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What's what with T-Mobile's 'free' Netflix plan

For T-Mobile's best customers, its new "Netflix On Us" plan offers them free Netflix viewing.

T-Mobile's new "Netflix On Us" offers its unlimited data family plan customers free Netflix accounts. Starting Tuesday, Sept. 12, qualifying T-Mobile One customers can activate their Netflix subscription online, in-store, or by calling T-Mobile's customer care. If you already have a Netflix subscription, T-Mobile will cover the cost for you.

Of course, when it comes to mobile data plans, nothing is quite as simple as it sounds. Here's the real deal.

Eligible T-Mobile accounts are full-priced plans with two or more lines. These are T-Mobile One's unlimited plans, which currently costs a couple $120 a month, while a family of four pays $160, with all taxes and fees included.

If you just got T-Mobile's new Unlimited 55+ two lines $60 a month, an older T-Mobile One account on which you're still paying fees and taxes separately, or the T-Mobile two lines for $100 promotion, you're not eligible for free Netflix. Instead, you must move to the latest two-line or more T-Mobile One plans. For some customers, that means they'd need to pay $20 more a month to save $9.99 on their Netflix subscription. That's no deal.

There are other financial gotchas to keep an eye out for. For example, if you're paying $11.99 to Netflix for HD streaming and the power to watch more than two screens simultaneously, you'll still get charged $2 more per month from T-Mobile.

But, wait there's more: T-Mobile One caps video streaming at 480p standard definition (SD) resolution. To stream high-definition (HD) video, you'd have to pay $10 extra per line each month with a T-Mobile One Plus plan.

Like all mobile carrier's "unlimited" data plans, T-Mobile's latest offering isn't really unlimited. To deliver even SD video, T-Mobile uses data compression to deliver your video using only 1.5Mbps. If you elect to watch HD video, you're likely to run into delays. According to T-Mobile, during times of data congestion -- say prime TV viewing time -- the top 3 percent of data users (>32GB a month) can expect to see "reduced speeds until next bill cycle."

Still, T-Mobile also claims -- on the basis of OpenSignal's latest State of Mobile Networks: USA --that it now has the fastest and most wide-spread 4G coverage. By OpenSignal's count, T-Mobile, albeit sometimes by the skin of its teeth, offered the best 4G service in the US in August. Since speed is all important for high-quality video-streaming, this is all for the good.

So, is it worth it? Personally, I prefer to watch my videos on high-end televisions. But, if you like curling up with your smartphone and watching the latest episode of Stranger Things or Orange is the New Black, the T-Mobile plan is worth investing in.

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