back to article Sprint sprints away from no-throttle policy – punishes 'unlimited' network hoggers

Sprint has confirmed plans to once again throttle data usage of customers who go over a 23GB limit each month. The company, which is the fourth largest mobile carrier in the US with nearly 58 million subscribers on its books, said that it was "unfair" to allow such behaviour to continue unchallenged, given that 97 per cent of …

  1. msknight

    The only surprise here... that Sprint thought it could really offer unlimited. Haven't enough competition already hit that problem? Or are they blind to the market place?

    1. Mark 85

      Re: The only surprise here...

      It's weasel wording at it's best... the amount is apparently "unlimited". The speed isn't unlimited... so throttling it back still gets you the data but a lot slower. I'm just appalled at the games the ISP's play with words.

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: The only surprise here...

        "I'm just appalled at the games the ISP's play with words."

        Know many politicians?

      2. MacGyver

        Re: The only surprise here...

        " so throttling it back still gets you the data but a lot slower"

        Why not throttle high usage users only at times when bandwidth is scarce? I mean throttling someone at 3am just because they have hit some arbitrary usage number is stupid. If the bandwidth is there and no one else is using it why not let them use it? Why can't there be prime-time bandwidth that is measured and once you use your allocation of prime-time bandwidth THEN you get throttled but only during prime-time and only if there is high usage.

        Or juat assign a priority number to each person based on the amount of prime-time usage for the month and prioritize their data accordingly instead of throttling them to some preset speed.

        It doesn't even seem like it would be necessary if they'd just stop selling bandwidth that they clearly didn't have, but until then how about intelligent throttling instead of just taking the lazy way out. Or spend some more of the profits to increase capacity, whatever.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: The only surprise here...

      I think all the competition have realised that you can't offer unlimited service and Sprint knew and know this as well. What no-one has yet "realised" is that you can't use the word "unlimited" in your product description if it is limited.

      They will all carry on not realising that until legal costs start to outweigh the perceived marketing benefits of this dishonesty. The last decade or so suggests that we are nowhere near this point and not even travelling in the right direction. When, or perhaps even if, it ever gets to court, the ISPs will probably argue that no-one actually expects the word to mean that anymore because they've been conditioned by over a decade of lies to think that "unlimited broadband" just means an "always on" connection.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Class action in 3...2...

    23Gb/month is very far from unlimited.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      "23Gb/month is very far from unlimited" -- moiety

      Indeed. For some internet purposes it's quite restrictive - less than a dozen films ... some single Steam games are bigger than this - I think some may be approaching twice the size.

      1. Ceiling Cat

        @John H Woods : This is limited to handset/mobile data plans. Steam isn't available on phones. I know Netflix is, but do you really need to watch that many films on your phone every month? And I certainly don't understand these people who use their phone for torrenting without first connecting to a wifi hot-spot. That's just dumb.

        ...... says the person who doesn't even own a smartphone.

        1. John H Woods Silver badge

          @Ceiling Cat

          Hi, thanks for the clarification - brain not working well at the moment. I guess I'd accept 23GB/mo as a mobile limit for everything except 'landline replacement' use where wired broadband is not available. I'm a pretty heavy mobile data user, but I've not been over about 12GB/mo since a fiber deployment took our local speed from under 2Mb/s to about 30. Nevertheless, I agree it should not be called 'unlimited'

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Ceiling Cat

            do you really need to watch that many films on your phone every month?

            If I'm paying for unlimited internet; what I do with the bandwidth is nobody else's biz. Someone who works for an airline -and therefore spends a lot of time in transit or hotels could do in 23Gb/WEEK in films without really trying.

            I'm trying out different linux flavours and have probably done in more than 23Gb today (albeit from desktop). Sprint are trying to weasel out of delivering the service that they promised (and promising unlimited anything is pretty gormless).

          2. theModge

            Re: @Ceiling Cat

            TomTom Maps updates can be 6gb on there own. Add a film to it. I don't have the luxary of unlimited data, which means I need to be very careful to do such things on WiFi.

        2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

          @Ceiling Cat

          Anyone who spends a lot of time away from fixed infrastructure could use mobile data as their main (or only) net connection,

          I was chatting to a taxi driver once. He said that he uses a lot of mobile data whilst waiting for fares. What if you live on a house boat? I'm not sure your local phone or cable company will hook you up. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to come up with other examples.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Ceiling Cat

            "What if you live on a house boat?"

            As it happens, I know someone who does live on a boat in a marina, and who has a serious MMPORPG habit. He connects his proper computer to the 'net via tethering on his mobile handset, which is his only option for connectivity.

            Fortunately he's using a certain UK provider whose network was 'built for the internet' (I think is their catch phrase) and he has no problems of this nature.

        3. Vince

          You might if you were someone who spends a lot of time out, like a truck driver, or if you are a network engineer frequently working at night when the normal internet is going to be offline precisely because you're the engineer...

          It isn't tricky to use a fair few GBs with fairly normal usage.

    2. Ole Juul

      This low bandwidth surprises me. As someone who would rarely download as much as two movies a year, I use an average 35Gb/month on just regular browsing with perhaps an iso thrown in. Surely people who are movie fans would double that without half trying.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How can up to 3% of their user base use an unreasonable amount of their network? Do they have so little bandwidth available that such a small percent can affect their network?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This has been going on since the '90s at least. ISP's promise stuff that they can't deliver to drag in punters; a certain percentage of whom are going to take them at their word (and certain professions -like video editing- rip through bandwidth anyway). They base their numbers on average use; and it works exactly like overbooking planes.

      So they keep adding punters; stretching the network (which was only ever designed round a guess of X users using an average of Y bandwidth/time); and eventually the time comes where you either actually have to lash out some cash upgrading the network, or play the victim card and bleat on about how a small minority of unfair/unreasonable/probably up to no good customers are spoiling things for everyone and hoof them off the service. This would be the same customers who are paying for an unlimited service. You see, if you hoof off your top percentile of heavy users (say 5%); you can pack probably 10-50x the number of people onto the same service without spending a penny on infrastructure.

      Been there. Done that. Several times.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's a spotty problem

      The effects are unlikely to be at a network level, they're much more likely to be at a cellular level where the data volume of high users (particularly video streamers) will compromise the bandwidth available to other users on the cell.

      As a result the operator has to do unplanned upgrades which $cost and can take a long time to bring in, especially if they need additional backhaul or a new cell.

      It's the 'unlimited' word, a network planner's nightmare. I've lived with it for years, from voice through to data.

  4. Jon B

    Seems sensible

    From a networking technology position it is sensible - wireless is heaviliy effected by contention and more congested it is, from maybe just a few users on your cell tower, the worse the experience is for everyone.

    That's what happens when marketing triumphs over engineers, and then have to weasel their way out of it. Meanwhile in New Zealand we're fairly content with ~3GB data limits per month and world leading 3G and 4G speeds.

    1. Ole Juul

      Re: Seems sensible

      Only sensible in a minimalist kind of way - like Morse code. Try using LastFM for music, for example. They use Youtube videos (even if you just listen to the music) and if you have music on all day you'll have 20GB/mo right there.

      A 3GB data limit would be about e-mail, banking, and a bit of shopping. Surely you're mistaken! I'm on rural wireless here in Canada. Everybody shares the same tower for many miles around, and the ISP gives us 20GB/mo on just their introductory package. I'm able to live with that, but these kinds of usage levels are not what most people expect when they're talking about internet.

      1. Myself-NZ

        Not mistaken

        In NZ - currently on a mobile plan $39 NZD per month - 1.25 GB data - unlimited text and 400 free minutes.

        I use fibre (50/20 Mbps unlimited) at home so can keep well under the mobile cap without any problems.

  5. Barry Rueger

    Howls of Outrage!

    Surely we're approaching the point where ISPs, wireless companies, and similar providers will dispense with irritating and arbitrary rules and do what they should have done in the first place: sell bits, and bill people based on volume used.

    The water utility doesn't "throttle" your pipes if you use too much aqua. The electric company doesn't reduce you to 35 volts if you hit a certain threshold. (Yes, brownouts have happened in the past, but that's on a regional basis, not individual consumers.)

    The time has come for these companies to just say "We're selling you usage. The first 25 gigs of data are $35 a month, and $1 a gig after that. How you use that data is your business."

    If there's enough demand the providers will build up their networks to provide for it. If one provider won't do that they'll lose customers.

    1. Tom Womack

      Re: Howls of Outrage!

      Why do you think the marginal cost to provide a gigabyte of mobile data, in an environment with other customers, is as little as $1 ?

      Charge one cent per megabyte, provide throttling at a customer-set level as a free customer service option, and they will line up and beg to be throttled the first time they get even a $250 monthly bandwidth bill.

      1. Barry Rueger

        Re: Howls of Outrage!

        The dollar price was just an example, not a prediction of prices.

        If the "Invisible Hand" actually existed we would see data prices at the cost of production plus some arbitrary amount of profit.

      2. Ropewash

        Re: Howls of Outrage!

        ...“The cost associated with transmission and switching on a modern network is a non-issue — less than five cents per gigabyte and dropping fast,” David Buffett, chief executive of Radiant Communications Inc., an independent ISP, wrote in the Vancouver Sun this week.

        Depending on who you believe, the cost for a large incumbent ISP to deliver one gigabyte of data — when you factor in fixed costs like fibre optic cables and networking gear, as well as operating costs such as technicians and electricity — can range anywhere from a few pennies to between 10¢ and 15¢ per GB...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Howls of Outrage!

          Selling by the gigabyte is still challenging... it is a way that users can (almost) understand but the actual costs to the ISPs are more tied to speed than volume -- at least for the access network ("last mile"). This is particularly noticeable for mobile (which always has been and always will be massively more expensive than wired, for good reasons based in physics).

          So, logical pricing would be for clearly stated volume quotas, at particular speeds (or speed ranges). Speed ranges could be described in terms of things people understand better ("HD Video", "music streaming", etc) although that then raises a net neutrality question.

          In any case, ISPs should be legally prevented from using the term "unlimited"!

          Full disclosure: I work for a manufacturer of equipment which does policy enforcement (including creation and enforcement of speed tiers) and charging (including volume quotas and policy tiers).

  6. Paul 87

    Users don't necessarily want unlimited because it's unlimited, they want unlimited because they want a standard bill each month that doesn't vary, thus making it easier to budget for.

    For example, as a home user who doesn't torrent, but does make use of both Steam and Netflix, it's not impossible for our monthly home usage, over 5 devices, to hit 300G/bit a month. If we had to pay per G/bit downloaded, it'd be impossible to track our household budget, especially at the rate most providers consider reasonable.

    1. phil dude
      Thumb Up


      @Paul87: Exactly the point - budget. I would like to point out that the number of companies "rent seeking" are doing exactly the same.

      The annoying thing about the data communication companies, is that they actually think we want something *other* than data.

      We just want reliable in cost and performance internet.


    2. Charles 9

      Funny I didn't hear a lot of complaints from telephone companies when dial-up Internet was all the rage: people keeping phone lines tied up for hours on end and so on...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It was actually a huge problem. The rollout of broadband was driven largely by the need to avoid the costs of re-engineering the whole PSTN.

        1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

          And even before ADSL, there was a massive amount of technical innovation behind the scenes, and lots of equipment bought and deployed, to deal with the impact of dial-up to the PSTN. Although, as you say, little public noise by the telcos.

          But I think I am still paying about the same per month as I did in the days of dial-up -- for about 1000x the speed.

  7. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge


    I'm impressed that some parts of Sprint are fast enough that anyone could hit 23 GB in a month.

  8. Jonjonz

    Limited is Limited

    You can legitimately buy one game today online that comprises more than that in a single download.

    This is flat out buggery of the consumer.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Limited is Limited

      Has anyone taken one of these "unlimited" carriers to court over false advertising issues?

    2. Terry Barnes

      Re: Limited is Limited

      For a phone?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Limited is Limited

        For a phone PLAN. On the grounds that unlimited means no limitations in bandwidth (apart from the purely-physical limits of the protocol) or usage (apart from the sheer limit of the clock) can be applied without lying. IOW, sue to have "unlimited" ruled an illegal weasel word when advertising Internet data plans as the physical layout of the Internet and mobile broadband make such claims impossible to fulfill.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fine Print

    "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. (These customers will still be able to use unlimited amounts of data without the worry of overage charges.)"

    Curious question, how often will the network be "constrained".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fine Print

      I wonder if a lawyer would look at that and claim that implies a limit, meaning a conflict within the contract (the part that puts a limit vs. the part that says "unlimited") that makes it unenforceable...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Everybody plays with words

    We've been beating the word unlimited to death for years. So there is a race to the bottom with advertising semantics. They're all overbooked if we're talking about maximum theoretical data rate, 24/7 by all customers through the entire billing period. I don't know that any carrier ever guaranteed they could provide maximum rate, because we all know that they can't.

    Let's just say that unlimited means that the data is never turned off during the billing period. The transfer speed varies, but then, it does even when not deliberately throttled, so is that really "unlimited"? There is no such thing, never was, and not likely to be any time soon.

    So they claim unlimited, but not unthrottled.

    It's satisfying to moan about the service that carriers provide - I do it - but Reg readership must appreciate the practical reality. One never knows how well a service serves one's purpose until one tries it for their own application with their own circumstances. Even the 23GB is subject to coverage quality and congestion limitations. But I'd rather know that the 23GB is reasonably reliable than suffer the illusion of "unlimited" with poor service.

    The question of how well they actually deliver is more important than haggling over the definition of unlimited.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Everybody plays with words

      Throttling is still a limit. That's why I say the word "unlimited" should be banned in advertising as both alluring and unrealistic, the way American cigarette ads are uber-restricted for the same two reasons.

      Frankly, if I could propose a law in America's Congress, it would be to force all advertisers to the same standards they would have to face if they were testifying in a court: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They must sell their ads strictly on facts and typical results, not image, not atypical testimonials, with all claims told pessimistically. Failure to adhere will result both in fines and in a ban on any not-on-site advertising for varying periods.

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