AT&T’s All You Can Eat Plan: Chew Slowly

If you have an AT&T unlimited data plan, and if you’re in the top 5 percent when it comes to data use, you may have noticed your download rate has slowed to a crawl.

When AT&T introduced its tiered data plan in 2010, the company emphasized it would honor the millions of customers who had previously signed up for unlimited data plans. However, AT&T has begun slowing down the download performance of the heaviest users among its unlimited data population.

AT&T is warning heavy data users in the unlimited data plan when they are about to enter the top 5 percent in data consumption, suggesting they switch to a tiered plan to avoid experiencing slower speeds. Of course, that means a data cap would be imposed.

After receiving those warnings, users have reported experiencing drastic download performance slowdowns — equivalent to dial-up speed. At the end of the billing month, performance returns to normal, where it stays unless the user again ventures into the top 5 percent.

They Were Warned

While many users have expressed surprise and outrage, AT&T did announce its intention to throttle speeds of its heaviest data users last summer. AT&T said it would implement the reduced speed beginning in October.

It said it would warn users prior to slowing them down, noting that the heaviest data usage was typically a result of daily streaming of video and music. Online gaming is another data hog. AT&T suggested that users could engage in those download activities more efficiently at home or at the office.

The company reiterated its position on Monday, emphasizing that it was not limiting the amount of data a user could consume — just slowing down its transfer speeds.

“As we said last summer, smartphone customers with unlimited data plans may experience reduced speeds once their usage puts them in the top 5 percent of our heaviest data users,” Seth Bloom, spokesperson for AT&T, told the E-Commerce Times. “We will continue to send reminders and communicate with these customers ahead of time as their usage approaches the top 5 percent.”

Most of AT&T’s customers will not be impacted, he emphasized.

Make a Few Angry, a Lot Happy

While the policy clearly frustrates the top users among its customers, AT&T expects the move to deliver benefits for the other 95 percent.

“AT&T will upset some power-users in the short-term, but throttling their usage will benefit mass-market users and power-users in the long-term because it will help to unclog their crowded 3G or 4G networks and to maintain an improved quality-of-service,” Neil Mawston, director of global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics, told the E-Commerce Times.

AT&T may lose some power-users to rival operators like Sprint, Verizon Wireless or T-Mobile, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

“Power-users can consume huge amounts of data, clog up networks and squeeze profit margins,” said Mawston, “Seeing some high-usage, low-profit power-users drift to rival operators could help at times to make AT&T a tiny bit more profitable.”

Of course, if AT&T continues to throttle the speeds of the top 5 percent of customers in its unlimited plan and the heaviest users go elsewhere, then at some point, the top 5 percent may consist of moderate data users and eventually, even light data users. It appears AT&T’s goal is to gradually push all of its unlimited plan users either into a tiered plan or out the door.

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Study Finds Best US Mobile Internet Connectivity in Northeast

Eight of the top 10 states for mobile Internet coverage are in the Northeast, according to an analysis released by a consumer product and services comparison website.

The best mobile Internet coverage, though, isn’t in a state at all but in the District of Columbia, WhistleOut revealed in its analysis.

Placing behind D.C. were Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Maryland and North Dakota.

WhistleOut also identified the worst states for mobile Internet connectivity. That dubious distinction goes to Alaska, followed by Wyoming, Nebraska, Mississippi, Maine and Vermont.

In ranking the states, 75 percent of the score was based on median mobile download speeds and 25 percent by 5G coverage.

Economics of Connectivity

Regional variations in service are related to the economics of connectivity, explained Anshel Sag, a senior analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. A single cell tower in New York City can serve many more users than a similar tower built in a rural area.

What’s more, he told TechNewsWorld, “In rural areas, there is more need to dig infrastructure to support new cell towers and it takes more time and money to send engineers to update or deploy infrastructure.”

US Mobile Internet connection speed ranked by state

Mobile Internet connections ranked by state [Credit: WhistleOut]

Those economics mean that rural areas won’t be at the head of the line to receive the latest technology.

“Not surprisingly, wireless vendors are focusing their initial 5G efforts on urban and suburban areas that have the greatest concentration of customers and users,” Charles King, the principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld. “But that means that smaller towns and rural areas can remain underserved for years, and some places effectively never get access to new service.”

Craving Connection

King added that the 3G networks that first enabled effective mobile Internet connectivity nearly 20 years ago massively changed communications and entertainment.

“For the vast majority of people and organizations, mobile connectivity represents the norm today,” he said. “Just consider what happens when mobile networks or services are disrupted.”

Just how important the mobile Internet is became apparent during the ongoing pandemic.

“People are staying connected with their family and friends, who they can’t see because of the pandemic, through the mobile Internet,” observed Sherri Riggs,the social media specialist at WhistleOut. “That connection is something we’re all craving and needing right now.”

“We’ve also seen a huge strain on broadband connections in the United States during the pandemic,” she told TechNewsWorld. “Having a mobile broadband Internet connection to back that up is something lots of people have been relying on the last few months.”

Lifestyle Changer

Sag maintained that mobile connectivity drives a lot of the economy and gives people and companies the mobility and access to information that they need to make better decisions more quickly.

“COVID-19 has exposed how important mobile Internet connectivity has become when cellular operators had to borrow fallow spectrum from players like Dish to prevent significant slowdowns to their networks due to significantly increased usage,” he said.

The mobile Internet will also be important for the lifestyle of the future, noted Atlanta-based technology analyst Jeff Kagan.

“We need to remember three things when we leave the house today — our keys, out wallet and our cell phone,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Going forward, we’re only going to have to carry our smartphones because it will do everything,” he said. “In order for that to work, we’re going to need the mobile Internet.”

5G’s Contribution

What’s more, the mobile Internet is going to need 5G to keep technological development going forward.

“The significant boost in download speeds offered by 5G will clearly impact mobile entertainment and gaming,” King observed.

“In addition,” he continued, “5G is likely to lead to the development of ever more robust mobile applications, as well as newer or emerging solutions, including IoT and connected homes.”

“In other words,” King added, “next gen mobile solutions absolutely need 5G.”

Sag asserted that 5G connectivity will take the mobile Internet to more than just smartphones and tablets.

“While it does exist in many other places like planes, trains and automobiles, those implementations are bespoke in many scenarios and do not scale in a way that can be implemented everywhere,” he explained.

“5G enables all types of devices and services to access the Internet and become more intelligent and aware of their surroundings to maximize efficiency or improve the efficacy of the service itself,” Sag continued.

The mobile Internet powered by 5G will become faster, more reliable and available in more places, he added.

“New applications and services that were previously unthinkable or impossible with 4G will be possible with 5G,” he said, “and I believe many of those will exist in the factory, on the farm, in the classroom, in the car or even inside of a headset.”

Game of Hype

Riggs pointed out that 5G is more than just about speed. “The biggest advantage 5G offers over the other generations of the mobile Internet is capacity,” she explained.

“A single 5G tower will be able to support many more people than a 4G tower,” she continued. “The sheer capacity 5G offers consumers will greatly improve everyone’s Internet connections.”

She predicted that by the end of 2021 the majority of the country will have access to 5G from every carrier.

“Will it be 5G with gigabit download speeds?” she asked. “No. But the high-band 5G will be available in most major cities across the country.”

Before 5G’s potential to improve the mobile web is realized, though, consumers will have to put up with a lot of sizzle and not much steak.

“To put it kindly, the carriers’ claims have been optimistic and tend to paper over the fact that reliably constant 5G connectivity is fairly rare,” King observed.

Kagan noted that whether it’s 3G, 4G or 5G, the carriers are in a marketing game. “They have to win against their competitors,” he said. “A carrier can’t say that it’s not moving at lightening speeds. If it does, customers will go elsewhere.”

“They offer 5G, but it’s not available everywhere yet,” he continued. “And where they offer 5G, it’s not as fast as it’s going to be. It’s just the game. That’s the way it’s always been played in the wireless game for decades.”

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reportersince 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, theBoston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and GovernmentSecurity News. Email John.

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