Sprint to Throttle Customers Using More Than 23GB of Data Monthly

The move is being made to protect other customers from the abuses of a small number of users who can at times hog network resources.

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Sprint is now imposing a 23GB monthly high-speed data threshold on new mobile customers who have unlimited data accounts that will drop them to lower speeds on the network when they reach that data pinnacle.

After 23GB of data is used each month, those customers will still have access to unlimited data under their phone plans, but their usage will be prioritized below other customers, Dr. John Saw, Sprint's chief technology officer, wrote in an Oct. 16 post on the Sprint Blog.

The move is being made to ensure that the 97 percent of Sprint customers who use much smaller amounts of data aren't slowed down by the 3 percent of large-scale users who can hog the company's network, wrote Saw. The 23GB threshold is being added so the company can better manage its resources for all customers, he wrote.

"One way we aim to make the customer experience better is to protect against the possibility that a small minority of customers might occupy an unreasonable share of network resources," wrote Saw. "With that in mind, we are introducing a new Quality of Service (QoS) practice that applies to customers who choose an unlimited data handset plan launched Oct. 16, 2015, or after, or customers who choose to upgrade their handset on or after Oct. 16 and remain on an existing unlimited data plan. For these customers, if they use more than 23GB of data during a billing cycle, they will be prioritized on the network below other customers for the remainder of their billing cycle, only in times and locations where the network is constrained."

Customers with unlimited accounts who reach the 23GB threshold will continue to receive data services without extra charges, but at potentially slower speeds.

The data slowdowns for affected unlimited data customers will only come into effect if the network is being slowed down due to high overall data demands, wrote Saw. "It's important to note that this QoS technique operates in real-time and only applies if a cell site is constrained. Prioritization is applied or removed every 20 milliseconds. And performance for the affected customer returns to normal as soon as traffic on the cell site also returns to normal, or the customer moves to a non-constrained site," wrote Saw.

Sprint is using the 23GB threshold for the data slowdowns because it is a target that's also being used by other competitors in the industry that are also trying to balance their network use, wrote Saw.

"We agree this is a smart approach towards making sure a small number of customers don't adversely impact the experience for others," he wrote.

That 23GB threshold will still let users send some 6,000 emails with attachments, view 1,500 Web pages, post 600 photos, stream 60 hours of music and stream 50 hours of video each month, wrote Saw.

Customers whose unlimited data plans were in effect before Oct. 16 will not be affected by the threshold as long as they remain on their existing plans and continue to use their same devices, according to Sprint.

Sprint's competitors have made similar moves in recent months, according to earlier eWEEK reports.

In September, AT&T increased its data slowdown threshold for unlimited data customers to 22GB of mobile data in a month before throttling back the user's speeds due to overuse, which is more than four times the former 5GB monthly limit that the company previously imposed on customers. AT&T said it made that move because the company has been upgrading and enhancing its network across the country. Speed reductions are done by AT&T on the accounts of affected unlimited customers only when the customer is using his or her device at times and in areas where there is network congestion and only for the remainder of the current billing cycle after the customer has exceeded the 22GB data usage threshold, according to the company.

AT&T also is now notifying customers during each billing cycle when their data usage reaches 16.5GB (75 percent of 22GB) so they can adjust their usage to avoid network management practices that may result in slower data speeds.

T-Mobile in June also set a threshold of 21GB at which point it would also throttle its unlimited data customers back to slower speeds to protect the services of other customers.