T-Mobile Goes After Data Thieves

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

New math hurts case for old unlimited data plans.

“This week, I am taking aim at a select group of individuals who have actually been stealing data from T-Mobile,” Legere wrote in a blog post. “If their activities are left unchecked their actions could eventually have a negative effect on the experience of honest T-Mobile customers.” T-Mobile customers buying unlimited 4G LTE plans get a fixed amount of free LTE to use for tethering. T-Mobile USA is going after data thieves, which it says are taking advantage of the company’s unlimited high-speed data plan through excessive tethering – the use of smartphone data service on other devices.

T-Mobile’s ‘unlimited means unlimited’ policy is good for consumers, but it’s also a boon for less scrupulous users who use cell data to replace broadband, with the help of a few dubious workarounds. When customers use that data, speeds are throttled, and customers must pay for more data at full speed. “However, these violators are going out of their way with all kinds of workarounds to steal more LTE tethered data,” Legere said, suggesting users are “hacking” the system via apps that hide tether usage, rooted phones, or code written to mask activity. In a post on T-Mobile’s blog, CEO John Legere has publicly called out “a fraction of a percent” of users who’ve been sucking down hundreds or even thousands of gigabytes of data each month. The first-generation “shared data” plans available then were awfully stingy–think $100 for 2 gigabytes a month plus unlimited calling and texting at Verizon, $90 for 3 GB monthly with unlimited calls and texts at AT&T. But these customers aren’t using all of that data on their smartphones alone; instead, T-Mobile claims they’ve come up with ways to conceal mobile tethering and hotspot usage.

But some are using up to 2TB (2,000GB) per month. “I’m not sure what they are doing with it —stealing wireless access for their entire business, powering a small cloud service, providing broadband to a small city, mining for bitcoin—but I really don’t care!” Legere said. According to that leak, action would be taken starting August 17 as the company went after those who use their unlimited LTE data for torrents and peer-to-peer networking. However, with some fairly simple workarounds on rooted Android phones, users trick the carrier into seeing tethering use as normal cellphone use — and according to T Mobile, some people are abusing that to the tune of 2TB a month. By way of comparison, AT&T’s last unlimited-data bundle for an iPhone was 2009’s $75 sum of a voice-and-unlimited data bundle and an extra $5 for 200 texts.

That rate factored in a phone-price subsidy, so you can and should buy new devices on two-year contracts… while you can, which AT&T doesn’t expect to be too long. Specifically, they’ll get booted down to a plan with a limited amount of LTE data, regardless of whether that’s being used to tether, or on a smartphone. But there are many apps — particularly on Android — that promise to hide tethering activity from wireless carriers, making it hard to distinguish what data is actually being used for. But remember that on the unlimited plan, sharing your phone’s bandwidth with a laptop via WiFi (“tethering” or “mobile hotspot”) costs $5 extra, while current Mobile Share plans include it.

There’s always a concern when carriers start restricting customers — T-Mobile is using software to detect people who are stealth-tethering, which will inevitably turn into the normal game of cat-and-mouse between users and the network, and I’m sure some innocent users will probably get caught in the crossfire. And no, the Federal Communications Commission’s $100 million fine for not adequately disclosing this policy (which AT&T is contesting) won’t end that. T-Mobile says it has developed technology that can now detect when customers who’ve reached the tethering limit are “stealing” extra gigabytes from their phone’s plan. AT&T says it will continue to throttle the connections of subscribers in areas with network congestion who hit usage thresholds: 5 GB for LTE phones, 3 GB for slower models.

This solution should ease any network issues. “I’m not in this business to play data cop, but we started this wireless revolution to change the industry for good and to fight for consumers,” writes Legere. “I won’t let a few thieves ruin things for anyone else. Failing to heed that warning will result in customers being permanently kicked off of T-Mobile’s unlimited data plan and moved onto the company’s entry-level (and tiered) package.

If you need more than 7GB of data for tethering, T-Mobile’s message is pretty clear: call your local internet company. “Broadband services would be a better solution for customers who need more high-speed for tethered devices.” John Legere is no longer willing to let you download torrents or power your home Wi-Fi with his network — however “Data Strong” it may be. Most of those prices beat the $90 Verizon charged for unlimited data plus 450 voice minutes and unlimited texting on a two-year contract–with 2 GB of tethering $20 extra–when it got the iPhone in early 2011. But if you really do use more than 12 GB, you no longer must feel bad about having to pay a phone’s unsubsidized price: Any new customer must pay full price too.

Maybe understandably, since popular smartphones don’t always offer enough help: • On an iPhone, open the Settings app and tap Cellular to see your total for the “current period”–not month or billing cycle, but since you last reset these measurements. To change that and get a per-app breakdown, tap “More Settings.” • Microsoft’s Windows Phone includes a Data Sense app that–crazy thought–may even come preset with your plan info.

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