Don’t you hate it when your ISP throttles the video on your unlimited data plan?Who doesn’t want unlimited data? It’s awesome. All the major ISPs in the US know this and offer what they refer to as “unlimited data plans” which allow you to browse, download and stream as much as you want.
There’s a problem, though: most unlimited data plans limit the quality of your videos to 720p or 420p. 720p is not quite HD. It is, in fact, of inferior quality to the 4K streams offered by most modern OHD displays.
Fortunately, you can still watch content on YouTube, Netflix, etc. in 1080p or even 4K by using a VPN service, a service that should, by now, be a staple for Internet users. In this article, we show you how to get top-quality video performance and how to choose the best VPN for streaming.
Which ISPs throttle your video bandwidth?
All the four major ISPs in the US throttle videos on their unlimited data plans. Many carriers, including Verizon and AT&T, offer various unlimited tiers. In our comparison below, we consider only the top tier.
- Verizon (Go/Beyond)
- Soft data cap: 22GB (Beyond). Go plans always subject to throttling.
- Maximum video resolution: 480p(go)/720p(beyond) (smartphones)
- Price: Go Unlimited is $80/mo for a single device; Beyond Unlimted is $90/mo
- AT&T (Choice/Plus)
- Soft data cap: Choice offers 3mbps until 22GB. “Plus” offers unthrottled 4G until 22GB.
- Maximum video resolution: 480p(Choice)/720P(Plus)
- Price: AT&T Unlimited &More is $70/mo
- Soft data cap: Throttling top 3% users 'data hogs'
- Maximum video resolution: 720p or lower
- Price: T-Mobile One Plus is $80/mo
- Soft data cap: No cap
- Maximum video resolution: 480p
- Price: Sprint Unlimited Freedom is $60/mo
It is, therefore, clear that all four major ISPs offer a maximum video resolution of 720p before you even reach the soft data cap, which is the point at which your carrier reserves the right to throttle your connection.
Why do ISPs throttle your videos?
Simple: they do it to save money and bandwidth.
Providers of wireless Internet know all too well that mobile video is the most notorious bandwidth hog on their networks. 4K video uses are an especially large portion of bandwidth compared to videos of lower resolutions. Dacast estimates that 4K video relies on approximately 25Mbps, five times more than the 5Mbps required by 720p video and nearly nine times the 3Mbps needed by 480p video.
According to ISPs, the naked eye cannot distinguish between 720p and 4K video on a 5-inch screen but this is clearly not the case, because 4K video appear far better on OHD+ screens, even though the quality is admittedly not 5 times better than 720p videos. It is, therefore, your ISP’s opinion that the difference in quality doesn’t justify the cost which, from their perspective, is a fair point.
But that doesn’t change the fact that you paid for unlimited Internet, which should ideally include 4K streaming on your brand new flagship smartphone. So this is how you get the full video experience…
Using a VPN to prevent your ISP from throttling your video
The only way your mobile provider can throttle your video bandwidth is by monitoring all your traffic and treating your video traffic differently from the rest of your traffic. If your ISP had no way of telling whether you’re watching a video, they would have no reason to throttle your connection. At about $4 per month, using a VPN to hide your traffic is a worthwhile investment.
Essentially, a VPN encrypts all the traffic between your device and the VPN server, making it impossible for your ISP, or any other interested party, to see the data even if they intercept it. Since the ISP portion your video data, they can’t justifiably throttle it.
However, that’s not all a VPN is good for. The technology is becoming increasingly popular because in addition to offering users privacy, it can also unblock Geo-restricted content on streaming services and protect users from the risk of their online data being gathered and sold by ISPs without their consent.
Recommendations for the best VPN services for preventing throttling
Well-established VPN services feature powerful encryption. However, in addition to the level of encryption offered, you need to consider the VPN speeds when looking for a service that prevents throttling. You want to a provider that offers 10-25Mbps of bandwidth for 4K video streaming.
Extremely cheap and free VPN services don’t have the capacity to offer this bandwidth. The following are some relatively affordable options.
This provider has maintained its position as one of the fastest consumer-grade providers, globally. IPVanish employs 256-bit encryption, which is superior to the 128-bit that a majority of providers currently use. The service allows up to five simultaneous connections and more if you install it on a router. It has a free mobile client for Android and iOS.
VyprVPN has been operating in the US for many years now and has built a strong reputation for offering fast connections. Admittedly, this provider is pricier than IPVanish but it does bring on board some additional benefits, such as a superior mobile client and the ability to unblock Netflix, which has successfully blocked most VPNs.
This provider is extremely popular because of its affordability. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just another “budget” VPN. The provider demonstrated great speeds for streaming full 4K videos during our tests. Additionally, PIA offers zero-logging services, a fact a privacy-consciousness user will be impressed by.
The great thing about the providers mentioned above is that they all have a 100% refund policy, meaning you can test their services risk-free. VyprVPN offer a 3-day money-back guarantee, whereas PIA and IPVanish offer a 7-day money-back guarantee. Some other well-established providers, such as NordVPN and ExpressVPN, offer 30-day return policies.
Some people argue that video throttling on unlimited data plans cannot be avoided, which is true to some degree. However, we can’t think of a good reason why you should have to watch a poor quality video, especially when you’ve spent money on a flagship smartphone with a 4K display.
Your best bet for watching full 4K video is using a VPN service that hides your online activity from your ISP. We don’t buy the argument that you can’t tell the difference between a 720p video and a 4K one.