Throttling, not a big enough deterrent

I, like so many other iPhone users on AT&T with unlimited plans, received a text message that stating that I was among the top 5% of data users and would have my speeds reduced. It seems like AT&T is trying to force users over to move to a tiered plan by implying that faster speeds is preferable to unlimited internet access. That logic to me seems kinda flawed. Why would I limited myself to how much I can download just so I can load a few web pages faster. Would I give up the ability to able to get all the information I need, just so a few items will go faster?

Or another way to look at the question is to think of it a bit differently. A simple analogy: Would I perfer to have a car that, although not super fast, allows me to go anywhere I want in the world, or have a car that can get quickly to any spot within a few miles of home? To me the answer is pretty simple.

It seems a bit odd to me that people would prefer to speed over quantity. What good is downloading a few songs or movies quickly if that means for the rest of the month you don’t get any at all. Or more realistically for most cell carrier data plans, if you use more you’ll end up paying quite a bit for that extra data. AT&T seems to be throttling anyone that goes over 2GB and saying this is the top 5%. AT&T is claiming it varies from area to area, but you’d assume that if this was the case we’d see users under 2GBs to also be getting this message. From what I can find, this isn’t the case. So as an interesting aside, if you aren’t getting the “you’re throttled” message, you probably could save money by moving over to a tiered plan.

Now it should be said up front AT&T isn’t alone in this. Verizon and other cell carriers throttle unlimited (or in some cases tiered) users if they feel they are using too much of their pipe. They claim that by using more data than other users, you a preventing others from being able to use the internet. The old “pipes” analogy. It’s true that more data means less bandwidth being available, but all these throttling plans seem to associate that high data users are constantly clogging the pipes. In my experience I tend to do the majority of my downloading in short bursts. Downloading a podcast, a video, a file. these are momentary things that eat a lot of space, but not a lot of time. Throttling causes a user get that information over a longer period. All throttling does is spread what I download over a longer time. In theory this causes me to effect more users from getting information… not less.

So let’s start with the actual speed throttling that AT&T is doing to unlimited users. AppAdvice Daily did a real world comparison of what the difference between a throttled and non-trhrottled iphones look like. The difference is quite amazing.

So with all that negatives, why would anyone that AT&T is throttling, stay with the unlimited plan? For many of us, the sheer amount of data that is being used would keep users from switching. But for me it’s more than the quantity. It’s the type of data and when it’s needed.

I have long since switched from a computer as my main device, to my mobile devices. My iPad does most of the heavy lifting at home, and while I’m out and about that job falls on my iPhone. For the iPad, the use is a little bit of everything; web surfing, my sling-box, mail, IMs, games, video chatting, etc. But the iPad I have is wifi only, so it requires a hot spot. The iPhone’s activities is more specialized. The majority of my “online” activity is email, SMS/iMessage, podcasts, and online turn based games. All of these items share one common thing… there aren’t speed sensitive.

Now notice I didn’t say time sensitive. If i get an email hours after it’s sent that could be a problem. But throttling ends up me getting a few minutes later instead of immediately. These are items that it doesn’t matter too much how long it takes to download, just as long as you get them. These are all background tasks that load information on the phone for later use. I don’t care when I get them, as long as I have them.

By far, the largest of my data hog programs is by far my iCatcher app. On an average week I can easily hit 1.5 GBs just on those podcasts. I tend to try to download everything while on wifi hotspots (when at home for instance), but there are many times when I’m not home, either when I’m on vacation or on just traveling that I want to keep up to date on things. Just one week keeping up to date would most likely push my over my 2GB limit, and start racking up huge fees. Switching to a limited plan would mean I would need to stop keeping up to date with things while out an about.

Granted I’m not immune to the speed issues. Web surfing & maps are probably (as shown in the video) what most people will be worried about. For me these two things have sorta taken a back seat on my iPhone. Maps has been replaced by TomTom, mostly due to the fact I don’t have to worry about whether I had cell coverage to get me from point A to point B. Web pages has become an occasional thing to look up data. Yes, while throttled, it would be nice to have faster pages, but it will eventually load. I dealt with the speeds back when a lot of my areas only had EDGE. It’s a bit of a throwback, but not something that will push me to give up my unlimited data.

Will I be switching to a tiered plan to get away from being throttled? No. Although I’ve been “throttled” these past two months, I haven’t noticed it. In fact I was all set to write this about how the throttled speeds didn’t seem to be much different until I started doing my research. So for me throttled speeds obviously aren’t an issue. For those that are finding that things are going a bit too slow, you need to make the decision: Do you want faster (read “normal”) speeds at the expense of unlimited data? Will AT&T gamble that this will push older users to move over to a tier’d plan? Probably not. Those that have kept an unlimited plan have had plenty of time to switch over if they’ve wanted. This has become more a bad PR issue for AT&T than anything lucrative for them.

EDIT 2/14/2011: so apparently people are receiving the warning even if they haven’t hit 2GBs. Boy Genius Report has an article where they’ve been contacted by readers that they have been throttled before even hitting 1.5GBs, which is half what AT&T’s top un-throttled tier plan is available for $30. Looks like they really are trying to strong arm people off the unlimited plans. I wouldn’t be surprised that the new iPhone will not allow users to keep their plans if they upgrade due to “the new iPhone using LTE, so it requires a new plan…”

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About Tasel

Sometimes writer on things technology, Disney, MineCraft, and food.
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