At the beginning of August, OpenSignal released results of their latest analysis of how the major carrier networks were performing. One of the key takeaways from that was the fact that Verizon and AT&T’s switch to unlimited plans earlier in the year was having a negative impact on their networks. For Verizon, it appears their slowly degrading network performance has prompted a major change to how they handle video. Announced as part of some tweaks to their plan pricing, Verizon will now limit videos to 480p, 720p or in some cases 1080p resolutions depending on the device being used, with no option for consumers to upgrade or pay for access to higher quality video.
This is a significant change for Verizon compared to their initial launch of their unlimited plans. That move was apparently prompted by continued pressure from T-Mobile and Sprint who have offered unlimited plans for a while now. When launched, Verizon briefly held a bit of an upper hand as their plans did not limit video resolution and Verizon was actually able to force T-Mobile and Sprint to adjust their plans. Verizon indicated then that “we deliver whatever the content provider gives us.”
Since then, according to the OpenSignal data and analysis, Verizon has seen their average speeds drop by 12% and in may performance categories, T-Mobile has pulled even with Verizon.
For new unlimited plans, consumers will find smartphones receive videos at 480p resolution with tablets getting 720p, a move tht Verizon says results in a similar viewing experience between the devices. Consumers can upgrade for an extra $10 per month for 720p and 1080p resolutions respectively.
Any existing Verizon customers will find their video streams also being pulled back to either 720p or 1080p regardless of whether they are on a limited or unlimited plan. The new limits will also apply to users who have Verizon mobile hotspot devices or who use their smartphone or tablet devices as hotspots. Also notable, higher resolution videos like 4K videos will not be available at all on the Verizon network.
Verizon notes that their network is not actually manipulating the video data traveling across their infrastructure. Verizon is achieving the video limitations by setting speed limits of 10Mbps or less for video throughput which effectively makes higher resolutions not achievable.
According to Verizon’s announcement, “we’re doing this to ensure all customers have a great experience on our network since there is no visible difference in quality on a smartphone or tablet when video is shown at higher resolutions than 720p on phones and 1080p on tablets.” Marketing executive for Verizon Angie Klein added, “we’re really managing our network in a way to be able to expand unlimited data to more people.”
In terms of the new unlimited plans announced, Verizon dropped the price slightly, by $5, for their new basic unlimited service called “gounlimited” which starts at $75 for a single line and ends up at $160 per month for four lines getting “DVD-quality” video streaming and being first in line to see speed cut when network congestion occurs. Consumers can upgrade for an extra $10 per month for a single line or a total of $200 per month for four lines to get “HD-quality” video streaming, a higher limit before throttling occurs, faster tethering, and service in Mexico and Canada.
The new pricing will go into effect on Wednesday.