AT&T to throttle big users of unlimited data

The top 5 percent of mobile data users may face slower speeds

AT&T announced service throttling for the heaviest users of its unlimited mobile data plans on Friday, saying the only way to truly solve its bandwidth crunch is for regulators to approve its merger with T-Mobile USA.

Starting Oct. 1, heavy data users may see their downstream connections slow down after their usage reaches the point where they are in the top 5 percent of users in a given billing cycle, AT&T said in a statement on its website. The change only affects subscribers with unlimited data plans, leaving those with tiered plans free to buy more data if they run out.

In its statement, AT&T called the change one step to manage the rapidly growing demand for mobile data, saying it is also investing in its network and trying to acquire more network capacity.

"Many experts agree the country is facing a serious wireless spectrum crunch," the company said. However, throttling heavy users' bandwidth won't solve the capacity issue by itself, AT&T warned. "Nothing short of completing the T-Mobile merger will provide additional spectrum capacity to address these near-term challenges," the company said. AT&T announced the US$39 billion merger plan in March, citing the need for a bigger pool of spectrum. The deal faces opposition from rivals and some lawmakers.

The carrier emphasized that the new policy will affect only a relatively small proportion of customers. "To rank among the top 5 percent, you have to use an extraordinary amount of data in a single billing period," the statement said. On average, those subscribers use 12 times more data than the average customer, according to AT&T.

Online gaming, heavy daily streaming of video and music, or sending large data files such as videos are among the uses that might lead to that point, it said. Data use on Wi-Fi won't count toward the total. AT&T promised to provide multiple notices and a grace period before it imposed throttling on a subscriber. The user's speed would go back to normal at the beginning of the next billing period.

The throttling is intended to create a better service experience for all subscribers, AT&T said. The carrier had 98.6 million wireless subscribers at the end of the second quarter, including users of simpler feature phones as well as data-oriented smartphones. It said 15 million of its smartphone subscribers are on tiered data plans, which won't be affected by the new policy.

AT&T discontinued its unlimited data plans last June, before the introduction of the iPhone 4, but allowed subscribers who already had those plans to keep them. New subscribers got a selection of tiered plans to choose from, with limits on the amount of data they could download each month.

AT&T isn't the only carrier reconfiguring its data plans. Earlier this month, Verizon Wireless also discontinued its unlimited plans, and in April, T-Mobile announced it would throttle the bandwidth of users on unlimited plans after they used 2G bytes in a month.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Carrierstelecommunicationat&tmobileT-Mobile USA

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?