AT&T shifting techniques caps heavy users

If you’re a customer with AT&T and a heavy data user you’re probably in for an unpleasant surprise. The No. 2 U.S. carrier is about to cap its unlimited data plan meaning that users who download plenty of music, video and apps are likely to have to pay the price for the privilege.

In a bid to cope with web data demands AT&T has opted to effectively end its all-you-can-eat smartphone plan by putting a new monthly usage cap in place. If that limit is exceeded those subscribers will then receive much slower speeds as a penalty. In another move the company has alerted users of the most basic handsets that they will need to upgrade their phones or they may not be able to receive or make calls.

Plans for AT&T to acquire T-Mobile recently came to an end after the move was blocked so at a time when its user base is not growing as quickly as previously it’s evident from these moves that AT&T hopes to increase profits from other options. Promoting the use of higher-level smartphones and offering capped data plans are two ways of doing this. However AT&T’s stand on ending unlimited data plans is that it will improve the service to all its customers.

AT&T and Verizon have spent huge amounts maintaining networks and building news ones to cope with the demand of newer technology and Sprint and T-Mobile are also to develop 4G LTE networks. However while denting carrier profits it’s actually the manufacturer of devices using the networks that have made the most money out of them to date. AT&T made clear its intentions of optimizing profits in 2010 when it became the first of the main carriers to cease offering unlimited data plans to new subscribers. The alternative tiered contracts meant that those who used the greatest amounts of data were charged higher prices and in January prices of those plans rose by up to 33%, as reported by the WSJ.

Those who had grandfathered unlimited plans were initially relieved that they already had their $30 unlimited data plans in place but that’s all set to change with the news that download speeds will be reduced if more than 3GB a month of data is used. AT&T says that this amount equates to around 10 hours streaming of HD video. It’s all rather vague at the moment, just how much those speeds will be lessened though and spokesman Mark Siegel defended the new guidelines by saying the changes needed to be made clear so that those with unlimited plans would know when their limits had been exceeded and their downloads would be slowed.

One user who successfully sued AT&T over slowing down his speeds said that the difference was “gigantic” and worked out that his download speeds changed from 5MB per second down to 0.26MB per second. However some people have pointed out that bringing in the cap for the heaviest users is clearer and fairer than its previous policy where the top 5% of heaviest users (in individual markets) Internet downloads were slowed down. Ultimately though it means that the differences now between its capped “unlimited” plan and it’s $30 plan that charges more for over 3GB of use, is minimal.

Those who are subscribing to the new LTE network will be able to use up to 5GB of data per month under the ‘unlimited’ plan before being penalized. On unlimited family plans the limit will apply for each device. We’d really like to hear your views on these AT&T changes. Do you think unlimited really should mean unlimited, or maybe you think the changes are necessary as mobile Internet traffic grows, to give all subscribers a good service?

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