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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

AT&T will put the brakes on heavy data users with unlimited accounts, beginning Oct. 1



at-t-logo.jpgRemember those coveted, unlimited data plans many people have had on AT&T after being grandfathered-in last year when they stopped offering unlimited plans? We have three of those accounts on three iPhone 4s in the Gadget Guy household and it's been great to know we wouldn't have to worry about extra data charges. Well, we still don't but we may be losing some speed.

Last week AT&T announced they may be down-throttling heavy data users on unlimited data accounts if their data use places them in the top 5 percent during a billing period. The compete press releases is here, and an excerpt is below:

Like other wireless companies, we're taking steps to manage exploding demand for mobile data.  Many experts agree the country is facing a serious wireless spectrum crunch.  We're responding on many levels, including investing billions in our wireless network this year and working to acquire additional network capacity.  We're also taking additional, more immediate measures to help address network congestion.

Starting October 1, smartphone customers with unlimited data plans may experience reduced speeds once their usage in a billing cycle reaches the level that puts them among the top 5 percent of heaviest data users.  These customers can still use unlimited data and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle.  Before you are affected, we will provide multiple notices, including a grace period.

So what does this mean for you? Probably nothing! To reach the data levels they're referring to you would have to stream a lot of video or music, have weekly 2-hour Skype video calls to someone in Europe or play a lot of online games. Even if you use Facebook, Words with Friends and text people all day you don't have to worry about being a "heavy data user."

One thing you can do is use WiFi whenever you can to ease the data load on the 3G and 4G network. This saves bandwidth on your account and helps the network for those who can't use WiFi. AT&T smartphone customers have unlimited access to more than 26,000 WiFi hotspots, at no additional cost and you can also tap into free WiFi at places like Starbucks, Panera and McDonalds.

Of course the paradox of this is that the smartphone companies keep giving us more reasons to use a bunch of bandwidth. With streaming video and audio, online gaming and now, cloud storage of our photos and music files, individual bandwidth usage will continue to increase and that means we all will have to pay more if we want to play. It's just a matter of time.

One note about the timing of AT&T's information has surfaced saying the iPhone 5 and possibly a less-expensive iPhone will now launch in October. Coincidence? If AT&T anticipates a spike in their iPhone user base because of new products from Apple in October, they may be making this move to better manage a data pipe that could be clogged with increased traffic. It kind of makes sense, doesn't it?

[Last modified: Monday, August 1, 2011 2:14pm]


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