July 29, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Were you one of the faithful AT&T customers happy to be grandfathered into an unlimited data plans? If so, it might be time to wipe that smile off your face because AT&T is set to put the brakes on your account.
AT&T confirmed previous reports that beginning October 1, 2011, “smartphone customers with unlimited data plans may experience reduced speeds once their usage in a billing cycle reaches the level that puts them among the top 5 percent of heaviest data users.”
This is known as throttling, a process by which carriers severely lower the cap of the top speeds a user is able to reach on his her phone. Though Amy may have an unlimited plan on her HTC Inspire, if she reaches an undisclosed level of data – say, 10 GB – AT&T will drop her max speed from 1 MBps to 100kbps (just an example). Amy would not be able to recapture her high 1 MBps speed until the next billing period.
AT&T is not disclosing the threshold that puts users into the top 5 percent, so there’s really no telling how much it will take to be put on that undesired list. Users will receive warnings as they approach being classified among the Top 5 percentile, and there will be a brief grace period as they are notified. AT&T says that people most likely to end-up among the Top 5 Throttlers (I trademark that name) are those who use video streaming, sending data files, and online gaming. I’d throw in streaming with Spotify and video chatting on 3G/HSPA+ to that list. Doing these activities on a Wi-Fi network will not count towards your monthly data allowance.
Don’t worry, unlimited plan holders; there’s an easy fix: dump your unlimited plan! AT&T says users can stick with unlimited and be throttled or switch to tiered data and pay extra to get the faster speeds when they go over the limit. And just because they are so classy, AT&T blames this measure on the “spectrum shortage” that can only be fixed by the government approving its acquisition of T-Mobile.