AT&T explains limits for 'unlimited' data plans

By Lee Kaelin on March 2, 2012, 5:00 PM

AT&T finally shared its stipulations for unlimited data plans Wednesday. We already knew the provider was restricting the top 5 percent of its data consumers, but this announcement marks the first time it has actually detailed what those restrictions are.

The not-so-unlimited-tariffs on AT&T's 3G HSPA+ network are capped at 3GB while 4G LTE users get an extra 2GB, the company said in an announcement (summarized below). Smartphone users with an unlimited 3G or 4G data plan:

  • You'll receive a text when your usage nears 3GB in one billing cycle.
  • If you exceed 3GB, your speeds will be reduced for the rest of that cycle.
  • The next time you exceed 3GB, your speeds will be reduced sans warning.
  • Folks with a 4G LTE unlimited plan are soft capped at 5GB instead of 3GB.

AT&T says the changes are required due to ever-increasing mobile data usage and the availability of the wireless spectrum becoming scarcer. The caps purportedly ensure the best possible mobile broadband experience for all users.

The caps are unlikely to affect 95 percent of AT&T users, while the remaining 5 percent will still be able to consume data beyond the soft caps -- albeit slower than usual.




User Comments: 52

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Raswan Raswan said:

Everyone knows this is BS. But that's ok AT&T, because we know you're hurting after the failed merger.

Butch said:

3GB? Jeez. What are you people doing that you need more than this on your phone? If you are using more than 3GB/mo on your phone then you should really step back and look at your life. Maybe you are missing out...

vlad4861 said:

I dont have home internet, instead, Im using my cell data to tether to my laptop when I'm at home...I m not a big video gamer and don't download too much, so 2 gig is enough for me...but it's so easy to exceed it with constant browsing and one movie a week butch

Captain828 Captain828 said:

The problem here isn't about the 3GB limit being to harsh or not, but that it applies to an unlimited data plan.

In my view, this isn't an unlimited plan if they limit it and sounds like a very foul move against an unsuspecting customer that doesn't read the fine print.

Butch said:

vlad4861 said:

I dont have home internet, instead, Im using my cell data to tether to my laptop when I'm at home...I m not a big video gamer and don't download too much, so 2 gig is enough for me...but it's so easy to exceed it with constant browsing and one movie a week butch

Got it. I never even considered tethering. If you are tethering then I can see where this limit would be a problem.

Guest said:

Atleast its better than what Verizon gives you.

Sprint FTW

Guest said:

@butch :

Some of us use our phones to stream movies and music. My data usage is almost 8gb/month and I barely touch my phone.

killeriii said:

captain828 said:

The problem here isn't about the 3GB limit being to harsh or not, but that it applies to an unlimited data plan.

Agreed, false advertising.

Guest said:

an unlimited plan that is capped. wait. what?

mccartercar said:

Guest said:

an unlimited plan that is capped. wait. what?

The "unlimited" refers to data, not bandwidth.

Guest said:

Take a step back and look at why you don't have a live maybe.

Guest said:

Like mccartercar said. its related to data not the bandwith. They're only slowing it down, and 3gb is a lot. imagine why only 5 % are affected, and some of those are using it for tethering or watching movies. By doing this, ATT is making sure the rest vast majority are getting good speeds and are not affected.

Guest said:

The bigger concern is what happens 2-3 years from now as online apps and interactions become more costly from a data total point? When always on tech becomes the norm? The same is true for home internet as well as cellular. They aren't dumb and would rather placate 95% of people now, knowing that they can stiff 50% later.

Guest said:

For the people who think 3 GB is plenty, you guys do know that other people have more serious uses for their devices than watching stupid viral videos, right? For business and travel, they are immensely useful for tethering.

Guest said:

That amount of data isn't even one full DVD ... if AT&T can't handle the increased need for data, we need to find someone who can ...

Guest said:

Didn't someone once say that 128KB of ram was all a desktop computer would ever need? People who dismiss the thought that someone may actually need more then 3GB, obviously don't understand that some actually have a good reason. From past experience with similar matters, I'd be willing to bet that it affects more than 5% of users, also.

Guest said:

If they cap it at 3GB of data a month, I can do with a lot cheaper plan by another carrier, bye, bye AT&T!

Guest said:

Yep, time to switch carriers ... we need future thinking companies to give our business to. And, these companies need to concentrate on expanding the data allowed, not going backwards!

Guest said:

The point isn't the amount. The point is that it's wrong for them to pull in a bunch of customers with "unlimited data" and change the deal afterwards.

Guest said:

Watch an Etopia News video of Jane Foody explaining why she's using change.org to petition AT&T to stop throttling the "unlimited" data on the cell phone plan she's paying for, at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUfGTIixOlc

Guest said:

Instead of subscribing to satellite radio in my car, I subscribe to an "unlimited" data plan and stream Internet radio through my car instead. It's higher quality, and has a better selection of music. Just streaming radio in the car each day I have already reached 3.8GB this month. And that doesn't include navigation or VOIP calls or e-mail. It's quite easy to go above 3GB. Has nothing to do with not having a life.

If my ISP at home tried this crap, I'd drop them immediately. Unfortunately AT&T still has the best data speeds and best plans for me. :/

Guest said:

well obviously people in the remote areas with no easy internet use their phone as their internet to play youtube or netflix etc. 3GB could be gone through on a weekend night easily.

Guest said:

Screw AT and T. Back in July I got a letter and text stating I was tethering. I was not. I went on vacation and finally had an opportunity to use my IPHONE for what I bought it for and what they advertised it as....A SMART PHONE! You can watch Netflix, Stream music, email, connect to your home computer, use this app and on and on. Well I watched movies in the airport, youtubed...watch movies at my relatives house with a cable hooked to TV...it was cool.

That month I used for the first time....2.3 GIGS. All other months before always around 1.1 or less gigs. They began to send me text and letters every other day until I had enough and switched to T-Mobile. Got an HTC AMAZE with unlimited text and talk for 59 bucks and 10 gigs of data for 60 bucks which include tethering. I am tethering right now on my iPad and my HTC AMAZE is charging in my patrol car. Sorry AT and T. Rather pay someone else for what you were trying to steal from me.

Good bye, whish I had never met you.

Look forward to the class action lawsuit. I will sign my name on it.

UNLIMITED MEANS UNLIMITED.

Guest said:

"The "unlimited" refers to data, not bandwidth."

wrong.. if you are only allowed to download 3-5 gb's of data then it is a cap on data. capping ones bandwidth would be only allowing you to download at a certain speed all of the time.

other than that ridiculousness.. broadband isp's, and cell providers are the only service companies in the world that for some reason can get away with punishing their customers for using the service in a way that the companies advertised it to be used as.

MMO gaming companies wouldn't be able to get away with cutting you off for the rest of the month because you are enjoying their game too much. however also MMO companies tend to invest in increasing capacity when demand increases.

Guest said:

Why does the FCC let them call the plan unlimited if it has some arbitrary cap?

Guest said:

ATT - Always Talking Trash (you may get up to 3gig, just like you may get up to 18mbs speed, but it never gets higher then 8mbs.

Guest said:

Just streaming radio in the car each day I have already reached 3.8GB this month.

How in the world does one use 3.8GB in 3 days just from streaming audio??? If it's a 128kbps stream, that's about 70 hours of streaming. Are you sitting in your car listening to radio 24 hours a day or something?

Guest said:

Also, if you use netflix or other TV-based programs during work-outs on running/elliptical machines, it's very easy to use that allotment.

Guest said:

he said each day, not 3 days. i assume he means for the entire month.

treetops treetops said:

@butch some people download games and movies.... not everyone has a desktop with their smartphone

yeah 3gig is laughable think if your local isp did this there would be riots

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

mccartercar said:

Guest said:

an unlimited plan that is capped. wait. what?

The "unlimited" refers to data, not bandwidth.

Just what exactly is going to use all this bandwidth if not data?

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Maybe AT&T should charge Internet service, for all those using their phone as such. Do you honestly think you can drop your Internet service and use your mobile phone to take up the slack without catching a backlash from the mobile phone company?

I'm happy high bandwidth users are being capped. I'm happy traffic is being throttled. Why am I happy? I'm happy because it will help keep the price down for those who don't use much bandwidth and help keep cellular traffic regulated.

I do agree with the unlimited bit, if they can't give unlimited service they should drop the title.

Didou Didou, Bowtie extraordinair!, said:

They should change the name. We have data caps here too on mobile Internet but at least they don't pretend it's unlimited.

Btw for those talking about tethering, doesn't AT&T add extra bandwidth (something like an extra 2GB on 3G) if you have a tethering plan? Or are you tethering without an official tethering option?

Guest said:

This is the MichelTellorization of USA.

Guest said:

i assume he means for the entire month.

Why would you assume that when he specifically said, "I have already reached 3.8GB this month." This month is only 3 days old.

Jibberish18 said:

You guys are kidding yourselves if you think 3 GB is a lot. Just streaming music 5 days a week for example for a couple or few hours at a time is more than 1 GB. Pop in Mobile Vids from time to time and you're getting close. I personally don't use that much but I'm not arguing that. Also, the term "Unlimited" should NEVER be used unless it's by the definition. I've been arguing this for years and I don't know WHY the FCC or whoever allows them to use it. I'm surprised there aren't any lawsuits yet.

Tygerstrike said:

Only Sprint has "Unlimited". What AT&T define as unlimited makes me laugh. Try and call their customer service line and ask them to explain it sometime. Its worth the wait just to hear them squirm a bit lol.

Sarcasm Sarcasm said:

butch said:

3GB? Jeez. What are you people doing that you need more than this on your phone? If you are using more than 3GB/mo on your phone then you should really step back and look at your life. Maybe you are missing out...

Seriously? Just because YOU don't use it, automatically everyone who does doesn't have a life?

It's called having children who won't quiet down unless they watch something on youtube, it's called watching a video while waiting 3 hours at the DMV, it's called downloading apps, updates, go on the internet and more. People have their uses, it doesn't mean they don't have a life.

2GB fills up quick, 3GB isn't much more.

YOU need to step back and look at your own life Mr. "Think I'm better than everyone else"

Guest said:

its called playing mobile online games...

treetops treetops said:

infinity>3gb

no one likes being lied too

Guest said:

well is funny they call unlimited to a Data plan that in fact is limited... so they are liars.. simple like that... false advertising

Guest said:

"The "unlimited" refers to data, not bandwidth. "

Yes, just like this news story says. It would also be a problem if it were vice versa. It is because of this that it's not unlimited. That's the problem unless it were actually advertised for what it is....LIMITED.

Guest said:

you could have access to all the data in the world, but if the bandwidth is too slow then there is no point now is there?

Guest said:

So if they drop the rate down to 300 baud they can still say it's an unlimited plan. Obviously AT&T is misleading people. That's what companies tend to do to get your money these days. There was a day when companies tried to provide a great service and received payment for it. Now it seems companies treat people like sheep and attempt to herd them in by using legal but misleading statements so they can extract money from them.

Guest said:

It was Bill Gates who said users will never need more than 640K.

Naturally, this statement backfired on him. Much later in a different press conference he asked the press members what was Microsoft known for? He was prompting for a Windows related response. Someone quiped. "The 640K barrier!".

He did not like that answer. {|-p

-Tron3

Guest said:

4 NetFlix movies on my Ipad and I'm done for the month...Money grubbin bastards!

Guest said:

Sprint for the win.

Guest said:

notice the sprint adds on the right side of this page lolz

Guest said:

Read that AT&T indicated users can't launch class action suit because of throttled data. But enough victimized users complaining to the federal government for fairness just might get AT&T's attention. Especially if the federal government, already suffering from severe lack of revenue, hints at sanctions and/or fines totaling hundreds of millions of dollars for deceiving and luring the American public into contracts that were vague and misleading. It wouldn't be the first time the Feds levied enormous fines against those big bad billion dollar companies all in the name of justice.

AtaliaA1 said:

I am interested in knowing what Netflix and Hulu are doing about the caps. Even Oregin and Steam have to make a stand against this or their business model is out the door. Seems they are applying a wait and see attitude to this when they should be at the forefront of this issue.

A bill in cogress to stop this? Wow Legislating morality is soo sooooo sad for America and its Corperate Economy.

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