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Heaviest AT&T smartphone data users to see data speeds reduced

AT&T announced July 29 that it may begin reducing data throughput speed to the top 5 percent of its heaviest data users as part of its efforts to manage burgeoning demand for mobile data.

According to a company announcement (opens in new tab), customers falling into this highest mobile data use group on average use 12 times more data than the average of other smartphone data customers. The move does not apply to the 15 million AT&T smartphone customers on a tiered data plan nor to most smartphone customers who still have unlimited data plans.

Streaming video apps, remote Web camera apps, uploading large data files like video and some online gaming as well as streaming music daily over a wireless network can ratchet up data use and may push a customer into the top 5 percent category. The company pointed out that users of its Wi-Fi network do not contribute to the wireless network congestion.

The new data throttling will begin Oct. 1 for AT&T customers with unlimited data plans. Customers will experience reduced data transfer speeds once they reach a level that pushes them into the top 5 percent of heaviest data users. Unlimited transfers will continue to be available, although at a reduced speed, and speeds will be restored with the beginning of the next billing cycle.

The heaviest data users on unlimited plans have the option of switching to a tiered usage plan that will let them avoid reduced speeds in exchange for paying for more data, the company said.

One aim of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan is to free up spectrum to meet future demand for wireless broadband service. TV broadcast spectrum has been identified as the source of 120MHz of spectrum to meet the goals of the plan.

In announcing the change, AT&T said that “nothing short” of wrapping up its T-Mobile merger “will provide additional spectrum capacity to address these near term challenges.”

Editor’s note: This edition’s Sound Off interview with Danny Wilson, president and CEO of Pixelmetrix, explores the growing feeling among some Telcos that a change is necessary to accommodate growing data use by OTT pay-TV and movie subscribers.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.