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

COMMENTS Add Comment
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MikeP688 9/12/2015 | 8:33:32 PM
Re: So new? In some ways, this is what one gets when the players become less and less and the choice become less and less.    I am w/you in that it is just a P/R stunt that the T-Mobile CEO is good at that has thru the sheer tenacity of his personality has caused him to still remain a player.   What I do wonder, though, is how is he going to navigate thru the new normal that Apple created when it said it would go into the "Direct" Phone business.    
kq4ym 9/12/2015 | 7:56:19 PM
Re: So new? With such a minute percentage of "abusers" one might guess that T-Mobile is really just throwing a PR scare into the rest of us. Playing up the cheat card, so that they can at some point throttle big time or raise the rates on so called "unlimited"?
MikeP688 8/31/2015 | 5:47:50 PM
Re: So new? They can basically "kick 'em out"-becuase the way T&C's are done are so one sided that the 3K people can be dealt with--but of course there is then the FCC.     At some stage, there is going to be a "crasH'--and already netflix seems to be suffering headwinds too.....
mendyk 8/31/2015 | 5:30:15 PM
Re: "Unlimited" abusers. Completely agree -- abusing resources without paying for them is just plain wrong. Or it's the Netflix business model.
Sarah Thomas 8/31/2015 | 5:29:23 PM
Re: So new? 3,000 out of 59M seems like small potatoes to me... I wonder if others in the vicinity have complained of degraded service or if it's entirely preventative/a way to get more people off unlimited. 
davidhoffman5 8/31/2015 | 5:27:02 PM
"Unlimited" abusers. This action seems to come after a period of serious technical investigation as to the root causes for some crowded towers. T-Mobile finds one user creating a significant problem for one thousand other subscribers using the same tower. But it is not normal overages. The user would be trying to hide their identity behind a quite elaborate set of masks. Removing 0.01 percent of your customers from the network to make service better might be wise in the long term. 
MikeP688 8/31/2015 | 5:23:32 PM
Re: So new? Part of success, I suppose, is to have an ego the size of the Universe as T-Mobile's CEO has certainly proven it with his gusto over the past few years.    I am sure Mr. Trump will eventually have to be held to account for his actions.   There is no issues with failure--and America is about 2nd & 3rd Chances.    

MikeP688 8/31/2015 | 5:21:22 PM
Re: So new? Here is how I'd look at it:  If 3K people are that "taxing" on the T-Mobile system, then he's got more problems that he cares to admit.     
mendyk 8/31/2015 | 5:19:11 PM
Re: So new? Yes, but his ability to maintain his somewhat inherited fortune through no fewer than four business bankruptcies is pretty remarkable.
Sarah Thomas 8/31/2015 | 5:17:59 PM
Re: So new? It's probably not. I was being sarcastic because it would appear the 3,000 people Legere is going after are tethering their phones to basically use it as they would their home broadband. They've exploited T-Mobile's LTE to the point that they don't need a broadband connection.
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