Once in a while something comes along that really is a good deal, and this is it!
Visible.com is a new kind of phone service that uses Verizon towers for an ultra cheap $40 a month, no taxes or fees.
Most people who have been RVing for a while know that there is only one carrier that works reliably out west and in rural areas – Verizon.
On our onboard router we had both Verizon and AT&T sim cards. In areas with strong signals (towns or cities) AT&T actually was often better than Verizon.
But out in the middle of nowhere most of the time we could get a signal with Verizon but not AT&T.
Of course there is also Sprint and T-Mobile, but they generally don’t work in rural areas at all.
There is a lot of confusion on mobile plans, and some of this is caused by the carriers on purpose, but let me start with some definitions.
- Unlimited – This is exactly what you think it means, meaning there is no limit to the amount of data you can use. That said, it doesn’t mean you are going to download an unlimited amount, because of:
- Throttle or Rate Caps – Some plans throttle all data from the first byte to the last. For example most Verizon plans rate cap your mobile hotspot (tethering) to 600 Kpbs or something like that after 15 or 22 gig. Most streaming apps can’t run over that low of data rate (although netflix will with an albeit really crappy video quality).
- Network deprioritization/Network management – this is just a fancy way of dividing data streams into first class and second class routes. So if you are on an overloaded tower and have a “second class” data packet (prepaid, for one) then you go behind the premium subscribers who pay more. Most of the time, this is not a big issue as carriers try not to have too many overloaded towers, but it does happen at peak times in some areas.
- Hotspots or Tethering – This is when you can use your phone to create a hotspot that other devices (say your Apple TV or Roku) can use. In other words it turns cell service into WiFi. Note that there are also stand alone hotspots or routers, but the Visible sims only work in phones.
So most people in RVs tend to want to use a lot of data streaming video and quickly discover that their “unlimited” plan in their mobile device or hotspot, while it truly is “unlimited”, is useless for that.
You can surf the web or read email at 600 Kbps but you can’t binge watch episodes of Game of Thrones.
I was lucky enough to get the Verizon 65$ Unlimited plan for routers (now discontinued but grandfathered in), and I have that in my RV. It’s truly unlimited, with no throttle or rate caps, but it is subject to network deprioritization.
From a practical perspective you could stream video in it 24 hours a day, 365 days of year, and never exceed any caps, because there are none.
That plan is gone, and there are few replacements out there. There is an AT&T unlimited tablet plan (if you know where to look for it) that functions similarly, but using in a router is against their terms of service. Many people use that though, as its cheap $35. But its AT&T, meaning, not so good in rural areas.
If you call Verizon and ask for unlimited uncapped service it doesn’t exist anymore in any plan.
Until now, sorta.
Visibile.com is a new MVNO (Mobile virtual network operator) owned by Verizon. That means they use Verizon towers – think of them as a reseller.
It’s exactly like Cricket Wireless, which is owned by AT&T.
So Visible has (for now anyway) an unlimited plan. It is not rate throttled except for the hotspot which is capped at 5Mbps. Video is limited to 480p which is sorta OK (but not the greatest) – but a lot of plans do that too.
However (drumroll) the hotspot is not capped at all (beyond 5mbps and 480P limitation).
(Note that when you get your sim card, its a common complaint that it is capped at 5Mbps, but a quick chat with Visible fixes this.)
Which means you can set your phone up as a hotspot, create your own WiFi, and connect your Roku, Apple TV, etc, to Visible.
So that means you can binge watch all episodes of Game of Thrones afterall.
I have been using it for a while. So how do I like it so far?
The good. $40 is dirt cheap, and I can cancel my RV service, just using my mobile hotspot in the RV. It’s still Verizon towers, so it mostly works as well everywhere as regular Verizon. So now I have Internet for free in my RV.
The bad. 480P video doesn’t look like 1080P (but then again its not that bad either and most of the time I don’t notice any real difference.) Lots of plans limit to 480P, so this is not a unique thing. Also they don’t support a lot of phones. Apple is OK, also Google Pixel, and a few others. Lastly you are limited to one hotspot connection at a time (usually fine as it will be your TV). Also, with Visible you do not get 3G or roaming access – Verizon LTE only. In some areas you may not have signal where regular Verizon would, but this should be a shrinking area as 3G is disappearing fast. Its notable that the Visible coverage map is similar to the Verizon coverage map, but if you look carefully it is not quite as good.
(Although the hotspot is limited to one connection. You can bypass that by “front ending” with a router, but for many people in an RV its fine without doing that.)
The ugly. The ordering process is horrendous. Just look at their facebook page and the zillions of complaints. I had to sign up 5 times to get a sim card (each additional try using a new email address) and my wife 3 times. Its so bad it’s actually funny. Be prepared to make some new friends on their tech support chat line as you will be visiting.
But once we got the sim cards it was mostly smooth sailing. So the bottom line is, this is by far the best plan available in America today in my opinion.
So long Verizon. Hello Visible!