Research shows wireless carriers charge for data you never receive

By on September 14, 2012, 4:30 PM

A new study suggests that wireless carriers might be overcharging customers for monthly data usage. It’s an important study now more than ever since many wireless providers are moving away from unlimited data plans as a direct result of the increase popularity of smartphones in the US.

A team of researchers led by PhD researcher Chunyi Peng monitored two unnamed mobile providers in the US. Peng wouldn’t reveal the identity of the carriers but said collectively, they account for half of all US wireless subscribers. They used a data-logging app on Android handsets to measure how much data use each carrier was recording.

The researchers discovered that carriers usually counted data correctly but they tend to overestimate usage. Even with typical use, data use could be inflated by five to seven percent. This was particularly evident when streaming video or audio and when phones were used in areas with poor coverage.

Data overages, of course, could ultimately lead to excess charges for the customer in the event they were already on the edge of going over the limit on their data plan. For reference, both AT&T and Verizon charge customers $15 per extra gigabyte of data used. Their research found they were billed for 450MB of data that ultimately was never received.

The problem is that providers charge for data the minute it leaves their network regardless of whether or not the customer receives it. For example, if you’re streaming a video or music on your phone and briefly pass through a no-coverage zone, you’ll still be charged for that data despite the fact your handset never received it.

Peng said it should be easy enough for carriers to tweak their system but they might not believe they are responsible for doing so.

User Comments: 9

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Tygerstrike said:

I also know Verizon does this as well. A buddy of mine downloaded a 20g patch for his PC game and was charged for 21g. When he called out Verizon on it, they gave him the run around. It wasnt untill he threatend to contact the FCC and retain a lawyer was anything done about it. The sad part was they MADE him disconnect his mifi device untill they resolved the issue and it was over a month and a half till it was resolved. So he had no internet during that time.

Guest said:

The article say the over charge occur especially on video streaming. Video streaming is udp it is a connectionless protocol. Udp sends packets and does not check if you receive it or not. Does not know of dropped packets. So is there a chance that it seems to over charge for that reason. The packet is sent but not received. So thus the skew in metrics between the metrics app on the phone and the metrics from the wireless.

Analysis by Robert Fried computer forensics professional.

1 person liked this | Guest said:

You can not possibly expect us advanced users to buy that someone would download a file that is exactly 20 gigs. That is impossible. it may have bin one bit over and then you are in the next gig. Now the question is how far in that 21 gig are we talking to be able to assess if Verison was wrong. When you claim this you have to give exact number, otherwise you come across as not credible source. Also this over issue counts if you have a 20 gig limit and you are over that. Also depends on the contract. Wether you get charged per gig base and not meg. If it is meg then it is not ok but gig it should be fine. Many people are stringent today though. And if you get charged $5 per gig would you throw a fit and have them turn of your internet while fighting for $5. So more info always better when you are trying to convince us how bad Verizon is. May not be so.

Khanonate said:

Hmmmm, the person above me is somehow connected with Verizon.

1 person liked this | Tygerstrike said:

Im not trying to put Verizon in a bad light. Simply showing that Verizon does this as well. Also Verizon not only admitted they had a software issue that incorrectly tabulated his gig usage. They also payed for two months of free service. Im simply educating. Youre pontificating.

TJGeezer said:

Phone companies have operated that way since long before mobile phones arrived for consumers. Back in the days of message units, people who logged their phone usage routinely discovered overcharges and the phone companies never bothered to dispute them. Such careful logging never seemed worth the trouble to me, though I was quite aware mine was the attitude the phone company counted on. Like miscounted change that always favors the store, it ain't accidental, it's policy. Plus ša change and all that.

mevans336 mevans336 said:

I also know Verizon does this as well. A buddy of mine downloaded a 20g patch for his PC game and was charged for 21g.

All carriers round up to the next GB, even if you only go over by a single byte. So if that patch was 20,000,000,001 bytes, they round it up to 21,000,000,000 bytes, or 21GB.

Trillionsin Trillionsin said:

Wasnt there an article like this about AT&T? Didnt they have some lawsuits or something, too?

...just making my typical pointless comment.

Guest said:

A few years ago I worked at a larger international company. We were contacted by an outside company that would review our phone bills at no cost to us and take a percentage of any reimburstments that we got back for any billing errors the phone company made. We brought them in and we still saved a lot of money. That just shows you how bad phone company billing is, that a company can exist and make money simply correcting phone billing errors.

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