The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile QCI practices ranked.

In the world of cellular data plans, QCI management practices are a crucial factor in determining the quality of service a customer receives. As we’ve previously discussed on the first post in this series, QCI prioritization can greatly impact the user’s experience. Unfortunately, some carriers and their MVNOs are not as balanced in their approach to QCI management as others.

Before diving into the details, it’s worth revisiting what QCI is and how it impacts cellular data plans. QCI stands for Quality-of-Service Class Identifier and is used to tag data on cellular networks with a level of priority. The lower the QCI identification number, the higher the priority that data has to complete its network request over other higher tagged QCI traffic. Most cellular data plans have data prioritization ranging from QCI-6 to QCI-9, with QCI-6 tagged data having the highest level of priority and QCI-9 tagged data having the lowest level of priority. This means that QCI-6, QCI-7, and QCI-8 network requests would be completed before any QCI-9 request.

On a second post in this series, we looked at the raw layout of how each carrier managed their QCI tagging. Now that we have – we can come to a few final conclusions.

The Good: AT&T

AT&T is doing a great job of managing their QCI prioritization practices. They offer the most balanced approach that allows premium customers to be set apart from both MVNOs and lower quality plans, while still offering a range of options for those who might not need as much data or are looking to save money. Their data management practices prioritize their premium customers, still allows for MVNOs to operate, and also staggers the hotspot usage to limit congestion in the most balanced approach.

The Bad: T-Mobile

T-Mobile does not offer staggered plan balancing like AT&T. Most of their plans are tagged QCI-6 while their MVNOs are tagged QCI-7. While it is more straightforward in practice, by stacking the cellular QCI tagging as either QCI-6 and QCI-7, T-Mobile doesn’t have much flexibility to offer a ‘more premium plan’ as they have already set most plans to the highest priority, meaning there is no true ‘priority’ amongst most T-Mobile customers (but they still have priority above MVNOs). This is a pretty minor critique and T-Mobile does a great job of at least keeping their customers a priority over their MVNOs.

The Ugly: Verizon

When it comes to QCI management practices, Verizon is the carrier that stands out for all the wrong reasons. Not only do they allow their MVNOs to operate on the same priority level as their own direct customers, but they also allow hotspot data to be congested within the priority data. Verizon charges a huge premium for their plans calling it ‘priority data‘, but is it still priority data when there are $20 MVNO plans with access to the same ‘priority data‘? Verizon can improve its QCI management practices by utilizing more of QCI-6 and QCI-7 to allow for a more structured approach that allows for a true differentiation of their plans. Without doing this, most customers can simply save money by switching away from Verizon to a Verizon MVNO such as US Mobile.

In conclusion, while QCI management practices may seem insignificant, they greatly impact the user’s experience on their data plans. AT&T has the most balanced approach, T-Mobile’s approach might be the most fair to customers, and Verizon needs a complete rethink to their approach.


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