The unlimited data user on AT&T’s network might be a dying breed. The carrier stopped offering unlimited data to its smartphone users way back in 2009, but for those who still have access to unlimited plans, things might be a lot more limited than they appear.
AT&T announced back in October that it planned to “throttle” data usage for unlimited data users after they broke 2 gigabytes in monthly data usage. That means AT&T will slow your connection after you hit the 2GB mark, limiting how much more data you can use for the month.
There are plenty of iPhone users that still have access to unlimited data plans, even though AT&T has since eliminated unlimited data from its plan options. The carrier reworked its tiered system a few years ago, but iPhone users who were already on the unlimited data plan were “grandfathered in” and allowed to keep it indefinitely. If those users made a change to their data plan, like backing it down, they would lose the option to go back to unlimited data. But as long as they kept paying for it, AT&T allowed those users to keep their unlimited data.
Except with the throttling, it’s not so unlimited anymore. Back when it announced the throttling, AT&T noted that it would affect only about 5 percent of unlimited data users: those at the top of the spectrum. As MacRumors notes, initial reports suggested that AT&T was focusing on the heaviest data users and starting to throttle those who were using in excess of 10GB per month. However, it seems the threshold for throttling being brought down considerably lower, and more in line with other carriers like Virgin Mobile, which throttles users once they break about 2.5GB of monthly usage.
Not every unlimited data user is necessarily going to run up against throttling after 2GB of usage, it seems. According to MacRumors’ report, throttling appears to be decided by region, and which users are throttled actually has more to do with how much data they use in relation to other users in that area than how much they use in total. According to one report, 2.1GB of data usage by one user put him in the top 5 percent of data users in his region, which resulted in a throttled connection. In other areas, using better than 3GB of data still hadn’t resulted in throttling.
But 2GB can seem a little low, especially given that AT&T offers a 3GB data plan for $30 per month, as well as a 5GB monthly plan for $50. It’s probably safe to say that AT&T would rather users get off the unlimited plan, and the top 5 percent excuse is a good one to encourage users to find a different monthly plan. Unfortunately for unlimited data plan subscribers, that means you might be stuck getting throttled if you live in a region where most users aren’t pulling down a lot of data. You could always “upgrade” to one of AT&T’s other plans, but it’ll cost.