AT&T said customers in the top 5 percent of users in the unlimited data plan would result in reduced download speeds.
carrier AT&T announced that starting Oct. 1, smartphone customers with
unlimited data plans will 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, a move that brings the company closer in line with its
competitors' selection of data consumption plans. The company noted these
customers can still use unlimited data and their speeds will be restored with
the start of the next billing cycle, and before those customers are affected,
AT&T will provide multiple notices, including a grace period.
the top 5 percent of data download users, the company noted these customers on
average use 12 times more data than the average of all other smartphone data
customers, and noted this step will not apply to the company's 15 million
smartphone customers on a tiered data plan or the "vast majority" of smartphone
customers who still have unlimited data plans.
other wireless companies, we're taking steps to manage exploding demand for
mobile data. Many experts agree the country is facing a serious wireless
spectrum crunch," a company press release stated. "We're responding on many
levels, including investing billions in our wireless network this year and
working to acquire additional network capacity. We're also taking additional,
more immediate measures to help address network congestion."
release said what typically puts someone in the top 5 percent is streaming very
large amounts of video and music daily over the wireless network, not
WiFi. Streaming video apps, remote Web camera apps, sending large data
files (like video) and some online gaming are examples of applications that can
use data quickly. Using WiFi doesn't create wireless network congestion or count
toward wireless data usage, the company said. AT&T smartphone customers
have unlimited access to their entire WiFi network, with more than 26,000
hotspots, at no additional cost, and can also use WiFi at home and in the
bottom line is our customers have options. They can choose to stay on their
unlimited plans and use unlimited amounts of data, but may experience reduced
speeds at some point if they are an extraordinarily heavy data user," the
company release said. "If speed is more important, they may wish to switch to a
tiered usage plan, where customers can pay for more data if they need it and
will not see reduced speeds."
officials said that even as they pursue this additional measure, it will not
solve their spectrum shortage and network capacity issues. Nothing short of
completing the proposed $39 billion deal for rival T-Mobile will provide
additional spectrum capacity to address these near-term challenges.
T-Mobile may eventually become the property of AT&T as the two companies
plan a controversial merger, T-Mobile announced in April it aims to stay
competitive with AT&T with its $80 Even More unlimited calling, texting and
data plan on its 4G network. The plan is contingent on a two-year contract and
features "no overage charges," according to T-Mobile. However,
customers who exceed 2GB of usage per billing period, the company explained in
the statement, "will still have access to unlimited data at reduced speeds
until their new billing cycle."
Nathan Eddy is Associate Editor, Midmarket, at eWEEK.com. Before joining eWEEK.com, Nate was a writer with ChannelWeb and he served as an editor at FierceMarkets. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.