T-Mobile’s Binge On program will allow you to stream a lot more video.
Screenshot by Claudia Cruz/CNET
T-Mobile wants to be there for you when you’re ready to marathon-watch “Breaking Bad” on the go.
The nation’s third-largest wireless carrier on Tuesday unveiled “Binge On,” a program that lets certain customers stream an unlimited amount of video to their phones without eating up their precious allotment of data. That’s a big deal because streaming video is the biggest reason you hit your data limit each month.
It’s the latest move by the Bellevue, Washington, company, part of its “Uncarrier” campaign that has stretched back two years and has convinced consumers to flock to its service.
T-Mobile will aggressively push this feature as another reason to consider its service. CNET is here to break down the ins and outs of Binge On.
When does Binge On get going?The feature kicks into gear Sunday. It’s a free addition to the T-Mobile service.
Why do I care about this?Do you watch a lot of Netflix or HBO Go on your smartphone? Or how about ESPN? Well, you’ll be able to watch a lot more without it cutting into your allotted data. While T-Mobile doesn’t charge you overage fees, it will slow down your data transmissions to a 2G speed after you reach your limit.
Just 15 minutes of video play each day will push you past the midlevel 3GB plan offered to T-Mobile customers. Binge On will let you stay under your limit longer.
The carriers have been talking about how expensive it is to deliver unlimited video services. So how does T-Mobile get away with it?T-Mobile is “optimizing” the video to stream so it requires less data to use. The video is compressed to 480p resolution, which is significantly lower than high-definition video you would see on a large television, usually at 1080p. But CEO John Legere said the video quality still looks good on the smaller smartphone screen, comparing it to the quality of a DVD.
Great. So every T-Mobile customer gets this, right?Sorry, no. Only T-Mobile customers who subscribe to a 3GB data plan or higher will get access to the unlimited bit. Subscribers who are on the cheaper 1GB plan will get access to these optimized streams, which the company said will allow you to stream three times as many videos as before.
Can I get access to any streaming video service?Heavy hitters such as Netflix, WatchESPN and HBO Go are there. Sling TV, the alternative Internet TV service that offers a bundle of key networks such as AMC and TNT, is also available. Binge On will launch with 24 video services, but the company said it is working to add more.
Wait, where is YouTube?Google’s ever-popular video service was the biggest exception to the lineup. T-Mobile said it is talking with Google about getting the service on board soon. Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert said YouTube couldn’t get the technical certification in time for the launch but is talking with the company.
How do I get my favorite video service on Binge On?Bug T-Mobile and the service. The carrier said it would solicit advice from consumers on which services to bring to Binge On. The situation is similar to its Music Freedom program, which allows you to stream music without eating up your data. When it first launched, it only had a few of the top music services available, but it’s expanded to cover 90 percent of the services available.
It’s also up to each company whether they want to participate in this program.
How does this affect my Data Stash?Data Stash is T-Mobile’s program that allows you to stockpile unused data. You could previously stash an unlimited amount of data, but with Binge On, T-Mobile will place a limit of 20 GB. Customers have 30 days to turn off the Binge On feature if they instead want the ability to store as much data as they want.
I’m an unlimited data customer. Why should I care?This isn’t as big a deal for you, since you can pretty much stream all the video you want. The company said Binge On will offer more reliable video because it is optimized for mobile networks.
Unlimited customers who use Binge On will get one free video rental from Vudu each month in 2016.
But because Binge On automatically compresses the video to 480p, an unlimited data customer might want to skip the feature in order to access high-quality streams. In that case, you can turn it off.
OK, so how do I turn this off?You have to log on to your online T-Mobile account to turn it off or on. There’s no way to do it on your smartphone.
I’m hearing something about Net neutrality. What does that have to do with Binge On?Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Some critics complain T-Mobile is playing more of a gatekeeper role by letting some video services in the program while leaving others out. The inconsistent restrictions on data could hurt the Internet in the long run as it stifles smaller players that don’t have the resources to devote to working with T-Mobile’s Binge On program, consumer advocates argue.
T-Mobile, for its part, says it isn’t charging consumers or video service providers for its Binge On feature, and that it is easy to meet the technical requirements to join the program.
“Anyone can do it,” Legere said. If it proves too complicated, the company will adjust, he said.