The fallacies of unlimited

Josh Sherman
3 min read

This topic has been rattling around in my head for the last few years. It was brought to the forefront of my brain by a chance encounter at the mall with a Verizon store employee this past weekend.

Who’s your current cell phone provider?

Some provider other than Verizon.

What do you like about them?

Price is right, paying X per month for Y lines, nearly unlimited everything.

Nearly unlimited? X / Y, carry the Z…

Let me stop you right there. You’re not going to sway me today, but appreciate your time and wish you the best of luck.

When I say “nearly unlimited” what I’m really saying is “we pay for a finite amount, and rarely meet or exceed what we’re paying for”.

Could we pay more, or potentially get more for the price? Absolutely.

Will our usage change at all? Probably not.

This is one of the many fallacies of “unlimited”.

Unlimited is always limited to how much you actually need or use.

If use less than 30 minutes per month with your cell provider, what’s the fucking point in having unlimited talk time?

Same holds true for “all you can eat” buffets. What’s the point in paying for unlimited access to grub, and only eating a single plate? Sure, you could argue that you get more variety, but really, I’d much rather pay more for a single high quality plate of food.

Unlimited tends to mean “unlimited access, limited resources”.

Back to cell phone providers, rarely are unlimited data plans unencumbered. They usually come with a stipulation that your speeds will be throttled when you reach a certain threshold.

I’m fine paying a bit more to get guaranteed speeds without such stipulations. If you are truly pushing the limits of “unlimited” you’re probably going to hit these restrictions.

Unlimited can also mean “unlimited until we’re losing money on you”.

While I hate the way data providers can throttle your speeds, as somebody that runs a service that at one point had an unlimited plan, I totally get it.

When you run a for profit business, the goal is to turn a profit. When you have customers that consume more resources than they are actually paying for, you end up losing money.

It’s just math, and if you end up with too many of these customers, you’ll eventually have to piss a bunch of people off and raise your rates. Worst case scenario is you’re so upside down that you have to call it quits and close your doors.

Something I’ve faced as a provider is that selling folks on “unlimited” and actually being true to your word, means you are stripped of a lot of your ability to up sell customers in the future.

The easiest people to sell to are the people that are already giving you money, and if they already get “everything”, what the hell are you supposed to sell them?

Even if you begin to provide new features that exist outside of the realm of whatever metric you offer that’s “unlimited”, there are folks that will be quick to cite that their “unlimited” plan should also include that.

This same issue also comes about with customers that have purchased “lifetime” deals. There’s no boundary on what they should be entitled to, and it can be crippling to a business financially if you aren’t bringing in enough “limited” customers.

I’ve personally moved away from offering “unlimited” plans, and it’s highly probable that I would never do any sort of “lifetime” deal. I’m happy to honor my existing unlimited customers, but I won’t flinch at entitled demands that fall outside of their grandfathered plan.

As a consumer, I’m not only skeptical of “unlimited” but I’m also a bit scared of it. It’s in the same realm as “free forever”, which in reality can go away at any time. The latter I’ve dealt with a few times in the last few years.

Unlimited. It rarely is.

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About Josh

Husband. Father. Pug dad. Musician. Founder of Holiday API, Head of Engineering and Emoji Specialist at Mailshake, and author of the best damn Lorem Ipsum Library for PHP.

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