Data throttling just a ploy, study finds

Posted by Emma Woollacott

With AT&T just the latest service provider to scrap its unlimited data plan, a report from monitoring firm Validas says it's just a ruse designed to get users onto more lucrative tiered pricing plans.

The company analyzed data from more than 55,000 cell phone bills, and concluded that customers on unlimited plans aren't actually using any more data than everybody else.

"When we look at the top five percent of data users, there is virtually no diference in data consumption between those on unlimited and those on tiered plans — and yet the unlimited consumers are the ones at risk of getting their service turned off," says the company.

"So it’s curious that anyone would think the throttling here represents a serious effort at alleviating network bandwidth issues. After all, Sprint gets by fine maintaining non-throttled unlimited data to its customers."

AT&T recently announced that it was limiting speeds for users in the top five percent in terms of data use. In some cases, this means as little as 2GB.

Verizon does the same, although it's promised to throttle as little as possible and for the shortest period of time. Meanwhile, T-Mobile throttles users consuming over 5GB of data.

But, according to Validas, throttling does little to alleviate network bandwidth issues. AT&T users on unlimited plans use on average only 0.78GB more data than those on tiered pricing plans. Unlimited Verizon customers actually use less than those on tiered plans, it says.

Indeed, it says, the vast majority of customers use less than 1GB per month, and even the heaviest users aren't going over the top.

"The top five percent of data users on Verizon Wireless and AT&T unlimited and tiered plans all average between three and four GB per month," it says.

"Are the carriers throttling because of wild and crazy unlimited users hogging enormous bandwidth, or are the carriers throttling as essentially a tactic to get grandfathered unlimited users to hurry up and switch to tiered data plans?"