back to article AT&T to choke your iPhone

AT&T has finally figured out how to fix its much-maligned US mobile data services: stop users from eating up so frickin' much bandwidth. As reported by the Associated Press, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility Ralph de la "Darth" Vega told attendees at a New York investors' conference on Wednesday that his company plans to …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Um, they can't tell?

    Why don't they just read their WAP logs? It's all there anyway.

    This is just a "feel good" thing for the customers - keeps them from dialing 611 and annoying an employee.

  2. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    Impossible to monitor usage?

    "Right now, however, AT&T doesn't make it easy - no, make that "possible" - for its subscribers to monitor their bandwidth suckage even if they do know what a megabyte is."

    Ummmm, I supposed *DATA# just suddenly stopped working?

    Next Bill Cycle: 12/26/2009

    Data (MB): 479 of Unlimited

    Messaging: 1365 of Unlimited

    Granted, you cannot really dial that on a data card, but your account manager at shows data usage, too. You know, AT&T has its faults, and this plan to screw data users over is a major fault, but is the AT&T bashing necessary?

    Paris, the nexus of usage plans.

  3. Lance 3


    I've been able to see how much data I've used for years. The phone has a counter and I can go to AT&T site and see how much as well.

    It appears the iPhoney doesn't keep a counter; maybe there will be an app for that.

    1. Tim Cook
      Thumb Down

      It's there

      The counter's there and easy to find on my UK iPhone at least - Settings -> General -> Useage (it even separates out ordinary and "tethered" data).

      I've recevied a meagre 549mb in the year or so I've had the phone, but then O2 data is laughably slow where I am (no 3G coverage or even EDGE whatsoever) and I use wifi wherever humanly possible.

  4. hobbes25

    Reads like an article from someone who belongs to the 3% pool.

    I frankly don't know how much it would impact me - I am a fairly heavy user but I think it makes sense that you pay for what you use. This article reads like its been written by someone who belongs to the 3% of the population that consumes 40% of the data.

    You pay what you eat - makes sense!

  5. Chris Miller

    It's inevitable

    As long as bandwidth is finite and 3% of customers consume 40% of capacity, suppliers need a mechanism to limit usage in some more or less fair way.

    "[The unlimited usage] model is like an all you can eat buffet, where one in 10 customers eats all the food, one in 100 takes his chair home too, and one in 1,000 unscrews all the fixtures and fittings and loads them into a van as well."

  6. Malcom Ryder 1

    I didn't know...

    "Note to Pandora,, and Shoutcast, and oh-so-many others: Darth is planning to swing his bandwidth-slicing lightsaber directly at your revenue streams."

    Pandora makes money?

  7. McMoo


    El Reg is a British website, so it kinda narks me to see a headline like "AT&T to chocke your iPhone" - AT&T won't be doing anything of the sort to *my* iPhone.

    Please, keep American issues catered for, but not written as though they are primary issues. The Register is British - there are may American websites where we can read things from an American viewpoint.

    1. Blain Hamon
      Dead Vulture

      Needless title

      > there are may American websites where we can read things from an American viewpoint

      Yeah, but they're nowhere near as fun. At least, not since Crazy Apple Rumors went on hiatus. Mind you, I don't disagree regarding returning to the Brit angle. If anything, this could make for snappier titles.

      "AT&T to Yank on Yanks' iPhone Data Yokes."

      It could even have the AT&T/Death Star image.

    2. Alan W. Rateliff, II
      Paris Hilton

      Snarky Limey commenters

      Really, McMoo. Really. So the fact that I read ElReg as means that they never gave a flip about my Yank stuff? Of course, if you ask Eric Schmidt, everyone wants to know what this Yank yanks. But I digress.

      ElReg serves both sides of the pond. And I am happy for it.

      Paris, serving both sides, so get over it.

    3. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Based in the UK, sure

      There is no regionalisation on the internet.

    4. Chris Bradshaw

      Read the byline

      "By Rik Myslewski in San Francisco" - the author is based in (or writing from) the US. El Reg is British in origin, but there is evidently an office in SF with (one assumes) mostly American hacks. Honestly, how much more American can you get than "Myslewski"?

      Icon - send the poor chaps over there a decent beer.

      1. Mike Flugennock


        True, you can't get a more American name than that... a name passed on from European immigrants. (;^> Of course, the real irony is in the number of Americans going around with British surnames, such as our esteemed new Attorney General, Eric Holder (no relation).

        Oh, and please do send more decent beer over here. Some _real_ Guinness Stout would be a good start, instead of the legally-mandated slightly-weakened version we're stuck with over here now.

    5. Mike Flugennock
      Thumb Up

      amen to that...

      McMoo writes:

      -> El Reg is a British website, so it kinda narks me to see a headline like "AT&T to chocke your

      -> iPhone" - AT&T won't be doing anything of the sort to *my* iPhone.

      Right on there, pal. You British Jesus Phone users are slightly luckier than us -- even if you _do_ have a Jesus Phone (snicker)

      -> Please, keep American issues catered for, but not written as though they are primary issues. The

      -> Register is British - there are may American websites where we can read things from an

      -> American viewpoint.

      Y'mean, from the viewpoint of corporations and marketeers? That's why I log on from across the pond, to The Register, to find out what the real IT news is in the States. That's why I'm thankful for El Reg, but that's kinda' sad, really...

  8. Ebeneser
    Thumb Up


    Sorry, have to disagree with McMoo, over the years there's been some great coverage from the states, especially the journos in San Francisco. And given that when the states sneeze we catch a cold (swine flu anyone), its always useful to be up to date with developments stateside.

    Granted in this particular case the article was a little misleading in that it doesn't apply to your average iPhone toting Brit, but it is none the less interesting ... seeing AT&T swim against the tide in order to create profit.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Hardly against the tide

      If ATT is swimming against any tide that tide is pretty much USA only. Throughout most of the world mobile data is not unlimited. If it is "unlimited" it prohibits (surprise, surprise) streaming, P2P and everything else that can actually use bandwidth. Example - read a UK operator (other than 3) contract for a dongle. Voda or O2.

  9. Phil Koenig

    We're #2 and we try harder (or not)

    Rather predictable that ATT starts feigning concern for service quality after they drop to "#2" behind Verizon in the US market.

    Anyone who wasn't blinded by ignorance and bias has known for years that ATT's service sucks. Reviews from respected organizations have pointed this out for years. Meanwhile, Verizon has been busy treating customers like royalty, ferociously building-out their network, and lording over its performance like control-freaks.

    Verizon long resisted the march to "all you can eat" marketing for its 3G data services. Those of us who understand network management were never surprised (and quite happy with the service, thankyewverymuch), but most of the ignorant and greedy consumers preferred to ridicule them, because yanno, they just KNOW that "broadband is free". So who's laughing now?

    Of course, now that Verizon's #1, they've just doubled their early termination fee for smartphones, and ATT is talking about the formerly "evil" policy of no longer pretending bandwidth is free.

    I guess it's a sign of age that none of this surprises me any more.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    They didn't PLAN for 3%? Retards.

    "only three per cent of smartphone users eat up 40 per cent of AT&T's capacity"


    All the other smartphone users are NOT using any capacity even though they are paying for it and that means you should have PLENTY OF MONEY to upgrade your service right? No...lets screw the customers instead.

    Fuck them.

  11. Narg


    First, please remember that cellular data is the cheapest data on the planet. Because of the lack of the 'last mile copper' this data is super cheap to provide.

    Second, there is NOT that much data being used. The average iPhone user consumes barely 1/2 of a gigabyte of data per month. That's NOTHING! A home PC can eat up 20 gig easily with all that can be done. A full 5 of that gig is consumed in updates and patches alone in some months.

    AT&T is pure greedy.

  12. Bob 18

    Another Way to Cap Bandwidth

    I think that capping bandwidth is necessary. But I don't like the way they're planning on doing it --- by setting limits and charging per-Mb if you go over. That's just a way to get bad customer rap.

    Also, one month is too long of a time. You could use up a lot of bandwidth (and clog up the network) during the first week of that month.

    A much better way to cap bandwidth would be to set a per-day limit. When you go over that limit, they don't charge you more $$, they just throttle you down to dialup-type speed. Your email will still work,and maybe a look here or there at Facebook. But not your YouTube or Vimeo --- and you will no longer be a threat to civilized society (until tomorrow morning). You will quickly learn how to throttle your own bandwidth under this scheme, without enduring thousdands of dollars of overtime charges.

  13. Jeff F.

    Blame is fully ATT's

    They and Apple run the fake ads glamorizing the data features as if they really are instant, never fail, completely perfect to use. ATT sucked the capacity out with their stupid TV streaming apps,(CV video, ATT music, etc.) and Now, they claim to be under charging AND over capacity (in some mkts)! Smells like fraud on consumers to me. Why not turn off the advert machine a bit. and quit pimping services they really don't want to provide at current price levels..

  14. melvinram

    3% = indicator of future

    Instead of trying to get the 3% to use their network less, they should be trying to figure out how to get all the other users to act like the 3% first:

  15. Kurt 5

    Those pesky definitions

    And yet the contract says "unlimited." And they require it for the iPhone. And charge for it.

    If the service isn't "unlimited" then it shouldn't be advertised and sold as that.

  16. Adam Williamson 1
    Thumb Down

    Chris Miller

    Define 'fair'. It's important to note that any ISP can say virtually the same thing. But is it a case of some people using 'too much' data or some using 'too little'? Just because ten thousand Grandpa Joneses out there never do anything but check their email, are the rest of us being gluttons if we use Youtube?

    Apple and AT&T expressly advertise the iPhone as a massively data-capable device (they're always showing off data-hungry apps in adverts) and sell 'unlimited' data. If they're going to advertise such a service they ought to be able to provide it, and not suddenly start whining when someone actually takes them at face value.

    1. Chris Miller

      Let's get real

      Just because you don't like it doesn't make it unfair. I agree that ISPs (wired or wireless) should not be allowed to advertise a service in a misleading way, describing it as 'unlimited' when it really isn't.

      But what we have seen on 'unlimited' services is precisely this pattern - where a small number (3%) of users account for a lot (40%) of usage. If you're determined to provide unlimited capacity you will eventually need to upgrade your network, but that's going to increase your costs and require you to increase your prices. Why is it 'fair' to punish the 97% who behave reasonably in order to enable the 3% to enjoy 'unlimited' network capacity (which they will soon exhaust by increasing their usage even further).

  17. Nexox Enigma

    Fun at the office!

    I expect this news will be popular around the lunch room tomorrow - probably 80% of the people in my office have iPhones, and we're right in downtown SF...

    It's making that TMobile plan look better every day... That and the relatively un-congested network. And the N900 likes their UMTS frequencies.

    To be fair I make 3G calls from my standard phone in SF every day, and have only had a call drop or fail to go through while in a subway tunnel, where service is surprisingly complete, what with being under ground and everything.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Already in place

    In Atlanta, they're already doing this. I have an AT&T wireless card, and when I'm downloading 150Mb firmware images, it will move along at about 2.4MBit/sec for a while, and then will drop down to 6Kbps, and stay there, not wavering at all for the last 115Mb....Needless to say that I have driven into work at 2am to download a file instead of waiting the 7 hours that it would take over my wireless.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Victims of their own success?

    I have no sympathy for any company that advertises a bullshit 'unlimited data' product and then whines like a fanboi offended when people actually use the product as such.

    The one mitigating factor in all this is that it's jeebus phone users who are being hit with the weasel words, if there was ever a user group that needed a good twatting with the reality stick...

  20. Ed Gould


    One of the major reasons I did not get an IPHONE was because it was tethered to ATT. Since the roomer was that the IPHONE would start working on another network I held off. Then that fell though. Guess there is no IPHONE in my future.

  21. UkForest

    World's Apart!

    How come, when Orange, Vodafone and Tesco started punting the iPhone in good old Blighty people suddenly sat up and noticed a data limit...

    Orange pointed out that their fair usage cap would be set at 750mb... Then continued to suggest that the European average usage per month was somewhere around 250mb.

    I absolutley hammer my iPhone, constantly online with music, gaming and of course browsing. Never had a letter or call to discuss my usage! Don't our American friends ever put theirs down?

  22. Dibbles

    Shooting themselves with both barrels...

    ...squarely in the foot. In the long run, mobile internet is where the money lies for operators - and making it possible for advertisers to reach users of iPhones and the like with targeted ads. But one of the major hurdles to wider adoption of mobile internet is that pricing structures for consumers are labyrinthine at best - the main way to get round this is to allow them 'all you can eat' data plans to encourage them to make the most of their wonderful data-capable phones.

    You remove that, you remove consumers' wish to go online, and the only link between the current time and future revenue.

  23. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

    @Chris Bradshaw

    "How much more American can you get than 'Myslewski'?"

    Polish, perhaps?

  24. Faster Better Greener

    Telco compete for iPhone with data bundles

    It will be interesting to see in a year's time how the newly-opened UK iPhone market shakes down, now that Apple has ended O2 exclusivity.

    First new entrant (Orange) has opted for a capped data plan (750MB/month, I think, but happy to be corrected).

    Vodafone hasn't announced its plans yet, but could have a few tricks up its sleeve, including bundling its 3G femtocell to iPhone users in poor/zero reception areas. Would have to work out how NOT to charge users twice for using it though (current Voda femtocell price plans count any data going down the CUSTOMER'S broadband connection against the allowances on their VODAFONE price plan). Considering the customer is paying for the BB connection and paying £160 for the femtocell, this sucks.

    Incumbent operator (O2) has overtly stated that it is going to retain "unlimited" iPhone data bundles in its pay monthly packages.

    Initial though is that this looks like a marketing win-win for O2. A slice of the market defects to other providers. This frees up some bandwidth on O2's overloaded network (for a while anyway, until the inevitable expansion in demand fills whatever space is created). But when they start getting hit with over-the-cap data charges on other operators they come running, begging to be allowed back.

    A key issue in the UK is that "free" bandwidth (as bundled on O2) has encouraged iPhone users to engage in some truly bandwidth-hungry behaviour - watching BBC iPlayer in bed between midnight and 01:00, for instance.

    And Apple comes up smelling of roses here. They just provide the kit that makes it POSSIBLE for customers to indulge themselves in these network-unfriendly ways. And its the network providers who end up alienating customers when they fall over.

    Oh, and erm, Apple compels the networks to PAY for the privilege of being inevitably overwhelmed by the data demands of content-hungry iPhone users, who will in turn inevitably become disillusioned with the network operators.

    Net result:

    Apple. Top 15 company by market capitalisation, with a cash pile of around $30bn (and counting), also taking a 30% slice of all revenues on Apps, for which 100% of the development costs are borne by third parties.

    Network Ops. Less said the better.

  25. Lawrence 7

    Bill Ray comment Please

    Look forward to a Bill Ray Comment on the next 2-5 years of Data usage over mobile nets....

  26. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    @Narg; @Bob18

    First, the lack of a physical last mile does not necessarily mean cheaper to provide service. Comparing these two technologies is apples and oranges, anyway: DSLAMs vs RF equipment, copper and right-of-way vs RF spectrum, etc. Without first-hand knowledge of the costs of each, we cannot reasonably assume that air is less expensive than copper.

    Second, I like the idea of daily throttling. Indeed, the daily reminder is a much more customer friendly way to handle "over-use" than the $600 additional bill at the end of the month. That changes from "oh, I need to be more careful tomorrow," to "WTF?!!! I need to find a new provider or I can kiss health insurance goodbye next month!!"

    Or, how difficult would it be to send a text message warning to the 3% of their millions of customers who actually "abuse" the service when they reach a level which AT&T considers abusive? For that matter, is AT&T complaining because of bandwidth or usage? I download a 25MB radio show daily which takes about five minutes or so. Doing the math, that is 500MB per month, give or take, plus my other usage for web browsing, email, and so on. Do they care that in a month I probably use around 1GB of data, or do they care that I am maxing out my 3Mb/s for five, 10, or 20 minutes at a time?

    Is data our technological opiate? The cellular "pushers" keep promising a Utopia of interconnectedness -- the World at Our Fingertips(tm) -- then mug you for the actual experience. "First hit's free, after that if you wanna fly you gotta buy." And then some!

    This reminds me of the whole battle for cable Internet bandwidth and such, with the nasty-grams and over-use charges to "abusers," and the tiered pricing. As if no one learned from the backlashes from all that hub-bub. Sheesh.

    I have to give a hand to AT&T nee Cingular for my experiences with their data network. In the past six years I have had only two major problems with it: the sudden and unannounced deterioration of the TDMA network in favor of GSM/EDGE, and the recent sudden and unannounced elimination of the ISP provisioning of my way-too-old unlimited data plan. Now my only issue is that I cannot stream in the south-east, but I can in the mid-west. And the final chronic annoyance is that their outbound WAP proxy does not reverse-resolve.

    Now, get this network bandwidth issue resolved (hint, do not punish users, guide them) and we will be BFF again. I gave up the on point of unlocked phones a long time ago, which brings up another quick annoyance: AT&T could bring in a few more bucks from me if it would allow me to buy the games and applications I want on my unlocked phone(s,) which I know are compatible because I can get them from alternate sources. Instead, the AT&T MEdiaNet Mall tells me that my phone is not supported, so take my money elsewhere.

    Okay, so that is two resolved problems, two annoyances, and one lost cause. Weigh that against the positives: I have unlimited data for cheap, pictures messages actually come right to my phone (instead of having to go to a web site to fetch them,) I can use voice and data simultaneously, I have coverage everywhere I travel, and it is the better of the two networks which support the phones I really really like (I am a SonyEricsson whore, sadly.) Yeah, I think I will cozy in for a while.

    Paris, daily throttling to avoid back-lash hub-bub, plenty of annoyances, and maybe a show-stopper with several unresolved problems, for cheap.

  27. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Unlimited, but shared.

    I think there is a fairer way to allocate bandwidth.

    Allot speed among users of a node based on total usage. So the video streamer gets full tilt boogie bits until another user shows up, then the bandwidth is allocated based on total data suckage for that period.

    So the guy that sends a few dozen tweets sees major speed and the music downloader waits a but for the tune to start.

    The satellite providers do/did something like this ISTR.

    When the new, user owned, mesh networks replace the cell tower, the last mile will be free. Yeah i know i have been saying this forever but as soon as governments stop giving away our bandwidth to monopolies like AT&T, community meshes will make the model obsolete.

  28. The Grump

    Gonna hafta look closer...

    at that cellular contract - maybe get a lawyer to review it. Usually, far, far down in the fine print, you will find language like "fair use policy". While the amount of data you can use is unlimited, the bandwidth is not. This allows the carrier to "choke" the bandwidth to an unacceptable level, making the datarate useless, but staying within the limits of the contract - all the data you want, at a blazing 56k per second. It is a defacto denial of service, without the denial.

    I hope there is a special place in Hell for cell phone carrier lawyers, hence the flames.

  29. pctechxp
    Thumb Up

    network management reality

    All UK mobile operators and unlimited ISPs should take note.

    Technically there is no such thing as unlimited and the best way to control usage on your network is to charge for bandwidth and plough a portion of the revenue back into additional capacity/network upgrades not subject users to a dire service just to deliver on marketing messages.

  30. bart

    Unlimited means what now?

    It is unbelievable to me that we are debating the fact that ATT is rescinding a key feature of their service, unlimited data, as many land based carriers have done over the years. The point is that, when they designed packages that included unlimited data, ATT apparently did one of two things: either they made incredibly lowball assumptions about the amount of data that would ultimately be served to those customers and built out a woefully inadequate infrastructure (and by definition had no real intention of delivering the promise of unlimited data,) or they simply committed blatant fraud, intending from the beginning to eventually use the unethical tool du jour of most corporations these days, a terms of service contract in which the corporation has sole discretion to make changes at any time, for any reason.

    ATT doesn't have a leg to stand on in their defense. They can't claim that they underestimated or otherwise misjudged potential usage, because they offered unlimited data. If delivering unlimited data as promised threatens to put them out of business because they cannot support it, then so be it. That's how a free market economy works. They blew it, and they should burn.

    But I seriously doubt that honoring their current terms would break the bank; rather ATT is merely raiding the customer piggy bank by chipping away at services wherever and whenever it wants in order to prop up double digit year over year growth that it and so many other corporations have come to expect, no matter what the economic environment.

    To further shoot any remaining appendages out from under ATT, the relationship between it and Apple essentially constitutes a monopoly in the US, so changing terms in this manner to boost profits is questionable at best. ATT was ordered by the government to split up some 25 years ago into many smaller "Bell" companies due to anti-competitive practices, but somehow it has been allowed to reassemble itself into a far larger conglomerate than when it was originally perceived to be a threat to commerce. They even had the audacity to change the name back from what had congealed into, mostly Southern Bell, to its original monopoly tag - ATT.

  31. Mage Silver badge

    Unlimited is Fantasy

    On Mobile.

    It's not possible to have good performance AND unlimited on Mobile. As it is the cell density & capacity is designed for Voice, typically 1/250th of the traffic per month of Data Users.

  32. Anonymous Coward


    I read somewhere that the last year cingular was just that (and not wholy owned by SBC-> ATT) that they spent something like one billion dollars on advertising per year. If they just used half of that on their 3G network Verizon wouldn't be poking them up the arse right now.

  33. Mage Silver badge

    Cheap? @Narg; @Bob18

    Data is NOT cheap on 3G. it's over 150x more expensive per second than voice for an operator. SMS is practically free to an operator, but that is not the data we are talking about.

    In network voice calls in fact could almost be free. But ALL data is I/O outside the network and all upload AND download has to be paid for per Mbyte by the operator.

    On voice if incoming and outgoing originated calls are equal, then costs of Termination and revenue from Termination could cancel. There is NO revenue from Data other than the customers. It costs the operator coming and going.

    The other issue is capacity. A DSL or cable connection for one use *CAN* have as much capacity as an entire Mast's Backhaul! The speeds quoted on Mobile are NOT the speed, but the peak capacity for 0.5% to 5% of the cell area! See and

    If a 10Gbyte limited data package is sold at similar price to a 50mins voice package, they are actually losing money.

    Mobile Data packages SHOULD and need to be limited to improve the performance for those that need Mobile, and should NOT be attractive for Fixed users. It's not technically or Financially possible to have the Pricing or Capacity to compete with Cable or DSL, even With WiMax or LTE.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    What data limits?

    I'm a UK iPhone user, and despite using the damn thing all day every day, I have never used more than 500 MB in a month.

    I've never understood why AT&T were offering an unlimited service in the first place. No UK provider does (even O2 has a fair usage policy).

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