Sprint begins throttling users in congested areas

Despite what the "unlimited" plan might make you think, Sprint is exercising their right to throttle back on users they've deemed as using too much data. Heavy use contract customers on Sprint, as well as prepaid customers on Sprint-based MVNOs Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA, have been hit with warnings that starting next month Sprint will be engaging in "prioritization management" in congested areas.

FierceWireless has an example of the message being sent to customers:

"Beginning 6/1/14, to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times, Virgin Mobile USA may manage prioritization of access to network resources in congested areas for customers within the top 5 percent of data users."

Sprint has for the past several years been beating the drum of their unlimited data plans, touting their status as truly unlimited in the face of tiered plans from AT&T and Verizon, as well as an 'unlimited' data plan on T-Mobile that throttles user speed back if they blow past a soft cap on the service.

The prioritization management that Sprint will be engaging in will be throttling, but they've promised that it will only be in congested areas during congested times. If the Sprint customer that's in that top 5% either leaves the congested area or the congestion eases, their "speeds will return to normal."

As for where that 5% threshold lands, that's hard to say, though Sprint says that a user who uses over 5GB in a month is likely to be in that zone. Again, crossing into the top 5% doesn't mean you're automatically throttled — it's only during peak traffic in high traffic areas, and the prioritization scheme isn't applied to the account until the following month.

Now that Sprint's unlimited plan now has an asterisk on it, does that change your perception of the carrier?

Source: FierceWireless


Reader comments

Sprint begins throttling users in congested areas


Every customer on T-Mo "Simple Choice" plan now gets 1G of LTE and then it's slowed to 2G after that....but if you pay $30 you will get Unlimited Data always.

I used to use +50gb on TMo. Never throttled unless actively on tethering plan. Used to call in to enable when I needed, call in to disable when not. Thinking about the same on MetroPCS.

I watch a lot of HD videos via YouTube and Premier League Soccer on the weekend via NBC universal (even though the NBC Sport App needs a serious overhaul).

Not really. I can use my Company WiFi but I'm too proud to keep begging the tech guys to redo my login after each new cellphone.

Haven't had the issue comments above me say for Tmo. I have an unlimited data plan and have never been throttled. I use my phone to download huge files all day instead of my wifi and I can say, multiple 1gb files and above all day always downloads in minutes.

More like "We don't want to fix our sh*t so we are going to tell you it's your fault and throttle what you already pay us for."

I agree! But its moves like this that makes me worried what is going to happen If Sprint buys T-mobile. They better not mess with unlimited plans if that happens!

I'm no fan of Sprint, but it is hard to fault them for this.

Basic physics dictates that you can only fit so much data into a radio channel.  And the FCC makes it their job to see that any given carrier only has so much radio spectrum to work with.  If Sprint's users are using up all of the bandwidth available, everybody gets slowed down in order to accommodate all of the demand.  So slowing down just those users that use the most of it probably makes the most sense, as it impacts the fewest number of people.

It may be dumb of them to offer an 'unlimited' plan since there is actually a limit to the amount of data they can serve, but given that they have offered that plan and are in contract with customers to honor it, throttling is probably the best option.  The alternatives are to (1) take away 'unlimited'  or (2) slow down everyone.  Either of which I'm sure more many people would be upset about.

Uh, physics has little to do with their network infrastructure, which just plain sucks in a lot of places.

That said, their spectrum is far more prone to physical interference (buildings, trees, etc) so one minute you can have blazing 4g and the next second you have 2bars of 3g.

This policy would exacerbate the problem in 'congested' areas, especially if those areas have poor coverage and lots of obstructions.

Not automatically. First they call to ask if this is intentional and if its going to happen a lot. I'd not they let it pass. Keeping their best customers actually matters to them. I had this interaction while taking a driving holiday with the kids streaming Netflix for days. Told AT&T what was happening and when it would end. No throttle was applied. Wouldn't do to make it a habit though.

You're the first person I've heard say this. I'm not saying it's untrue, but most reports I've seen say AT&T is now throttling their "unlimited" plans after 5GB of 4G data or just 3GB of 3G data.

Well that's what happened to me. They also called me when I was in Canada to tell me I had racked up a $200 Bill for data, coast of my background tasks and Rogers appalling rates for ATT customers. I turned off my data and they retroactively sold me a bucket of cheaper days at only $40. When they want to keep you, they sometimes actually act decently. Sometimes

No, but they'll charge you overages if you do go over your data. Personally, I would rather be throttled. That's what Wi-Fi is for.

For 13 years I dealt with with their crap, then I went to Verizon.... I miss my unlimited data, but at least my phone works in more places.

That's true. I went to Verizon from Sprint, mainly because they were so slow with WP8. At the time, my unlimited data was only 3G anyway since it was WP7 (HTC Arrive). At Verizon my speed was LTE but limited to whatever I wanted to pay for. The biggest advantage now is that Verizon has free internet sharing on my phone but on Sprint, its an extra fee. Now I can have a connection on my Surface anytime I want at no extra cost.

Tether-x app + 8.1 (modern support for proxy) and you would've had unlimited tethering for free.

But if you don't have a signal it doesn't do much good, I agree.

I was recently back in Cincy and I was livid because if the pisspoor sprint reception. Plus the ativ s neo has some serious radio issues so I can never be sure it's not the hardware..

We are a split family, AT&T and Verizon. When we travel in the US AT&T does better than Verizon. Mind you this is mostly in cities and vacation spots, but its never let me down.

Sprint said I used too much data, and said I must be using it for something else. Android gave me a hack for internet sharing. They cut me off after 10 years of service.go Verizon.

And if you use an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) like Net10 at about 1/2 the price of AT&T you can't use Internet Sharing.  Tether X allows you to do some tethering.

So your carrier called you on your over usage from (by your own admission) using a "hack", and now you're upset they cut you off?  Personally, I'd be happy with the fact that I got away with it that long, and just move on.

How is it stealing when you PAY for unlimited and then they turn around and say you're using too much?

Because Sprints terms and conditions specifies that mobile hotspot is NOT unlimited.

It also states, "If you subscribe to rate plans, services or features that are described as unlimited, you should be aware that such "unlimited" plans are subject to these Sprint Prohibited Network Uses."

..and "We reserve the right to deny or terminate service without notice for any misuse or any use that adversely affects network performance."


Congratulations man! The reason the worldwide internet gets worse and worse (in tiny small amounts each time) year by year is because people like you happily assist to greedy companies like this one in the article to put more and more jargon and lawyer sh*t into the contracts, create new appendices like overuse policy, allowed to lie in the big letters (reveal the exact opposite in the small letter section of the actual contract), create modern slavery via binding to 2-3-x year contracts to milk the consumer etc. And in the end, there are people like you - I believe you have no employment relationship with this compnay so that you are not obliged to praise them- who voluntarily step to the public, and happily loudly agree with restrictions after restrictions. Just dont wake up one day in a (twisted) world, where you need to sign NDA and give up all your rights if you just want to buy a damn box of milk or a loaf of bred in a supermarket. Because thats the direction where we are heading. Slowly, but steadily. And just dont get me wrong, this thing is much larger than the stupid case of data cap issue at a random ISP.

* bread.
There's a difference between "assisting greedy companies" and obeying the law. Some of us choose the later even if we don't agree with it. Theft is theft whether you agree with the policy or not. If you're using a service you don't pay for (unless it is a free service, of course), you're a thief. Even your overused hyperbole doesn't change that.

Woah, so much going on here.  Where to start..

First, relax.  I am not single-handedly bringing down society as we know it for pointing out what an educated consumer should already know.  I appreciate that most people don't read the fine print, but most people are aware that there's something down there that probably is in the best interest of the company and not the consumer.

Second, quoting terms and conditions does not suggest that I agree with them.

Third, you're being a little (I'm being very kind) over-dramatic.  You can claim it's "jargon and lawyer sh*t" but I think the average American understands what "you should be aware that such "unlimited" plans are subject to these Sprint Prohibited Network Uses" means.  And in this particurlar case, the OP knew that he was breaking the rules because he admits to installing a "hack".  My point was simply: you can't knowingly bend or break the rules and then claim foul when you get busted.  Sprints response was not to steal his first born, call in an airstrike or even request jail time -- they just showed him the door.

Fourth, isn't this the same argument people use for most topics these days?  Admittedly, it's usually used against the government and not a cellular company, but still.  I just don't see that cellular providers putting fine print onto a contract (which has been happening for as long as theres been cellular providers) is somehow chipping away at our freedoms.

Unlimited is unlimited is unlimited. I dare say I can 'legitimately' burn thru gbs of data JUST using my phone. I don't 'need' to use a 'computer' to do so.

And the rate throttling to guarantee service for everyone line is BS. Know why? Because if YOU are the person supposedly hogging all the bandwidth, causing network issues, YOU are going to be the first to notice because you are a constant user.

They act like everyone /except you/ is calling to complain.. ergo that's why it's so important. And yet YOU are the most likely to be the one that notices issues, except but you don't call and you don't complain because you don't see issues. And you don't have issues because if you did you wouldn't be able to use that much data.

Even if every one of the top 5% of data users complained every day, you would still be 5% of users, and would not present a dire problem to their service...

Dlrohm I see you don't understand something. LTE is fast. So when you have LTE in your area, it's enough speed to handle online gaming, watching movies etc. So with internet tethering you can connect your Xbox, laptop, tablet etc. You pay for unlimited data for your phone not for your home

Kinda wish Sprint would have to do something for all those plans they sold under the guise of "Truly unlimited forever"

On a side note, has WPCentral ever considered going the way of AnandTech and using the word "operator" instead of carrier? I believe a carrier is technically considered to be part of the back end cellular network, not the front end phone pushers.

Im wondering if this affects people who signed up for those "Truely Unlimited Forever" plans because it's now started to seem that those plans are false advertisement.

Yeah, they got me with that "unlimited" trick back in the days of the HTC EVO.
Now I'm rockin a Lumia 1520.3 on the most Aggressive Mobile Operator in the USA.
Now when Sprint and T-Mobile merges I want John to continue as CEO and not that ASS.

Oh I'm sorry, did someone force you to get cell service rather than pay for your own damn health insurance?

Did you all believe that an "Unlimited" data plan would really be unlimited?

It's called a fair use policy, and they do the same thing here in the UK on unlimited data plans. Check your contract if you don't believe me!!!

Hmmm... I wonder if I should be concerned.

I consistently stream internet radio on my device, probably like 12 hours a day average, through my data connection on Sprint. I do about just under 10GB of data a month.

I would use Wi-fi, but workplace would not like me doing that to them. At home, I just don't think about it nor bother, because the unlimited data doesn't make me worry about it.

"Unlimited data"


I have 3GiB in limited plan and it's not the highest amount operators are giving.

5GB isn't even close to unlimited. You don't need to download/use torrents to use lots of data. Only browsing websites cost me about 2GB monthly. Only windows central app uses about 700-1GB data per month.

And if I would happen to listen to online radio/streaming music like spotify/itunes or even use youtube (which eats your data plan like a pacman)then I'd hit the 5GiB cap in a week or so. 

I listen to online station that use eAACv2 with the bitrate 24-32.SOunds better than 64mp3 and dont use much data. But it still consumes lot. Are people so naive to be lured into this unlimited crap plan ? How much do you pay for it? Is it worth it since other operators have worse options? how's the range coverage ?


"Internet prioritisation" = end of internet neutrality ?

I, from a pure business standpoint, can understand this decision. This is not to say I agree with it. When you have heavy users (the 5%), the regulars (95%) can get sub-par service. This makes them consider switching which hurts bottom lines. Temporarily throttling that 5% keeps the 95% happy permanently, thus preventing, nay avoiding an exodus. It would be much better to improve infrastructure to accommodate all, but, that costs $$ that the 1%ers don't want to spend at the rate(s) it would require.

I'm pretty sure I'm a top 5% user and I don't ever see issues with speeds during peak times when I have good reception.

And if congestion/high data use actually causes service issues, then I would be the first to notice it.

So why don't I?

On an equal playing field (non throttled, non-QoS), all users have the same priority. If I'm one of 100 users making a request at any given second, I'm less prone to affect the other 99 than those 99 are to affect me.

Moreover, the amount of data other users have used over the past month is completely irrelevant.

Sure, if I'm a heavy user, then over a longer period of time (lets say 10min), I'm more likely to be one of those 100 every second than the 99 others, but that doesn't make me have a higher priority than any others at that point in time.

The obvious and only solution I better infrastructure. Not to mention all that basically ignores that heavy users will already - inherently - notice problems and feel throttled, IF their usage is really comprising the network integrity.

And who says it's fair to punish me during peak times in peak locations if all my consumption is at low tide on a deserted tower?

Does throttling even help? I though that once you open a data connection, you're using a channel that other people can't use. If that's true, how does slowing down traffic on that channel make any difference? 

It's not the limited channels, it's the backhaul to the tower. 

Think of your home internet. You get (for simple math) 20mb/s. You've got 2 people using 5mb/s to watch streaming video, 1 using 2mb/s to play a game, and the last one using 8mb/s to download large files. Everybody is happy because you're still not using more than your backhaul off your router. 

Person #4 plugs an 8pt switch in, and invites a bunch of friends over. 1 & 2 are still watching their shows using a total of 10mb/s, #3 is still hanging in with their 2mb/s, but now you've got an additional 8 users trying to use 8mb/s, and their game needs more than 1mb/s each. This will slow down users 1&2, possibly dropping them to a lower and not so nice looking SD feed, #3 may get some lag and a bit of slowdown too. Nobody is happy, and your internet connection is branded as being terrible and slow.

This is exactly what happens when you have more people, sucking down more data than than the pipe can carry.

Are you positive that it's the 'backhaul' that's the limiting factor? I thought that the airwaves were much more crowded than fiber links to and from towers. Or are these RF-beaming towers? Clearly I'm not a cell tech expert, I hope you are!

Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CDMA) allows the channels to be split up by set times. The timing and latency of different CDMA and GSM technologies is the limiting factor in how quickly you can be sent data (why LTE is faster than hspa+). The speed issues that Sprint has had they attributed to the tower backhauls not being sufficient, where voice coverage was perfect.

The limitation is the amount of data transferred, not the number of connections.  That would be hugely inefficient.

This is why people should use Wi-Fi whenever possible. I'm on T-Mobile, but I'm on Wi-Fi when I'm indoors so long as I can get access to it. Otherwise, I'll use my data when I'm out. I've never gone over my data. I remember when I had 200MB and there was probably only one time that I ever came close to using it all.

Well, I always felt like my speed was throttled because of their poor infrastructure so this would not have affected me... Thankfully I left Sprint several months ago.

I guess you get what you pay for...I have Verizon....a little higher in cost but, that Unlimited dave package I have but, no throttle and plenty of FAST LTE coverage in my area.... I'm good..

ha ha ha. kids, so you realize now there is no free lunch huh? Or shall you demand these guys upgrade their networks to support netflix 4K but keep your rates the same.

Doesn't bother me one bit! The people that root phones to bypass the tethering issue on sprint are killing the network so good for Sprint!