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AT&T solidifies data-throttling details for unlimited users

AT&T has pulled back slightly from its plan to choke off data access for intense 4G and 3G subscribers.


AT&T has crystallized just when it will slow access for unlimited data customers. The carrier will drop the ax for people using 3G and 4G HSPA+ devices after a monthly bucket of 3GB runs dry. Subscribers with 4G LTE service can expect to hit a wall after consuming 5GB per month.

Originally the wireless provider had said it would cap abusers of "unlimited" data plans but didn't specifically say what its threshold was. The company then moved to a tiered data plan for smartphones and tablets and fixed the data cap at 2GB per month.

Using only "unlimited" language to describe feature phone plans, in effect AT&T is attempting to phase smartphone users out of an all-you-can-eat model. Recently, however, AT&T has been feeling the heat from its customers, most notably losing a lawsuit to an irate iPhone owner who protested being cut off after burning through 1.5 to 2GB.

Today AT&T issued a statement pushing the data cap back a bit further to 3GB for 3G phones and 5GB for LTE devices. The company again stressed the aim to target the top 5 percent of bandwidth users saying the restriction, "does not impact more than 95 percent of our smartphone customers." Still this sounds to me like the last nail in the coffin for unlimited data on AT&T's network. See below for the full statement.

AT&T statement to CNET (3/1/2012)

With mobile data usage continuing to skyrocket and the availability of spectrum scarce, AT&T, like other wireless companies, manages its network in the most fair way possible so that we can provide the best possible mobile broadband experience for all our customers.

How we're managing the network only affects a small minority of the heaviest smartphone data users still on unlimited plans. Put another way, this does not impact more than 95 percent of our smartphone customers.

Our unlimited plan customers have told us they want more clarity around how the program works and what they can expect. Here's what customers need to know:

  • Customers with a 3G or 4G smartphone--who also still have our unlimited data plan--will see speeds reduced if they use 3GB (gigabytes) of data or more in a billing cycle. Speeds will return to normal at the start of the next billing cycle. For context, less than 5 percent of smartphone customers use more than 3GB per month.

  • For customers with a 4G LTE smartphone--who also still have our unlimited data plan--data speeds will be reduced if usage is 5GB (gigabytes) or more in a billing cycle. Speeds will return to normal at the start of the next billing cycle.

Customers will get a text message from us before experiencing a change in speed.

Even with reduced data speeds, these customers will still be able to e-mail and surf the web, and continue to use an unlimited amount of data each month.

Not impacted by this program, launched last year, are customers on our tiered data plans.

The reason reduced speeds only apply to unlimited smartphone customers is because their data usage is significantly higher than those on tiered plans. For example, in January, the top 5 percent of our unlimited data plan customers used an average of over 50 percent more data than the top 5 percent of customers on tiered plans.

Because spectrum is limited and data usage continues to soar, we manage our network this way to be as fair as possible and so we can provide the best possible mobile broadband experience to everyone.

We encourage all of our customers to use Wi-Fi whenever possible--especially when watching video, which is the most data-intensive activity.

That's because data activity over Wi-Fi does not count against the threshold for unlimited customers that triggers reduced data speeds or against customers' tiered data plans. Customers can find out more at