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 newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags mobiletelecommunicationat&tCarriersT-Mobile USA

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

Brand Post

Win pair of MOMENTUM True Wireless

Three PC World readers will be in the running to take home a pair of MOMENTUM True Wireless which are meticulously crafted with every fine listening detail considered. *T&C's Apply

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?