T-Mobile CEO Plays Data Traffic Cop

John Legere says he will go after those customers who abuse unlimited data plans by exploiting loopholes in tethering, kicking them off unlimited if need be.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

August 31, 2015

3 Min Read
T-Mobile CEO Plays Data Traffic Cop

T-Mobile CEO John Legere is declaring war on a new enemy: so-called data network abusers who are "stealing data from T-Mobile."

The outspoken T-Mobile US Inc. boss announced his plan of attack in an open letter Monday, saying that the carrier is "going after a small group of users who are stealing data so blatantly and extremely that it is ridiculous."

These users, who make up only 1/100th of a percent of T-Mobile's 59 million customers, are using as much as 2 terabytes, or 2,000GB, of LTE data by exploiting loopholes in the carrier's Smartphone Mobile HotSpot feature. This group of about 6,000 people is on unlimited LTE plans, primarily on Android phones, and are stretching T-Mobile's free tethering feature beyond the additional 7GB of monthly hotspot data it offers.

Legere writes, "However, these violators are going out of their way with all kinds of workarounds to steal more LTE tethered data. They're downloading apps that hide their tether usage, rooting their phones, writing code to mask their activity, etc. They are 'hacking' the system to swipe high speed tethered data. These aren't naive amateurs; they are clever hackers who are willfully stealing for their own selfish gain."

The end result could wind up being a degraded wireless experience for the rest of T-Mobile's LTE customers, Legere says. Starting today, T-Mobile plans to alert the first 3,000 customers it has identified as abusers that they'll be kicked off their unlimited plans if the behavior continues.

For more on LTE traffic management and data issues, visit the dedicated 4G LTE content section here on Light Reading.

All of the wireless operators include language in the fine print of their service plans that allows them to reduce speeds, discontinue service or otherwise limit those extreme data users on their LTE networks, whether they are on an unlimited plan or capped options. Even Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), which positions itself as the champion of unlimited, has this type of language. (See Sprint Tweaks Unlimited Data Rules in Best Buy Plan and Sprint Drops Prices, But Also Speeds?)

By publicly declaring war on these extreme users, the T-Mobile boss is hoping to rally consumers behind his cause. There's been a lot of backlash in the past when carriers throttled data on so-called unlimited plans. The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have even gotten involved in more than one occasion, levying fines on offending carriers. (See FTC Slaps AT&T With Throttling Lawsuit, Verizon Nixes LTE Throttling After Backlash and FCC Boss 'Disturbed' By Verizon Throttling .)

Legere says this is not the same issue. T-Mobile has even included extensive FAQs in the name of transparency and to head off some expected complaints, like it's doing this to extract more money from its unlimited customers.

"These abusers will probably try to distract everyone by waving their arms about throttling data," Legere writes. "Make no mistake about it -- this is not the same issue. Don't be duped by their sideshow."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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