“Unlimited” Data: A Move in the Wrong Direction

Published by Avi on November 23rd 2010 29 comments

CarriersLately, carriers have been implementing tiered data plans. This is being offered under the guise of being helpful to those who pay for unlimited plans and do not use them. Carriers would have you believe that they are doing those customers a service when in reality, they could not care less about them wasting their money. In fact, they absolutely love it. Who wouldn’t love someone who pays for a service they do not use? It is a fantastic way to make money. The people against whom these tiered data plans are targeted are those who actually use data. These are the people who want to actually get the service for which they paid.

I have heard people say that they are happy with these new tiered data plans and bandwidth throttling because they do not like paying for something they are not using. That is a backwards way to look at it. While they may in fact be paying for something they are not using, others are using the product for which they are paying. That actually makes sense. You pay for something and you use it. If one decides to buy something and not use it, why should that affect my usage of the the product? For years, I have been paying around $25 a month for an unlimited data plan. I remember when I had my T-Mobile dash and at best, I used 50MB a month and I am probably seriously overestimating my usage. But I understood that I was paying a premium for the freedom to use the data capabilities of my device without having to think about it.

Then I got the G1. When I purchased the G1 I was required to purchase an unlimited 3G data plan along with it. I was not given the option but I was required to do so in order to receive the device for the subsidized price. So why am I now being punished because I actually want to use that data? But it gets even worse. I purchased a second device, the myTouch 3G Slide. Again, I was required to purchase an unlimited data plan. My expectation is that the unlimited data will be unlimited 3G (where available, of course) since the term 3G is actually used in the name of the phone. There is a certain expectation when purchasing high-end devices and one of them is that the data will not be slowed down to a crawl, thus defeating the purpose of owning such a device. Using a Nexus One, myTouch 3G Slide, Vibrant, etc. on EDGE is not a legitimate option. Yes, there are people who have no choice since they live in an area where 3G is unavailable. But these places are getting harder and harder to find and with carriers pushing faster data speeds onto users, it seems backwards for them to then throttle those users when they actually use the data. Using ten gigabytes of data on these devices is not that difficult to accomplish, even without tethering (which I do not do).

My device, as are most of the newer smartphones, is capable of downloading HD video with an application that came preloaded on my device. There are many such applications pre-installed. myTouch Radio, as well as myriad other apps available on the pre-installed Android Market, allows users to stream music onto their devices. There are games available on the Android Market that require 100+ megabytes of data to be downloaded in order to work. Carriers continue to push more and more data onto uses and then complain when users actually begin to use this data. For nearly half a decade I paid $25 a month for an unlimited plan when I only used a few megabytes due to the capabilities of devices I owned throughout those years. Now that devices can finally handle the unlimited data that they have been selling us all these years, they decide to throttle it, all while advertising faster speeds and faster devices. My wife uses about one gigabyte a month on her myTouch 3G Slide. Rest assured that she is a regular user. In fact, if I didn’t install apps on her device from the Market, she would not have any. She is the definition of average user. If she is using one gigabyte of data per month then it is no surprise that I use between five gigabytes and fifteen gigabytes a month. I like YouTube. I stream Slacker Radio in my car (for which I specifically pay extra). I download lots of apps. I visit lots of web pages. I am just a power user. I am not tethering my device or anything like that. I am just using the device the way in which T-Mobile suggests I use it. And I will be punished for this.

T-Mobile says that “The majority of T-Mobile customers should not be affected by [data throttling]. The new 5 GB threshold limit, which is equivalent to approximately 125,000 yahoo.com page visits, is enough bandwidth to satisfy most customers’ Web and data needs.” This is classic PR statement. When people see the number 125,000 they instantly don’t consider the facts. They recognize that they will never, ever visit 125,000 web pages a month on their mobile browser. It is just unrealistic. But what they don’t consider is that a YouTube video is not a web page, and, when put to the test, this number isn’t even true. I have done the math, which you can double check if you wish. The web page at m.yahoo.com is 128KB. If I visit that web page 125,000 times I will have downloaded nearly 16GB of data (128KB * 125,000 = 16,000KB of data). But I will even concede that somehow, the Yahoo! web page is only around 40KB of data which will mean 125,000 downloads will be approximately five gigabytes of data. That is simply not how these devices are used. If all I did was visit static web pages then five gigabytes would be way more than I would ever use. But for every five megabyte YouTube video I watch, it is equivalent to 125 of those Yahoo! web page. The same goes for apps I download and streaming music. If I use Pandora or Slacker in my car for an hour it will use about forty megabytes of data which is the same as 1,000 of those Yahoo! web pages. So the number 125,000 is meant to shock the layman into believing that five gigabytes is a lot of data when in reality it is not.

So the big question is, why would carriers throttle data? Well, the simple answer is that they can. Carriers will do anything and everything in their power to make maximum profit without regard to customers. They do this because customers will not do anything about it. Most will just complain on forums and the in the comments section of blogs but will not actually call their carrier to complain and will never, ever leave them for such an infraction. Instead of throttling data, carriers should be trying to figure out how to pump out more data to users at even faster speeds. The future is in faster speeds and more data, not the other way around. Those who now say they only use 100 megabytes a month need to realize that just a couple of years ago (perhaps even a few months ago) they would have used between zero and a few megabytes a month. Going forward, these users will be using more data, not less data. I am even at a point where I do not understand why I pay for three unlimited data plans: two for each of my T-Mobile devices and one for my cable Internet. That seems a little bit absurd to me. I foresee this eventually being bundled together. There is absolutely no reason why I am paying three Internet bills each month and this is especially true for users of both Verizon Wireless and Verizon FIOS. They are literally paying the same carrier twice for the Internet. Those who wish to make me feel guilty for using more than ten gigabytes of data a month need to reexamine the situation. If anything, I should be asking carriers to bundle my data plans or charge me less, not throttle my data.

So essentially, carriers push better, more powerful data sucking devices onto users which require an unlimited data plan to be used effectively and then complain when people use the devices in the manner that they are designed to be used. Users who do not take advantage of their device’s capabilities do not then have the right to complain when other users do. Others’ usage does not, as carriers would have you believe, affect those who are not using the data. Do not let carriers fool you into believing that those who use more than a certain amount of data (be it 2GB, 5GB, 10GB or whatever their magic number may be) are slowing down those who do not. That is ridiculous. The networks are more than capable of handling the data and the devices are certainly more than capable of consuming it. If their networks cannot handle the data, then don’t sell the devices. But when I pay for something, I should not be penalized for actually deciding to use it. Carriers are more than welcome to offer a 100 megabyte or one gigabyte data plan for a fraction of the cost of the unlimited data plan to those who really do not use data. But this should not affect those who use—nay, require—a truly unlimited data plan.


Here is a link to a YouTube video that I have made that demonstrates how in fact data throttling is indeed limiting data.

Data Throttling: Limiting Data on an Unlimited Plan

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  1. Kimberley says:

    I am one of those T-Mobile customers who still only has EDGE available. I put my phone on wifi at home so I don’t miss calls while using the data plan. I fear what my usage would be like if it weren’t for wifi! You make an excellent case about companies rolling out phones capable of taking advantage of the glorious, bandwidth-intensive activities out there, but then penalizing those who use it. And you’re right that it’s ridiculous to give Yahoo! page loads as an example when what really eats up the bandwidth is streaming videos and music. I hope T-Mobile listens.

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  2. Linda S says:

    This whole throttling thing makes me so mad. That’s why around Xmas time, I purchased the Virgin Mobile MiFi and the unlimited plan for $40 a month. They were the ONLY provider in this area to offer a truly unlimited plan. Of course, as of this month, their “unlimited” plan will now be capped at 5GB, and if I want more bandwidth two weeks into the month I can purchase another $40 worth… effectively making my cost $80 a month. Now, NO-ONE offers a true unlimited plan, so what good does it do to complain, when there is no competition? Argh!

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  3. sid says:

    The key to this discussion is,in my opinion,if they cannot provide the unlimited service then they should not be allowed to sell it as such. pissed!

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