didn’t originate with Straight Talk, and we’re checking it out with TracFone right now. Stay tuned.

He writes:

Back in September, I purchased an unlocked Samsung Galaxy Nexus directly from Google to replace my aging HTC Desire. Instead of staying with AT&T, I bought a Straight Talk SIM Card and signed up for their $45 monthly unlimited plan.

Up until yesterday I’ve had no issues with the service at all. Last night I receive this voicemail message:

“This is a courtesy message from Straight Talk Wireless. We are calling because your current data usage levels on your Straight Talk Wireless are excessive and adversely impacting our service levels. Please understand that if your excessive data usage continues, we may need to suspend or deactivate your data service or terminate your phone service altogether, as specified in section 6 of the terms and conditions of service. If you would like us to troubleshoot your usage patterns and advise you on how you may know your usage. Please give us a call at 1(800) 989-1506. Thank you.”

Huh?

First of all, according to my device I average between 400 and 600 MB per month – work e-mail, occasional web browsing, once in a blue moon I use the GPS… hardly excessive in my book and well below the 2 or 3 GB included in most legacy smartphone plans. Secondly, the service advertised by Straight Talk is unlimited – yes I realize that T’s&C’s usually include a fair use clause to prevent customers from p2p sharing or torrenting via their phones but basic e-mail and web browsing I think would be considered fair use by most users and phone companies for that matter.

So I called Straight Talk… the CSA couldn’t tell me anything about my useage but suggested I disable my mobile data connection entirely unless I was actively using it and wifi wasn’t available. My response was doing that would defeat the purpose of a having a smartphone and I should be able to reasonably use an “unlimited” data service without fear that my account will be canceled. She simply reiterated that my account could be terminated with loss of phone number at any time and that I should re-read the terms and conditions.

Needless to say I did switch my phone into “Wifi Only” mode, my cell phone is an essential part of my work and I can’t afford to have it shut off. Googling the 800 number reveals that I’m not the only one being flagged like this. Blogger Matthew Miller had a very similar experience to me

As for me, my next month runs out on February 12th, I’m looking for another GSM solution… maybe Death Star wasn’t so bad after all.

At least that’s the advantage of a month-to-month plan and an unlocked phone: customers can walk away at any time, instead of having to wait another twenty months. He can take his phone to another GSM carrier (AT&T and T-Mobile are the biggest in the United States) without paying an early termination fee and having to keep sell his phone to a friend or use it as an overpriced iPod Touch.

Many people wrote to us, bringing up this point when we discussed Straight Talk’s new iPhone offerings. “Unlimited” always has a limit: you can’t stream Netflix all day on a mobile plan, and eventually an all-you-can-eat buffet is going to kick you out if you’ve been there since breakfast. The problem for Thom is the data discrepancy: why does TracFone think he’s using four times as much data as his phone claims?