Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wireless carrier data throttling mostly a ploy to eliminate unlimited plans: study

AT&T has been in hot water of late, accused of throttling those with unlimited data plans when they hit 2GB of usage. Much of that anger comes from the fact that although AT&T no longer offers unlimited data plans, they do offer plans that offer more than a 2GB limit, and the fact that they offer a 3GB plan at the same price as grandfathered unlimited plans has grated on the nerves of subscribers.

Why, these unlimited subscribers ask, should they throttle us at all when they allow others to buy into tiers with more data than we get throttled at?

[While AT&T no longer offers unlimited data plans, those who had it previously have been grandfathered in at the same price as the 3GB data plan, but AT&T ONLY throttles unlimited data plan users. AT&T says it only throttles those in the top 5 percent, but unlimited plan users see this as a way to force them into tiered data plans.]

The idea of throttling, wireless carriers say, is to reduce network congestion. However, a new study just released seems to say that throttling is useless in terms of reducing congestion.

Validas, a wireless bill analysis firm, took data from 2011 cell phone bills from 55,000 AT&T and Verizon Wireless subscribers. Their findings echo those of disgruntled AT&T subscribers. Validas's findings point to throttling as a possible ploy to force grandfathered unlimited data subscribers out of those plans.

In its report, Validas said,

“When we look at the top 5% of data users, there is virtually no difference in data consumption between those on unlimited and those on tiered plans—and yet the unlimited consumers are the ones at risk of getting their service turned off. So it’s curious that anyone would think the throttling here represents a serious effort at alleviating network bandwidth issues. After all, Sprint does seemingly fine maintaining non-throttled unlimited data for its customers.”

Sprint is the only carrier among the Big Four (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile) that has unlimited and unthrottled data plans --- at least for now.

According to Validas' data, Verizon Wireless subscribers on unlimited smartphone data plans actually used less data on average than those with tiered data plans. The median value for unlimited users vs. tiered users was slightly higher, but only by 0.02GB.

At AT&T, the opposite was true for average usage, but unlimited subscribers only used 0.78GB more data on average than tiered users, with the median data usage being 0.53GB higher.

It's also true that average numbers for both carriers are well into 3GB of use, making one wonder how 2GB of data could fit into the top 5 percent, as AT&T says it does.

At any rate, Validas' results seem to point to the same conclusions as common sense does: carriers want to get rid of unlimited plans as they make more money on tiered data plans.

AT&T has already admitted this, in a sense. The carrier said earlier that to get truly unlimited AND unthrottled data, a user should get into a tiered plan, because you can use unlimited data as long as you pay the overage fees.

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