September 27, 2012 at 10:56 am

When AT&T Throttles Your ‘Unlimited’ Data Plan

att data limit 3gb 5gb

Keeping an unlimited AT&T data plan alive requires not only having been an early smartphone adopter, but also an obsessive attention to detail and the ability to resist the impulse to, say, tether your laptop to your smartphone’s data connection — even in a work emergency.

If you do that even once, you lose your unlimited data plan forever. And neither AT&T nor Verizon will sell you a new one. Instead, you’ll need to join the poor, huddled masses on tiered data plans, who have to watch what they listen to, download, read, and so on.

Typically, I do email, the web, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr (with lots of image uploading), and some streaming of music and the WTF podcast. I don’t listen to anything while I commute, because I ride a bicycle 13 miles roundtrip in New York City each weekday, and I don’t need the added distraction, because that ride is scary enough as things stand. Could it have been the Spotify playlists I set to sync? Even though I tried to do that over WiFi, and I think the app actually stopped the syncing over 3G?

Regardless of how it happened, I managed to hit AT&T’s limit of 3GB for the month of September, even though I signed up for an unlimited plan, and have resisted tethering and other new features in order to keep that unlimited data plan alive. Which sometimes feels like I’m walking through the wilderness, trying to keep an ember burning, like Survivorman with a smartphone.

If you buy a new iPhone, it gets even worse.

Next month, I guess when I get this message, I just have to power off my phone for the rest of the month. That will be fun.

Anyway, here’s the message you’ll receive, if, like me, you are unlucky enough to be lucky enough to have an unlimited data plan, and you like to use it:


Full text:

ATT Free Msg: Your data iusage has reached 3GB this month. Using more than 3GB in future billing cycles will result in reduced speeds. You can use Wi-Fi to help avoid reduced speeds. Visit or call 866-344-7584 for more info.

And here’s AT&T’s official explanation of this chicanery:

Do you have an unlimited data plan? If so, we have information to help you manage your account if you use more than 3GB, which means you are in the top 5% of data users in our network. If you have a 4G LTE Smartphone with monthly data usage over 5GB, you’ll also be interested in this information. You can check your usage for this month by dialing *data# on your mobile phone.

If you have one of our tiered data plans, this information will not affect you.

Background: In response to soaring mobile broadband usage and the limited availability of wireless spectrum, we implemented a network management program back in 2011 to help ensure the best possible mobile broadband experience for all of our customers.

Yeah. Thanks a lot.

Regardless of what plan you’re on, if you’re a music fan, you might enjoy (by which we mean “be horrified by”) our calculations of how much music you can listen to each month.