AT&T ups 'unlimited' 3G throttling cap to 3GB

When users reach that limit in a month, they'll be throttled back to 2G speeds until their next billing cycle begins

AT&T said today that it will give its "unlimited" 3G data customers up to 3GB of 3G data per month before it knocks them down to the much slower 2G speeds.

In an update on the company's support page for its customers with legacy "unlimited" data plans, AT&T said that "unlimited" 3G data customers who exceed 3GB of data per month will be subject to having their connection speeds dropped down to 2G speeds. Additionally, AT&T said any customers who had "unlimited" 4G LTE data plans would only be knocked down to lower speeds if they exceeded 5GB of data per month. AT&T said that just 5 percent of users exceed 3GB per month on its 3G network, and the same percentage of users exceed 5GB per month on its 4G LTE network.

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BACKGROUND: AT&T users report getting throttled at 2GB despite "unlimited" data plans

MORE INFO: New AT&T smartphone and tablet plans pricier but offer more data

AT&T also said users will receive text messages from the carrier letting them know when they're approaching their limits for both 3G and 4G data consumption and that users whose connectivity was slowed because they exceeded their monthly data allotment would see their connection speeds go back to normal at the end of the billing cycle.

For customers who always find themselves going over their 3G or 4G data limits, AT&T provided three suggestions: Use a Wi-Fi connection to get faster data speeds without accessing one of AT&T's networks, put up with slower speeds once you've exceeded your monthly limit, or switch to one of AT&T's tiered data plans. AT&T's tiered data plans include a 3GB option that costs $30 a month and a 5GB option that costs $50 a month. Customers that exceed their monthly data limits on those tiered plans are charged $10 per extra gigabyte they consume.

AT&T's new announcement for its "unlimited" 3G and 4G data plans comes after many "unlimited" data users have reported getting knocked down to slower connections despite just using as little as 2GB of data per month. Although AT&T offers only tiered data plans to new customers, older customers who were on the carrier's legacy "unlimited" data plans have had their plans grandfathered in, meaning they can still consume an "unlimited" amount of data per month without paying any overage fees.

The wireless industry has been moving away from all-you-can-eat data plans and toward tiered service plans for the past couple of years. AT&T got the ball rolling on wireless data caps in 2010 when it announced it was dropping unlimited data plans for the iPhone in favor of plans that offered between 200MB and 2GB of data consumption per month. It also began limiting those "unlimited" plans through throttling. Verizon Wireless shortly followed suit by saying it would implement a similar pricing scheme for its 4G LTE services that launched commercially in December 2010, and T-Mobile last year said it would start throttling 3G users down to 2G speeds if they exceeded data consumption caps. Sprint is currently the only mobile carrier that offers users unlimited data plans for smartphones, although the carrier does now impose data caps for devices such as tablets that are likely to use greater amounts of data.

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This story, "AT&T ups 'unlimited' 3G throttling cap to 3GB" was originally published by Network World.