Broadband Throttling - Watch Out!
Broadband throttling has now entrenched itself in not only the prepaid
wireless market, but in the entire wireless and fixed broadband
industry overall. While some people are crystal clear about
what it means and how it works, many customers, dealers, and so-called
experts, are still either confused, or have seen or devised seemingly
deceptive communication and marketing practices around throttling.
This page seeks to provide all the background and details
you'll need to fully understand this topic to become a well-informed
What Is Throttling?
The dictionary definition of a "throttle" is "a valve that regulates
the flow of fluid, or to regulate the speed of an engine." As
a noun, "throttling" can be described as "the act suffocating someone
by constricting the windpipe." Either way, these descriptions
create a clear visual of the intent of the action! While
are no doubt thousands of applications around the world where this
would be a positive action (too much liquid or power in certain cases
would be dangerous!), it generally does communicate something
undesirable, and in the world of wireless broadband speeds, it's most
negative "feature" that customers generally do not want to
What Is Broadband Throttling?
This is where wireless providers will give you a specific amount of
data for use over a specific period of time, and most critically, at a
particular speed (ex. 2.5GB of 4G data each month). If you
use up your data allowance within the specified period of time, you'll
be throttled to a lesser speed. 4G plans will take you down
to 3G, and usually even lower down to 2G or even 1X speeds.
This throttling capability was initially only invented and
used for customers who were considered abusers. These are
people who are using 10 or 20 times the allocated (or expected) usage,
greater for people on unlimited plans. However, with
smartphones, tablets, and a whole slew of data hungry mobile
broadband devices, throttling has become a concern for even
the average user.
Why Do Wireless Carriers Throttle?
Historically, carriers would only slow down broadband speeds for users
on unlimited plans who were simply using so much data, that a small
percentage of these types of abusers actually impacted network
capacity (i.e. how much bandwidth, hardware, spectrum, etc.) carriers
need to purchase and maintain to serve the needs of their customers.
wireless broadband networks cost a lot (in the billions!), cutting down
on such people allows carriers to keep prices reasonable for 99.99% of
The current landscape, however, no longer relates solely to abusers.
Smartphones proliferation, and data hungry apps like media
streaming, online gaming, picture and video uploading to social media,
etc., have resulted in the average user consuming a lot more data than
ever before. Thus, even reasonable usage of the average
non-abuser has real network capacity constraint considerations.
This is why we also see carriers embarrassing, and even
actively promoting WiFi usage as it offloads data from their cellular
networks. An interesting historical factoid: Sprint
used to be so against customers using WiFi as they saw it as lost data
revenue opportunity, that they launched a special version of the Palm
Pre without WiFi. It's interesting how the tables have turned!
Why Is Broadband Throttling Good?
Based on the above details, this is good for the average customer,
because it allows us to get reasonably priced plans that allow carriers
to remain profitable, and to continue to support good service.
Without this type of protection, plan prices would no doubt
have to be increased.
Why Is It Bad?
Throttling has become a issue of concern for the average customer as
the limits are no longer 10 or 20 times what most people would be
using. Limits are now more in the range of what we would use
on a average monthly basis. Carriers will tell you that it
doesn't affect most people, however, our appetite for data has
while data limits have decreased. The trick here is offering
plans with reasonable high speed data limits
that don't intrude on the average user's experience, including offering
reasonably priced plans with higher data allowances for those who want
What's The Market Doing?
This is the interesting part! Prepaid carriers in particular
set the market on fire by offering unlimited voice, text, and data.
This translated from basic feature phones to smartphones, and
then to mobile broadband (ex. USB modems and mobile hotspots).
As device capability increased, and services like Netflix and
streaming TV were brought to smartphones and tablets, carriers realized
that truly unlimited data plans wouldn't allow for long term
profitability. So they introduced throttling.
The issue was that carriers were still advertising unlimited plans,
with the high speed data limit in small print. This
ultimately caused consumer backlash, and that marketing tactic is
largely done now. Most carriers now clearly market each
plan's high speed data allowance, noting that thereafter data speeds
will be limited (i.e. throttled). Interestingly, some
carriers are dabbling back into the unlimited high speed data realm as
an attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition.
You'll find, however, that these plans are much more
reasonably priced (from a carrier perspective) that allows them to
maintain profitability. We all want t great deal, however, if
good carriers can't be profitable, competition will ultimately suffer
in the long run.
Conclusion - What To Watch Out For
Generally speaking, broadband throttling is a bad experience.
It's not just about streaming content not working, but even
browsing the Internet, and completing simple tasks will prove to be
painful given how most carriers are managing their throttling policies.
Sure, you'll still have data, which is the most frustrating
marketing scam (yet technically fully legal). However, now we
need to have a better understanding of our data usage needs.
So, keep these things in mind when choosing a prepaid
wireless broadband plan:
- Use carrier tools to monitor your data so you get on the
right plan. On prepaid you won't get nasty overage bills,
however, you don't want to end up dead in the water with lame, slow
data speeds, resulting in an increasing desire to toss your wireless
gadget at a wall!
- Take note of carriers' data bundle options. You
want to select a carrier that has a number of reasonable price points,
so you can buy up to a larger full speed broadband bundle if you find
you're on the wrong plan, or your usage changes over time.
While prepaid means no contract, having invested a lot of
money in a fancy smartphone, you're not going to just jump ship to
another carrier if they don't support Bring
Your Own Device (BYOD).
- Keep your eye out for data bundle add-ons.
Classically, prepaid carriers require you to buy a new month
of service to get a new bucket of data. In other words, if
you've used up your 2.5GB of high speed data on the 15th day of the
month, you'd have to pay another $55 (for example) for a completely new
month of service (i.e. you'd lose 15 days of service!).
However, prepaid wireless carriers started offering extra
data bundle add-ons that can be added to your plan in the
existing month to allow you to get additional high speed data.
For example, $10 for an extra 1GB of highspeed data that
would be valid for the remainder of the month, and in some cases it
even has its own expiration timeframe; 90 days for example.
So, all-in-all, be aware of your needs, what's available, your options
for changing your plan, and don't be fooled by deceptive marketing
practices! Also, keep your eyes open for "un-throttled"
marketing messages. However, don't be fooled by over-paying
for un-throttled plans, which may exceed your actual data needs.
No doubt, it's the wild wild west out there!