I know, the sequel is never as good as the original, but stuff changes and updates need to be made. My original unlimited data article about our leased Verizon unlimited data plan is still valid and leasing is still a viable option. During our time leasing, it was wonderful and we do not regret taking that route at all. Unfortunately, the winds of change blew our way and we had to adapt. This article will talk about how our lease option ended and the direction we went after we found ourselves data-restricted once more.
It seems to be a monthly occurrence that someone posts about how unlimited mobile data is doomed and the world will inevitably end in a fiery, dataless implosion. Sometimes there is some relevance to these thoughts. Sometimes it is simply a misinterpreted personal experience by a vocal (paranoid) individual. I’m happy to report that unlimited mobile data is alive and well (I’m using it to post this article), but the red giant (Verizon) is getting a little more serious about keeping it reasonable.
In July, 2016 Verizon sent out letters to owners of grandfathered unlimited data plans (UDP) who were using a large amount of data and were out-of-contract – I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again; having a contract isn’t always a bad thing! These letters stated that these users would need to select a tiered data plan for their line or it would be disconnected at the end of August. Notice that I used the word “large” when describing the data use of the affected users. This number was never defined, but it seems that most people agree that using less than 100-200 gb/month was safe. As far as I know, no one who received one of those letters was able to save their UDP. Shortly after these notices were sent out, Verizon also began examining some large accounts which held multiple UDP’s with suspicion that they were being leased out. Leasing out a line is a direct breach of Verizon’s terms of service, but up until then it hadn’t been enforced. It was no secret that this was a gray area, but it was happening in the open without any repercussion – until this summer.
In addition to these UDP terminations, Verizon also sent letters to UDP owners who were using their plan in a Novatel T1114 router. This router is a certified Verizon device that acts as a cellular hotspot and also adds hard-wired Ethernet connections AND a phone jack for use with any regular home phone. Even though Verizon has been forced by the FCC to allow UDP sim cards to be used in any device that will take them, Verizon must have found some sort of loop hole that allows them to shut down lines using the Novatel T1114. The educated guess is that it has something to do with the T1114 being a Mifi WITH voice capabilities since this did not affect users with data-only devices (Mifi’s, cellular routers, etc) or traditional smartphones.
Alright, we’re all caught up on Big Red flexing its muscle. So what does all this mean to us? Well, we just so happened to be using a vendor who was shut down by Verizon for suspicion of leasing out their lines. Obviously Verizon was correct in their suspicions and there was virtually zero recourse. Being a stand-up guy, our vendor refunded the prorated amount that we didn’t get to use from that current month. That still left us instantly without the unlimited data that we had grown VERY comfortable to having. To the internet I went to find a solution!
I knew there were other rental/leasing vendors out there who had remained untouched by the recent sweep, but I really wanted to take control of my own destiny this time around. That meant that I needed to purchase my own line and perform an Assumption of Liability (AOL) to take ownership of the line and unlimited plan. Fairly quickly I found an eBay seller who GUARANTEED a successful AOL of a UDP or you would receive your money back. His price was higher than other UDP lines for sale on eBay, but we’ve already established that I’m willing to pay more for service and guarantees. I contacted the seller and within ONE day I received a sim card to pop into my Verizon MiFi. It was as advertised: UNLIMITED. The seller gave me a few days to use it so that I felt comfortable that this was a legit line before I ponied up a little over $1,000. Once I had transferred the money, I had to wait 30 days before the AOL could take place. This waiting period was due to the line receiving a new phone number when it was sent to me and a line has to have the same phone number for 30 days before it can be AOL’ed to another account. This made me very nervous. I was very exposed for a sizable amount of money and it would take about two minutes for the seller to log into his Verizon account and change the sim card number and render mine absolutely useless. I trusted my instincts and was further encouraged when I learned that this seller has a relationship with Technomadia and he is a recommended vendor for their “Mobile Internet Aficionado’s”.
Once 30 days passed, I contacted the seller and he gave me a time frame for when the switch would be made. My instructions were to place the sim card in a phone (that he provided) and wait to hear from the Verizon service agent when I was conferenced into the 3-way call. My role was very minimal and before the call was completed, I was able to log into my Verizon account and see the line, with the promised plan, in my account. Even though I was nervous, it really was a smooth and easy process on my end. I think I looked at my account 50 times that night just to ensure it was actually there – not that it would go anywhere since I now owned it.
Along with the unlimited data plan, the deal included having it on an inexpensive “Loyalty” plan. This is an unadvertised plan that Verizon uses for retention of lines that receive minimal use. It includes only 30 minutes of included talk time and no text messages (it’s a perfect “Grandma plan”). Unlike now, when this plan was created, the data plans were bolted onto the voice/text plan. So we pay $15/month for our 30 minutes of talk (which will never get used) and $29.99 for the unlimited data. A total of $45 per month! Within a year we will be saving money versus our lease option, including the large, upfront purchase price.
You may have noticed that when I talked about the affected customers who received letters over the summer, I mentioned that they were out-of-contract. Being out-of-contract, Verizon no longer has to honor the plan or price – so they didn’t. Note that they did not do this to every out-of-contract UDP, just heavy users. They left lines alone that use a modest or reasonable amount of data. No matter the usage they did not touch any lines which were in-contract, not being leased out, and weren’t using a Novatel T1114. So an intelligent person says “I won’t lease out my line, I won’t use a Novatel T1114 and I want a CONTRACT!!” Part of the deal with my seller is that my line would transfer with a two year contract. I’m happy to report that I have a contract protecting my line through September of 2018. Prior to the expiration of that contract, I will attempt to renew and extend for at least an additional year.
So what’s the downside? Its selling points also become its negatives when things don’t go as planned. At this point, if Verizon shut down my line tomorrow, for whatever reason, it would be my problem. I would be out a considerable amount of money and there would likely be no way of getting the line back. If I was leasing, I would just contact another vendor and be out little to nothing because there is no large initial investment.
We have used a few different Verizon MiFi hotspots and have found them to provide a good experience, overall. During the short time we had a AC791L, it was brand new and seemed “glitchy”. I’ve read about others having a similar experience, but I also know that others have found it to be very solid, so I’m sure that a software update fixed those issues. Both the 5510 and 6620 have been really reliable and have great battery life. My only complaint about our goto MiFi 6620L is that the WiFi range is laughably small. During travel days, we have to bring it up into the cockpit with us because the WiFi signal doesn’t reach from its location near the kitchen – about 15 feet way. Because of this, I began looking into other cellular routers. Initially I found the Novatel T1114 and just about ordered it due to its impressive specs and low price – I’m glad I didn’t for the reason stated above! I now have a MoFi 4500-4GXELTE-SIM4 and a Pepwave Surf SOHO. The MoFi is a stand-alone cellular modem and router. This means that I put my UDP sim card into it and it handles everything. The Surf SOHO tethers to my 6620 via a USB cable. This makes the 6620 only responsible for talking to the cellular tower and the Surf SOHO handles all the WiFi duties. I will quickly say that the MoFi can be quirky, but when it works, it works well. The Surf SOHO is basically bulletproof and is great for working with the 6620 and also piggybacking off another WiFi network (like one at a campground). I will save anything further on those devices for their own product reviews.
Well, that was Part II! I hope that it lived up to the original and will help you to make an intelligent decision about your data needs for nomadic and/or off-grid living! Due to the sensitive nature of the unlimited data landscape, I am not publicly posting the contact info for my vendors, but I’m happy to do so if you contact us! At this time, both of the vendors I’ve used for leasing and purchasing have lines available and I would recommend either of them for their unique offerings. Until then, safe travels!
See you on the road!
Ryan, Kim and Jet