For more than a decade now wireless carriers have struggled with this rather simple definition
not limited; unrestricted; unconfined:
boundless; infinite; vast:
the unlimited skies.
without any qualification or exception; unconditional.
While carriers have long insisted they offer "unlimited" data, they go to great lengths to avoid offering said advertised product when the gluttonous masses inevitably come calling to partake in the all-you-can-eat buffet. Countless companies have had their wrists slapped for the failure to disclose that their "unlimited" plans are in fact quite limited. Verizon settled a lawsuit from NY's AG
back in 2007 for advertising capped and throttled services as unlimited. When Verizon and AT&T later ditched all unlimited plans, they both still waged a quiet war
on unlimited users, again throttling
or otherwise restricting their data consumption.
In recent years T-Mobile has taken advantage of this shift and marketed itself as one of the last companies that truly embraces unlimited data. Well, sort of. If you sign up for an unlimited T-Mobile smartphone plan, T-Mobile's website will quietly inform you
that by "unlimited" T-Mobile actually means 21 GB, after which (provided you're on a congested tower), you'll have your speeds "de-prioritized" for the remainder of your billing cycle. Customers that sign up for unlimited data are also greeted with this notice, usually down below the advertisement:
So under T-Mobile's "unlimited" plans, unlimited smartphone use may actually be somewhere around 21 GB, while data consumed when tethering the phone as a modem or hotspot is throttled after 7 GB of consumption. Now to be fair, those allotments are pretty generous. And as carriers are quick to argue, the fact that you can still use data beyond those limits (albeit at reduced speeds) still technically
means the connection is "unlimited." But the industry's still playing it a little loose with what is a clearly-defined term (I've underlined the key synonyms above if any confused carriers are reading).
For a while now, T-Mobile customers that install third-party ROMs have been able to skirt the 7GB tethering throttling limit. This has, apparently, greatly annoyed T-mobile CEO John Legere, who has taken to the company's blog to declare he's now hunting down data "thieves" for the benefit of all mankind
"...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."
According to Legere these "clever hackers" only comprise around 1/100 of a percent of the company's 59 million customers, and a few of them have been eating as much as two terabytes
a month of data. So why is T-Mobile making so much noise about a small number of customers it could easily shove to metered plans privately? T-Mobile's trying to get out ahead of media criticism for imposing limits on "unlimited" data, and to avoid the FCC's net neutrality and transparency rules by clearly stating intent (even if the T-Mobile FAQ
on the issue doesn't really offer technical specifics).
It should be noted that every ISP on the planet has to deal with a small subset of extremely heavy users. This is nothing new, and if T-Mobile had said nothing, people probably wouldn't have given a damn. But after insulting his userbase, Legere proceeds with false bravado to pretend that the perfectly ordinary practice of protecting the network from gluttons somehow makes T-Mobile an industry leader:
These abusers will probably try to distract everyone by waving their arms about throttling data. Make no mistake about it – this is not the same issue. Don’t be duped by their sideshow. We are going after every thief, and I am starting with the 3,000 users who know exactly what they are doing...I won't let a few thieves ruin things for anyone else. We’re going to lead from the front on this, just like we always do. Count on it!
Good job I guess?
To be clear: outside of its wishy-washy net neutrality stance
I like T-Mobile, and think the company has done some great things to nudge the industry forward (like killing subsidies and reducing overseas roaming costs). I also think these allotments are more than fair for the price being paid, and T-Mobile has every right to police its network, since two terabytes of mobile consumption is gluttonous by any standard. That said, acting like it's the pinnacle of "clever hacking" and villainy to modify a device you own to get a service advertised as unlimited is a tad specious and theatrical. And Legere's decision to subsequently bicker with users on Twitter for the rest of the day wasn't the "uncarrier's" finest PR hour:
Snark, fanboys and fisticuffs aside, the core of the problem continues to be the use of the word unlimited
to sell products that simply aren't. Since the first time the term was marketed it has confused the hell out of users who don't understand that in the age of finite spectrum, intelligent network management and hungry bean counters, there really is no such thing. If you're not willing to offer truly unlimited data (and frankly no spectrum-constrained wireless carrier truly
is), stop advertising unlimited data, put your next-best offer clearly on the table, and stop molesting the god-damned dictionary.