After months of scoffing at the thought, Verizon seems ready to concede that unlimited data is really making a comeback in the wireless industry. The company on Monday started offering its customers the Verizon Unlimited plan, which is designed to compete with similar offerings from each of Verizon's three national competitors.

The Verizon Unlimited plan costs $80 a month for a single line or $45 a month per line for a family of four. With that, customers receive unlimited voice, data and text messaging — although Verizon says that after any single line uses more than 22 GB of data in a month, mobile data speeds may be slowed down for the plan. To sign up and receive the advertised price, customers must enroll in autopay and paper-free billing.

The unlimited plan also allows customers to extend their phone's data connection to a laptop or other device for up to 10 GB of high-speed data; after 10 GB, the mobile hotspot connection gets slowed to 3G speeds. Travelers to Mexico and Canada will also get 500 MB of 4G LTE per day during their visits. Verizon offers unlimited HD video streaming with its plan.

Verizon is the last major U.S. carrier to make a return to unlimited data — and it wasn't long ago that Verizon execs were pooh-poohing the idea.

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“At the end of the day, people don't need unlimited plans,” Fran Shammo, who was then the company's chief financial officer, said at an investor conference in September.

Carriers such as Verizon and AT&T had been moving away from unlimited data plans for years, arguing that consumers would be better served by buying smaller plans with data caps. But critics of data caps, and even some Internet providers, argued that data caps are these days just another way of making money. When customers go over their limits and incur an overage fee, that revenue stream goes toward supporting the service provider's operations. Some die-hards remain on old unlimited plans that they signed onto years ago, and in an effort to push those consumers to switch, carriers have repeatedly raised prices on those grandfathered plans.

Competition by smaller carriers, however, began to reverse the trend away from unlimited data. T-Mobile, whose broader assault on the wireless establishment has proved successful by siphoning millions of subscribers away from its rivals, now advertises only a single plan to new customers that offers unlimited data by default. Sprint also provides an unlimited data option to its customers.

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Many of these unlimited plans come with a catch, however. For instance, T-Mobile's plan limits your streaming video quality to 480p, while Sprint applies quality restrictions to audio and online gaming as well as video. AT&T, meanwhile, sells an unlimited data plan but requires those customers to subscribe to DirecTV to get it.

Verizon describes its new plan as “introductory,” which leaves it unclear whether Verizon's advertised prices are merely promotional. Asked whether the rates were a limited-time offer, Verizon spokeswoman Kate Jay said that the company intends “to develop this further with a range of network and service options.”

“We're committed to having an unlimited option in our portfolio,” Jay said. “As technologies and things change, there could be evolution. But we're committed to having that option.”

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