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After Complaints, AT&T Solidifies, Increases Data Limit 211

Posted by Soulskill
from the nice-try-with-the-math-trick dept.
New submitter rullywowr writes "After many users expressed anger, AT&T has moved the slowdown throttling bottleneck from 3GB of data to 5GB of data for users of 4G LTE smart phones. 'Previously, AT&T slowed speeds for subscribers who reached the top 5% of data users for that billing cycle and geographic location. Customers were outraged, arguing that the percentage method meant they had no way to know what the limit was — until AT&T informed them via text message that they were in danger of exceeding it.' AT&T still maintains the position that less than 5% of its users exceed the 3GB threshold each month."
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After Complaints, AT&T Solidifies, Increases Data Limit

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  • "Unlimited data" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:18AM (#39220297)

    So "unlimited data" means 3GB/5GB now?

    • by jhoegl (638955)
      And 5% means "we own the data and 5% is what we say it is".
    • Re:"Unlimited data" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tripleevenfall (1990004) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:43AM (#39220523)

      It's still unlimited. They should have to advertise this truthfully, though.

      "Unlimited data, with 3G speed for the first 3GB."

      "Our unlimited data plans feature 4G speed for the first 5GB you use each month!"

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MacGyver2210 (1053110)

        You can't say "Unlimited up until _____" ...

        The "Up until ______" part is known as a LIMIT which makes it.... NOT UNLIMITED.

        • by Stalks (802193) *
          Speed != Usage
          • Ok, so you point out that they may be using the ambiguity of WHICH [speed/bandwidth] is unlimited, however, as you imply it means "speed", speed isn't unlimited either. You are LIMITed by the technology of the wireless network.
            • by Stalks (802193) *
              It wasn't ambiguous at all.

              Unlimited data, first xGB at y speed

              It is quite clear it means data is unlimited and speed is limited.

            • Speed is, and always has been, limited by the capabilities of the hardware in between source and destination. Nobody has ever thought that "unlimited" meant "unlimited speed". Nobody sane, anyway.
        • There is no TRULY unlimited data. The real-world data limit is always going to be your average connection speed in bits per second times the number of seconds in a month. Even with a "truly unlimited" plan you can't possibly download more than this.

          That fact is not changing. What's changing is the throttling. We can't honestly say they have taken away "unlimted data" because it's still unlimited in all the senses it was for people who are grandfathered in.

          If we want to be critical of AT&T, and they rich

      • by Bodero (136806)

        They aren't advertising this at all, unfortunately. This only affects grandfathered-in contracts.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by msauve (701917)

      So "unlimited data" means 3GB/5GB now?

      No. It means your bandwidth is reduced when you hit those thresholds, you continue to be able to exchange data beyond the 3GB/5GB, just more slowly. They're not cutting anyone off, they're throttling to prevent average users from being negatively impacted by the highest percentile users. Wireless bandwidth is limited and shared, and this is just a way of ensuring the heaviest users don't hog it all.

      Think of it as the successful result of an "Occupy AT&T," where t

      • by icebraining (1313345) on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:35PM (#39221151) Homepage

        Then all plans are and always have been unlimited, they just reduce your bandwidth to zero! (Or to 1kbps).

        Calling that unlimited makes it lose all meaning.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by msauve (701917)
          "Unlimited," as they use the term, means "flat rate," as opposed to the limit on a tiered plan, where you are charged more when you exceed that limit.

          Anyone who thinks "unlimited" means "infinite," for timed (monthly) service on a network with bandwidth obviously subject to technology limits, is either being disingenuous or ignorant.
          • Then they should call it "flat rate", not unlimited.

            Anyone who thinks "unlimited" means "infinite," for timed (monthly) service on a network with bandwidth obviously subject to technology limits, is either being disingenuous or ignorant.

            Of course it's not infinite, but an e.g. "unlimited 5mbps plan" should mean there are no other limits besides the fixed bandwidth.

            • by msauve (701917)
              There is no "unlimited 5mbps plan," that's a red herring. There is no "fixed bandwidth," the bandwidth you get depends on how many people are using a cell site, how much traffic they're doing, your distance from the site, weather conditions, whether you're line of sight or in your mom's basement, etc. You may notice that wireless carriers don't guarantee speeds, it's all in terms of "up to x" or "faster than the competition."
  • by AnotherAnonymousUser (972204) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:18AM (#39220299)
    Anyone in the industry or in the know want to take a stab at where the numbers come from? It seems that 5GB is a common enough number for phone carriers. Is that just a metric that was settled upon, is it arbitrarily set, or are they crunching numbers and coming out with 3GB/5GB as a theoretical "optimal" limit for a network? Feedback welcome from people who know how/why such decisions are made!
    • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:25AM (#39220353)
      I'm not in the industry, but I don't doubt that they crunched numbers... not network capacity, but how little can you give a consumer and how much can you charge before they leave.
      • " AT&T still maintains the position that less than 5% of its users exceed the 3GB threshold each month."

        This metric is not of just iPhone users. I have a phone I use as just a phone. No text, no data, just voice. I don't text on the phone. I'm older and hand held phones don't come in the large print edition. I use a Netbook for IM. It provides a full keyboard and usable screen.

    • by wbr1 (2538558) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:37AM (#39220455)
      Some execs sat in a board room and said where can we place the cap to get more revenue and not piss too many customers off. That is all.
      • by glassware (195317)

        Some executives tasked a junior guy with forecasting how much usage their new network would get back in 1997.

        He wrote a spreadsheet that multiplied the "expected number of users" by the "expected data amount per user."

        He produced three forecasts for each: high, medium, and low. The end result was a tic-tac-toe board of "here's how much network we'd have to build for each of these nine forecasts".

        The resulting 3x3 grid was tossed into a board meeting where uninformed executives argued "this is too high" or

    • by hawguy (1600213) on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:10PM (#39220835)

      The smart thing about their 95% percentile calculation is that the bar keeps getting lower.

      If the 95% mark is at 5GB today and they throttle back anyone that exceeds 5GB, no one will be able to go beyond 5GB of usage, so next month the 95% level might be 4.9GB. Then since no one can go much beyond 4.9GB, the next month it becomes 4.8GB. And so on.

      Until finally, they are throttling once you hit 100KB of bandwidth and they can advertise the world's fastest wireless network since no one can use it. You can get one hit to speedtest.net to test your bandwidth and see your blazing 25mbit of bandwidth before they throttle you to 144kb of bandwidth.

      Sounds like a good strategy.

    • Previously, AT&T slowed speeds for subscribers who reached the top 5% of data users for that billing cycle and geographic location. Customers were outraged, arguing that the percentage method meant they had no way to know what the limit was — until AT&T informed them via text message that they were in danger of exceeding it.' AT&T still maintains the position that less than 5% of its users exceed the 3GB threshold each month.

      So if they limit the top 5% of data users for that billing cyc

    • by msauve (701917)
      I'm sure the carriers have very good data on the average number of users per cell site/sector. They know how much traffic each of them uses, on average. They know the capacity of their cell sites. They have metrics on usage patterns (TOD, DOW, etc.).

      Seems pretty straight forward to take that data, crunch it, and come up with a number which ensures the available bandwidth is shared between all users, on a reasonably equitable basis.

      A cell site has a fixed available bandwidth (for a given technology), once
  • by nweaver (113078) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:19AM (#39220307) Homepage

    For 3G (read, ALL iPhones) its still 3GB.

    So for iPhone customers on the old unlimited plan, they still have a choice:

    For the same amount of money, either stick with the "Unlimited" plan which goes useless at 3GB, or go to a metered plan where you get 3GB and above that its $10/GB in overages...

    As for the 4G/LTE phones, those are in a much smaller minority, as the big grandfathered ones that AT&T dislikes are the iPhones.

    • by Eponymous Coward (6097) on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:09PM (#39220831)

      Their goal is much more devious.

      They are going to keep the data caps as low as they possibly can. I'm convinced that throttling the heaviest users is just a way to reinforce this idea that using the network costs money. The truth is, the only problem on the network is peak time congestion and throttling the heaviest users has the same effect as throttling any user during peak time.

      So, AT&T gets people used to the idea that data caps are normal and necessary. Step two is about approaching companies like Pandora, Netflix, and Google and make them this offer: if you pay us a lot of money, data transferred from your service won't count in the data cap calculation. They want to be paid two times for a single user's network usage. It's so obvious to me that this is what they are working on and it's disgusting.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:20AM (#39220317)

    I've avoided AT&T and Verizon for this reason. I should be able to use my phone all I want.

    Sprint is definitely in a winning position.

    • I have had Verizon 3G for nearly two years, and have 'abused' my bandwidth since day one.

      I routinely download 8-10GB per day via tether, and Verizon has yet to even glare at me, much less charge overages, or throttle or cancel my service. THAT is true unlimited service.

      Either the top-5% of bandwidth users are really using their phones HEAVILY, or Verizon just doesn't care.

    • Eventually, every wireless carrier will have a download cap for certain speeds. Why? If there was no cap, 4G/LTE wireless at $40 -$50 a month would be a direct competitor to the cable companies and FIOS which offers broadband internet at higher prices.
  • The limits are too low. You can blow half of that limit away on one game download if you're not careful.
    • Are downloadable handheld games that big yet, or just console and PC games? If you want to download a big console or PC game, take your console or PC to a coffee shop and use Wi-Fi. That's the same workaround people tended to repeat when fielding complaints about how the 4 GB download size of Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) would eat up nearly all of a satellite Internet user's monthly cap.
      • Why would it matter where you connect to the Internet from - whether your phone or a Coffee Shop WiFi point?

        It all goes to the same internet, and Verizon/AT&T/T-Mobile/Sprint don't pay any more per ___ of bandwidth than the coffee shop - if not less because they are the carrier themselves.

        It's just a scam. Use your phone however you can get away with it.

        • by tepples (727027) <tepples@nOSpAM.gmail.com> on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:24PM (#39221021) Homepage Journal

          Why would it matter where you connect to the Internet from - whether your phone or a Coffee Shop WiFi point?

          Because it costs more to send bits over cellular last mile than over Wi-Fi to a wired last mile.

          It all goes to the same internet

          Over different last miles. Different last miles have different costs per bit. That's why Comcast can afford to charge the same for 250 GB that a cellular carrier charges for 5 GB.

        • by msauve (701917)
          If the coffee shop runs out of bandwidth, they simply order up a bigger pipe (or a second pipe). Problem solved. If a wireless carrier runs out of bandwidth, then all users are affected, until a few years pass and the next generation of technology becomes available. So, it's fair to throttle the heaviest users (who are pushing bandwidth over the edge), so average users aren't significantly impacted.

          Wired and wireless cannot be compared with regard to bandwidth. There is a technology limit for wireless whic
    • by rabbit994 (686936)

      WTF are you downloading that is huge? Biggest game on my iPad is 150MB. My iPhone is about 70MB.

      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        My iPhone is about 70MB.

        Really? I thought the iPhone was 4.54 x 2.309 x 0.37 inches.

      • by wbo (1172247)
        There are at least a few IOS games that are quite large. One example I know of off hand is Riven which is just over 1GB to download (just under 2GB installed).
  • I really surprised that AT&T listened to its 5% users that complained regarding that situation. Most companies like these have a higher threshold and, I'm sorry but, they don't really give a crap about them too until the complaints gets to a certain level. In the end, I'm happy that they finally listened but something tells me it's not free and/or not without any concequences...I hope I'm wrong on this one.
  • AT&T Lies. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekmux (1040042) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:26AM (#39220365)

    "...AT&T still maintains the position that less than 5% of its users exceed the 3GB threshold each month."

    Really? Seems to me AT&T is causing an awful lot of pain and bad publicity for themselves by creating such limitations around what supposedly accounts for only 5% of their consumer base. Seems like the effort would be worth a hell of a lot more than 5% of revenue.

    • by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:13PM (#39220885)

      "Here at AT&T we have a long, rich history of screwing our customers. From the original days of our telephone monopoly, to our sub-standard yet overpriced DSL service and its associated lawsuits, we strive to charge you at least 10 times the value of the service you receive. This is our promise to you.

      It has come to our attention that a tiny fraction of our cellular data customers are using more than the rest, even though they are within the data amount we promised upon signing their contract. We simply cannot allow even the smallest portion of our clients to actually receive what they pay for, or have service at the level they expect. This would set a terribly hard-to-follow precedent of giving customers what they want and what they pay for. We simply cannot handle that.

      On this note, we have today decided to return to bill-per-hour internet access. Based on the 1997 AOL dial-up rate, we are now charging $3.67 per hour* for your cellular data bandwidth. We still consider this to be 'unlimited' as you are able to use as much data as you are willing to pay for. We thank your for your continued subservience, and your willingness to put up with us constantly screwing you. We truly believe you don't have any choice in carriers, so your resistance is futile."

      *Any time over one second is billed as a full hour. No prorating or refunds allowed. An additional 30 pages of terms and conditions that none of you will read also apply.

  • Tried to find where AT&T actually says what speed their LTE is (their website only says "4x faster than our existing!"). So let's assume the slowest LTE speed, 100 MBit. 5 GB is roughly 50 GBit or 50000 MBit, the slowest LTE is 100 MBit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4G). 50000 / 100 = 50. So you can go at the really fast LTE speed for 1 minute total in a month before being throttled. Oh boy.
    • 50000 / 100 = 50.

      I guess you failed math? You're an order of magnitude off.

      • by Imagix (695350)
        Augh! These failing eyes! Yep, 50,000 / 100 = 500. You get up to a little under 8 and a half minutes of speed.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've got bad news for you - nobody's LTE speeds are 100 MBit. That's the techincal (IEEE?) definition of 4G, however the carriers have co-oped 4G to mean "faster than 3G", or anywhere from 2Mb-6.5Mb (source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/221931/4g_wireless_speed_tests_which_is_really_the_fastest.html). So, yes, you could blow through your cap quickly - in as little as 2.5 hours of streaming at maximum current LTE speed - but not quite as fast as you think.

      • by Ferzerp (83619)

        Every time I've used an LTE USB modem, the typical speeds I got were heavily dependent upon the city I was in, of course.

        Chicago, it was common to seed speeds of 20Mbit down/10Mbit up. San Antonio was closer to 10/2, etc. Phones, are much different due to being much more constrainted on power, of course.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:30AM (#39220391)

    buy a smartphone they said
    watch tv, movies, videos they said

    you can't use that bandwidth we advertised and sold you they say

  • by Anonymous Coward

    These companies should lose all their spectrum for even thinking about throttling connections.

    FCC start the investigation. They advertise unlimited (they did, even if they don't now) - throttling is just another way to *restrict* data - it breaks unlimited.

    I for one would love to see AT&T and Verizon lose all of it's cellular spectrum because of these greedy shenanigans.

    Cost for unlimited/unlimited/unlimited should be about $20.00 a phone per month. That covers any and all uses of bandwidth in use tod

    • They advertise unlimited (they did, even if they don't now)

      You just hit it: they don't advertise the service anymore. Therefore, they don't have to continue to offer it on contract renewals.

      Cost for unlimited/unlimited/unlimited should be about $20.00 a phone per month.

      That doesn't sound like enough money to buy land for more towers and deal with NIMBYs who don't want a tower on their skyline. Each cell tower can handle only a given throughput to all radios associated to it.

      • An antenna doesn't have to be on a tower. If the phone companies were really motivated to solve this problem, they could.

  • by JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:36AM (#39220441)
    Leave the market alone, it'll be just fine they said.
    Bullshit, we're getting robbed blind by these people, costs should be nowhere near this high.
    If they took one day of bonus away from the CEO, they'd probably be able to upgrade their infrastructure enough to handle all of the current users without breaking a sweat.
    Oh, but no, CEO man has to have his 7 yachts and 5 mansions. We would be terrorists if we wanted him to go without just one yacht.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by s122604 (1018036)
      Not an idiot, just a little idealistic
      These companies aren't providing you this service out of the kindness of their hearts

      What I wish

      a fairly priced ala carte service
      you use more, you pay more, use less, pay less
      but they'll never do it, they like overcharging bandwidth misers more than they hate undercharging bandwidth hogs, see kindness of their hearts comment above.
      • by sohmc (595388)

        There are a number of these: ting.com, speakout, and a couple of others. A large majority of these are based on the Sprint network.

        I guess Sprint is bleeding customers so bad that they have begun leasing their bandwidth to other companies to resell.

        • I guess Sprint is bleeding customers so bad that they have begun leasing their bandwidth to other companies to resell.

          There are several small companies that do that in my area under AT&T.
          It's the only thing worse than being an AT&T customer, because, as you could guess, it doesn't work well if you actually use the service.

  • 1) Given that there are only so many seconds in a month, a rate cap automatically limits a plan that was sold as "unlimited". You cannot download more than 9GB/month at 14.4kbps. 2) Every time I see the AT&T ads with people exclaiming "that was so 29 seconds ago" I chuckle. They are selling performance as the primary feature of their service, then hobbling that performance when customers make use of it. 3) AT&T is framing this as a tragedy of the commons problem: unilimited access to a finite com
    • Is this really a finite good of just a failure to invest in capacity?

      Capacity is proportional to spectrum times number of towers. Spectrum is a finite good. Land on which to build towers is also a finite good.

    • by The_K4 (627653)
      Well the main point of the AT&T and T-mobile deal was for AT&T to get more spectrum. They have said pretty publicly that the current rate increases and enforcement of data caps are due to that deal failing and them not getting the spectrum they wanted/needed. I have AT&T and I get those txt messages warning me of my usage about every other month or so, so don't take this to mean I agree with them, but at the same time....what did you expect to happen when the merger got killed?
  • I have no issue with throttling heavy users to increase the customer experience for all. My issue is that this plan will not really solve that issue. If I am on a little used tower at 3AM it costs ATT nothing extra if use 1GB, 100GB, or 1000GB, neither does it hurt anyone else. However on a crowded tower it makes sense to throttle heavy users so that the other users on the tower will be able to have a better experience.
    What they should do, to be open and fair, is throttle heavy users on congested tower
  • Bell Canada? I'm pretty sure that Bell Canada said 90% of their subscribers use less than 15GB a month, right up until they were required to prove it before the CRTC.

  • by CMYKjunkie (1594319) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:50AM (#39220595)
    AT&T user here. I was more pissed off about these limits until I started using an app that shows me my data usage during the month and I had a surprising result: I only use 200 MB a month!! I thought I was someone who would be near the 2GB cap I have, but I am quite wrong. During my afternoon commute (~2 hours) on Amrtrak I use my phone to Facebook (including a lot of picture uploading), Twitter, web browsing, e-mail, light gaming and app downloads & usage. All of this is on 3G (or "4G" if I am to believe AT&T's marketing speak that HSPA+ is 4G). Weekends out around town is the same profile, though evenings and such at home I am on Wi-Fi. So to be using only 200MB was a shock to me. All I am saying is that we should all look at our usage before we are outraged. Yes: it is RIDICULOUS that they market "unlimited" data when throttling is, by any reasonable definition, limiting. But how many of you are really at or near the caps? I would really like to know!! I wonder how many of you are like me, thinking you use more data than you do.
    • by LoudNoiseElitist (1016584) on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:12PM (#39220857)

      How sure of that app are you? Have you been comparing it with what AT&T says you're using? Try dialing *3282# and see what the text message you get says. I'm willing to bet it's a *lot* more than 200mb, especially if you've been uploading images (assuming they aren't tiny).

      Furthermore, people were originally angry because this throttling wasn't being applied to people necessarily going over their limits, it was people in the "top 5% of data usage", whatever that means. And there isn't a way for an app to tell you that, hence the outrage.

      • by Zerth (26112)

        top 5% in their billing area, no less. So if you're the only person with a smartphone in your zipcode, you'll always be throttled.

    • by Zerth (26112) on Friday March 02, 2012 @12:36PM (#39221165)

      I listen to pandora/spotify/etc during my commute, plus google maps+nav, youtube videos, random webpages. I'm 8 days into my billing cycle and I'm at 1241 megs, so probably about 4gigs/month. More like 6 or 7 gigs if I use google hangout or ustream for any serious amount of time.

      You're using your phone like you are on dialup, so it isn't surprising your data usage matches that.

  • I have altered the deal. Pray I do not alter it any further!
  • How about I throttle your payments? I think I'll mail AT&T boxes of pennies each month my data is throttled.
  • Sometimes I think that people like to throw around numbers because they realize how few people understand the true impact.

    Let's take "Only 5%" in real terms...

    That means one in twenty people are being throttled. Crit in a d20 system? You're throttled. 1,000,000 Customers? 50,000 are throttled. That's a medium rural city being throttled. AT&T's nearly hundred million customers? Potentially five million throttled customers each month.*

    5% is not a lot with a small total, but can be a pretty big numb

  • If it only affects less than 5% of their users, why do they bother to throttle and piss them off?
  • My question is "Why bother to upgrade to 4G or any other speed?". A high speed phone isn't any use if you can't use it for what it's meant for. If enough people just drop the most useful aspects of their phones (Internet) and use then for just them as phones, the shoe would be on the other foot. My phone still works with WiFi and I don't even HAVE a carrier. I find that for me a cell phone isn't viable because I only make a call or two a month. On the other hand I still can check my email and browse when in
  • If anytime someone gets close to 3GB of usage they get a threatening text telling them that they will be throttled, of course most people will use less than 3GB. They need to let it go unthrottled (and unmessaged) for a few months to see what the true usage would be if people were not being threatened. I rarely use a lot of data but discovered this last month that if I watch a half hour of video every day, that is enough to throw me into the 5%. Apparently a half hour of video a day is considered unreaso

  • Everyone seems to have found a new shiny and forgotten that AT&T's DSL services - the ones that don't carry its own IPTV service - are still being subjected to data caps.

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