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Sprint has killed one of the few advantages it network has -- unlimited tethered data.  (Source: Paramount Pictures)
Smartphones will still be "unlimited"

Sadly the rumors of the demise of unlimited tethering data on Sprint Nextel Corp.'s (S) network are true.  The company announced via a support post that it would be making "effective beginning with your next bill following notification", which would in essence kill unlimited 3G and 4G data on tablets, wireless modems, and smartphone hot spots.

"Unlimited" has long been Sprint's big selling point and it's a selling point that the company's ads continue to harp on:  

Now -- as the carrier has long warned could happen -- a big chunk of the company's unlimited plans are about to die.  Sprint announced that it will be capping most of its existing connections at 5 GB of 3G and 4G use.  Past that, you will pay $0.05 USD per MB ($51.20 USD per GB).  When roaming on non-Sprint networks you'll only get a 300 MB allowance and will have to pay $0.25 USD per MB ($256.00 USD per GB).

New users can opt into a lower 3 GB plan or a higher 10 GB plan (and existing customers will likely be able to call and adjust their plan upwards, albeit at a premium).

Tethering add-on costs ($29.99 USD/month) for existing users will not change for the transitional 5 GB/month package.  But for new users hotspots will cost $45 USD for 3GB, $60 USD for 5GB, and $90 USD for 10GB of combined 3G/4G data.

Sprint Tethering
[Source: Sprint]

These rates are pretty horrific in that they are by far the most expensive in the industry, surpassing even Verizon Wireless's rates of $50 USD for 5GB per month or $80 USD for 10GB per month (Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc. (LON:VOD)).

Factor in that ClearWire's WiMAX network, which Sprint relies upon, is available in far less regions and is generally slower than AT&T or Verizon's LTE networks, this is looking like one horrible move for Sprint and its customers.  ClearWire and Sprint have plans to deploy LTE, but for now essentially Sprint is offering customers an inferior LTE network at the nation's highest price.

The only real saving grace for Sprint is that it adds, "Additionally, if your phone plan contains unlimited data, you will continue to enjoy unlimited data usage on your phone while on the Sprint network."

The shocking news comes shortly after Sprint acquired rights to sell the iPhone and just weeks after the company supposedly reaffirmed its commitment to unlimited data.

But if the death of unlimited tethering doesn't give Sprint customers cause to rethink their plans immediately, it most certainly will give make them pause and reconsider their subscriptions.  After all, if unlimited tethering data has been killed, Sprint's days of being the last provider to offer unlimited smartphone data are likely limited as well.

To add to the disturbing picture for Sprint subscribers, we recently exposed that Sprint was turning a blind eye to text message fraud on its network.  It claims to allow premium service messages  -- which it reportedly profits off of -- only via opt-in, but we revealed that many customers are being charged without ever opting in.

With these changes Deutsche Telekom AG's (ETR:DTE) T-Mobile USA now has the most generous tethering plan, in that it's cheaper than Sprint's new tethering plans and while capped, still allows throttled traffic past the cap.  Of course an acquisition by AT&T is looming so the good times may only roll on T-Mobile USA for a bit longer.

Source: Sprint

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Just curious, how many use tethering?
By bigdawg1988 on 10/24/2011 3:55:41 PM , Rating: 2
We need a poll, what percentage of Sprint users actually use tethering or other devices as opposed to just using the smartphone itself? If it's a low percentage then it won't make much of a difference.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By JasonMick on 10/24/2011 4:04:21 PM , Rating: 2
We need a poll, what percentage of Sprint users actually use tethering or other devices as opposed to just using the smartphone itself? If it's a low percentage then it won't make much of a difference.

I do. I agree with your premise, though -- probably less people tether, so the effect on the overall subscriber base will be smaller.

That said, I think this news is more significant as a sign of the direction things are going in. Unlimited data @ Sprint appears on its way out. It's just spared its smartphone plans as they are likely more sparingly used than its tethering plans @ present.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By kleinma on 10/24/2011 4:08:19 PM , Rating: 5
Seems to me things are moving backwards. This stuff is supposed to be super expensive and capped at first, and then over time with valid competition, the price is supposed to drop and the caps are supposed to come off.

Since there isn't really valid competition, and the competition that does exist seems to be totally happy just doing what the other guy does, data prices might continue to climb as voice call revenue drops and they look for more ways to nickel and dime.

They and digital drug pushers... get people hooked with a low cost taste, then jack the prices once they have data addiction... Maybe I should call Dr. Drew and open a mayo clinic for smartphone junkies?

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By FITCamaro on 10/24/2011 4:30:53 PM , Rating: 3
No the issue was before "unlimited" really wasn't a problem because people couldn't do everything on their phone that they could on a computer. Now though phones are mini computers with wifi connections that allow the data connections to be shared with PCs and other devices. Plus the phones themselves can watch youtube videos and other streaming content like Netflix and such. So trying to support hundreds of millions of devices doing that + the few percent that really abuse connections is impossible.

Plus with faster speeds more things actually being possible, that only further increases people's desires to treat wireless data connections like they do their cable or dsl connection.

And again, that just isn't possible right now.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By Solandri on 10/24/2011 4:57:47 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, "unlimited" anything is really just a marketing gimmick whenever limited resources (bandwidth in this case) are shared among customers. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet: It works if your customers don't eat a lot, and all eat about the same amount. But once you start getting lots of customers who eat a lot, and the spread between the customers who eat a little vs. a lot increases, the statistical modeling used to predict how much food to make breaks down.

I'm on an unlimited phone data plan which I do occasionally use for tethering (rooted phone). But with the ubiquity of wifi hotspots, I find it impossible to go over a few GB a month. I would be sad to see my unlimited plan go away, but I don't think I would really miss it. The tiered pricing model makes more sense.

By mcnabney on 10/24/2011 8:59:27 PM , Rating: 2
Your analogy works best if you assume that the steamtreys on the buffet will NOT be refilled if all of the food is eaten. There is only so much capacity. Once the capacity is reached speeds will either drop for everyone or people will get refused.

Sprint overselling their network only cheats their other customers.

Besides, it had to end some day. Sprint has shown a profit since the Nextel acquisition (six years). Yes, Sprint has LOST MONEY every quarter since.

By MrBlastman on 10/24/2011 5:00:41 PM , Rating: 2
Supply and demand. Fill that pipe up with data and it has no more room for it.

Perhaps if people cut out all the useless crap in their lives (like on these phones) the companies wouldn't realize they have so many by their stones and squeeze them with all their might.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By bupkus on 10/24/2011 5:22:25 PM , Rating: 2
Makes sense but...

What of the possibility that what you are suggesting is simply inferred and this move was caused by something else like the need for more capital to expand their network?

Ultimately, as you can hopefully see, we are both just speculating.

By someguy123 on 10/24/2011 5:50:04 PM , Rating: 3
Wireless carriers can only have so much spectrum licensed from the FCC.

There are physical limitations at work here. Wireless service cannot be expanded as simply as landlines.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/24/2011 4:44:12 PM , Rating: 1
I don't think they could have anticipated the explosive growth of "smart phones" and the excessive bandwidth usage that went along with it when they designed their cell infrastructure. Sprint is already spending billions on their next generation network, so I see this as a good move. They are capping something the tiny minority uses so the majority can keep their unlimited phone data plans. Honestly, how many people tether anyway?

Or you can just call them "drug pushers" and greedy fat-cats like everyone else these days...

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By nolisi on 10/24/11, Rating: 0
By artemicion on 10/24/2011 7:38:43 PM , Rating: 2
connectivity and smart phones are pervasive and critical to our modern day economy.

Even if true, this does not mean that you are entitled to connectivity on an unlimited basis. Gas is also critical to the economy. Don't expect to get that on an unlimited basis either.

No business nor an individual should have to worry about overages dramatically impacting their fiscal livelihood.

False. Keep track of your usage and your budget. Don't expect the government to bail you out when you're crippled by your wasteful use of data. Just like you shouldn't expect the government to bail you out if you eat 50 donuts a day and, surprise, need triple-bypass.

They could have built more capacity instead of taking the money and passing it to shareholders while the executive staff soaks up bonuses.

Guess what, you too "could" build a telecom company with "more capacity" and refuse to take money from customers. Try it. I'm sure you'll love it.

There is no good argument for why tethered devices should have a separate plan...

Yes there is. It's called "supply and demand" and "capitalism." Learn about it.

This is not drug pushing, the more appropriate terms that I'll introduce you to (since you seem to be unaware of them) is market collaboration and price gouging.

What you described is simply not market collaboration. As for "price gouging," I'll just simply say that the free market tolerates some forms of price gouging. That's why gas is $5/gallon in the mountains. It's called supply and demand. If you think prices should be cheaper, again, start your own telecom company, charge lower prices, and see how that works out for you.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By monitorjbl on 10/24/2011 5:34:39 PM , Rating: 1
This is pure capitalism in an unregulated market. Why would companies spend money on getting better tech developed so they can host more bandwidth to beat out their competitors when they can all just agree to cap data? They each save billions and the consumer gets screwed. It sucks for their customers, but it benefits all of the big carriers equally so they have absolutely no competitive reason not to collaborate like this. The lack of competition in this space is going to push back development and implementation of better technology for data services.

They're not drug-pushers, fat-cats, or any other derogatory word. They're just businesses making a smart decision to do what benefits them most. There is nothing inherently wrong in that, it's the heart of capitalism. It's also why a ideal free market would never, ever, ever, ever (etc.) benefit the consumer in the end. Anyone who says otherwise is either assuming that businesses are robots that will never do anything immoral, or is just stupid. Businesses play to win.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/24/2011 8:10:31 PM , Rating: 2
Unregulated market? That's patently false. What is going on these days? Any industry that doesn't appear to be directly under the heel of Congress for every little thing is called "deregulated" or "unregulated". The cell provider industry is VERY regulated.

Consumer getting screwed? You do realize Sprint is the ONLY unlimited data provider here, right?

The lack of competition in this space is going to push back development and implementation of better technology for data services.

TracFone, Smart Talk, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Boost Mobile, Nextel, CellularOne, U.S Cellular, Alltel, Cricket, Virgin Mobile ... wtf, no competition?

By Reclaimer77 on 10/24/2011 8:21:32 PM , Rating: 2
Oops I left one out: T-Mobile.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By reggie14 on 10/24/2011 9:02:12 PM , Rating: 2
The competition isn't as great as you think.

TracFone- prepaid services that just resells time on Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and/or T-Mobile.

Smart Talk- I've never heard of them. Do you mean Straight Talk? That's just TracFone.

Boost Mobile- Prepaid Sprint without roaming.

Nextel- Been part of Sprint since 2005.

CellularOne- This is just a name used by some smaller regional cell phone companies. Many of them have been gobbled up by Verizon or AT&T.

U.S Cellular- Heavily reliant on a roaming agreement with Verizon.

Alltel- Mostly bought out by Verizon in 2008, although it still has 800,000 customers.

Cricket- Uses Sprint's wireless network.

Virgin Mobile- Now owned by Sprint.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/24/2011 10:22:33 PM , Rating: 2
Okay so there's no competition unless there's like, what, 20+ "major" carriers? Is that what you're saying?

There's 4 major carriers and a bunch of smaller options, sorry but that's the facts. Just because you don't like a company or think they're not big enough doesn't mean it's not competition. You're just being petty!

By reggie14 on 10/24/2011 10:39:46 PM , Rating: 2
I wasn't trying to be petty. I was trying to point out that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have a tight grip on wireless service in the US. Your list of competitors included some companies that have either been bought out by one of the big companies, or that don't have an infrastructure of their own and aren't in a position to set prices, update technology, or change policies.

Honestly, I don't think there's a big problem right now. In general I think we're probably better off with a relatively small number of nationwide wireless service providers. I suspect four mostly independent providers is enough to keep each other honest. But, I'm not sure two providers is enough, and its looking like only AT&T and Verizon will survive.

By monitorjbl on 10/25/2011 11:29:34 AM , Rating: 2
Most of the companies on that list (and most local carriers) don't actually own their own infrastructure, they lease theirs from one of the big ones. Which means that any change the big carriers make is almost guaranteed to affect customers on the smaller carriers.

The top carriers have a huge influence, and not just because they have the most customers. They also got to market first, bought chunks of the spectrum from the FCC first, and built the towers first. Short of the owners losing the company and having to sell off their assets, this isn't going to change, so the argument that competition in this space actually includes anyone except the ones with the most infrastructure (i.e., the first ones) is really difficult to make.

You have to look at the broader picture here, not just the advertising. Sprint is one of the biggest carriers and the fact that it's falling in line with Verizon and AT&T is a seriously troubling sign.

By croc on 10/24/2011 9:03:10 PM , Rating: 2
Out of curiosity, how many companies in the US actually own cellular infrastructure?

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By pandemonium on 10/25/2011 7:02:12 AM , Rating: 2
Consumer getting screwed? You do realize Sprint is the ONLY unlimited data provider here, right?


This is what I've had for years; from AT&T's website (

Data Unlimited for Non-Smartphones hide $15.00 a month

Unlimited Mobile Web

Connect to all that matters in your world for only $15/month!* Check email, search the Web, update social networking sites, and access music and apps. Plus, access all your favorite websites like CNN, ESPN®, MySpace®, Facebook®, Twitter™, MTV, YouTube™, Yahoo!®, and more!

Unlike the DataPlus and DataPro plans, this is actually unlimited.

By reggie14 on 10/25/2011 9:02:20 AM , Rating: 2
I just want to emphasize that that plan is for non-smartphones only. You can't use it with an iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, or Blackberry device.

By bug77 on 10/24/2011 5:50:55 PM , Rating: 3
This stuff is supposed to be super expensive and capped at first, and then over time with valid competition, the price is supposed to drop and the caps are supposed to come off.

Nope. The first dose is always for free.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By nafhan on 10/25/2011 9:57:53 AM , Rating: 2
I still think that will happen. However, it'll happen once we've got 4G networks from multiple carriers available everywhere for at least a couple years. I'm thinking 4 years or so from now before that's a reality.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By reggie14 on 10/25/2011 10:55:41 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't be so sure. We have a scarce resource, and the demand for it is growing much faster than we can create supply.

By nafhan on 10/25/2011 5:16:22 PM , Rating: 2
I was making a guess for when that resource may not be as scarce.

RE: Just curious, how many use tethering?
By aharris02 on 10/24/2011 4:14:17 PM , Rating: 3
Didn't Sprint's CEO state just last week that their unlimited data was "here to stay"?


By bupkus on 10/24/2011 5:37:00 PM , Rating: 2
yes, but he didn't say "without paying a premium".


He has his fingers crossed.

By titanmiller on 10/24/2011 11:09:25 PM , Rating: 2
Yes. At 5 cents per MB.

By omnicronx on 10/24/2011 4:56:25 PM , Rating: 2
My guess is this only covers wired tethering plans though correct?

With most phones having some kind of wireless access point functionality, is this really as big of a deal as some are making it out to be?

I would also tend to disagree that this move is a significant sign of where things are heading as its just too early to be making such a statement. Sprint is a discount provider, they have to offer something over their competitors to stay in business.

By adrift02 on 10/24/2011 10:00:35 PM , Rating: 2

Unfortunately for Sprint, best-priced data plans are all they have left. Capping smartphone plans will mark their end and it looks like it's coming. As a happy Sprint customer, I'm not sticking around for the 1-2 bar service.

By Samus on 10/25/2011 3:55:42 AM , Rating: 1
I tether occasionally to test VPN connections on-site by being a 'remote' user. I also occasionally use it to download spyware removal apps, definitions, updates, etc, for client PC's that are so jacked that they have no network connection.

But I rarely, if ever, use even 100MB of tethered data per month.

People using tethering for their primary internet connection (torrents, streaming netflix, downloading Windows 7 SP1) are the ones who have abused the unlimited plans and forced the industry to adopt this behavior or eliminating these plans.

By ciparis on 10/29/2011 12:35:48 AM , Rating: 2
I do, but my plan is locked-in to unlimited 3G & 4G. I signed for it up the day the iPhone hit Sprint; it's a special they were running for credit union customers (consumer plans got unlimited 4G, corporate plans got unlimited 3G & 4G -- both for 15% off). I'm not sure whether it's still running.

It's funny, though. I can scan the front page of DailyTech and pick out several stories that are guaranteed to be Mick stories, just because of the subject matter: if it is remotely related to Apple, or politics, it's his. And you already know the position it will take, too. Like clockwork.

Cellcos would gain a little more credibilty if...
By NellyFromMA on 10/24/2011 4:27:07 PM , Rating: 2
...instead of charging ridiculous overages, they instead charged tiered plans with minimum amounts, but then when you go over, you get charged per the rate you already pay. So, like a prorate. This would allow them to predictably determine load and cost and get payment on those who go over there allotment. Same for the minutes while we're at it...

Of course, then a major source of revenue is turned off. And, in a nut shell, THATS why people get upset about this stuff. I bet the majority of people who get mad about these caps wouldn't be so mad if they didn't get balloon rates the second they go over.

Just my two cents.

By Natch on 10/26/2011 8:00:54 AM , Rating: 2
But.....but, this is the way they ALL work! Sucker the fools into switching to your network, by offering low priced plans, and get them to sign 2-year agreements. THEN decide to change your plans, and sock it to them!

Now you have a choice: higher fees, or a huge cancellation fee.....a win/win for the cell phone companies!

By HammerStrike on 10/26/2011 2:57:43 PM , Rating: 2
While, as a consumer, I like that idea, it's also predicated on the notion that the cost to provide the next MB of data is the same(or less) as the cost to provide the previous MB of data. Ultimately, the network can only support a finite amount of bandwidth. While I don't work in the industry, I suspect that the plans that clients subscribe to are a significant part of the forecast for what bandwidth load they can expect.
To provide a "fixed" price per subscription they need a way to modulate how much bandwidth a user consumes a month, as at some point increased bandwidth demands will outstrip capacity. Or, another way of saying it, is once they saturate their current network, the only way to provide an additional MB is to add new spectrum or towers, both of which are a very expensive proposition (if they are even available options to begin with). Hence, at some point, the next MB of data is much more expensive to provide then the previous MB. They need a way to keep users in a defined data consumption band that they can accurately predict and support, hence the penalty rates for going over your plan.

Grandfathered in.
By dcollins on 10/24/2011 4:39:54 PM , Rating: 2
I am so glad I got an unlimited data plan (from Verizon) before they all went away. I don't tether very often, but when I'm travelling, it is an awesome feature to have. I simply use my rooted phone, which despite what I've read online, continues to work without any problems.

The only issue is that Verizon seems to prioritize network traffic inversely to the length of your connection. In order to have good speed, I have to reconnect to 3G periodically.

RE: Grandfathered in.
By reggie14 on 10/24/2011 9:03:52 PM , Rating: 2
I've noticed that too. I thought it was just a coincidence.

Not capping smartphones?
By Spookster on 10/24/2011 8:09:34 PM , Rating: 2
Scratching head...

Am I the only one that thinks that is odd? So they are going to cap 3G/4G for all non smart phones and leave smartphones uncapped? Or did I misinterpret something? Because I would think it would be smartphones that use the most data.

RE: Not capping smartphones?
By Spookster on 10/24/2011 8:15:14 PM , Rating: 2
Never mind i thought the headline read as Unlimited and Tethering. It's just Unlimited tethering that they are capping.

Has anyone considered...
By HammerStrike on 10/26/2011 2:42:57 PM , Rating: 2
That people that use tethering probably use this connection as their primary (if not only) internet connection, even when at home? It is one thing to use 5-20GB of data via a smart phone a month, another to use 100GB-200GB of data supporting all your IT assets a month. I suspect that when they looked at the usage history of their tethered clients they came to the conclusion that a significant enough percentage of those clients were replacing their cable/DSL modem with a tethered plan. Not surprised that they found that unsustainable and had to reign that practice in. I think they did this in an effort to preserve their unlimited smartphone plans, not as a prelude to eliminate them.

RE: Has anyone considered...
By abhaxus on 10/31/2011 9:05:59 PM , Rating: 2
I think most people that have legitimately paid for mobile hotspot are probably not using it for any more than occasional usage with a tablet or laptop. I find it far more likely that rooted users are using more bandwidth than legitimate tethered users.

Sprint is a smaller company
By kookyMooky on 10/24/2011 4:22:57 PM , Rating: 2
With less bandwidth than ATT and Verizon. It looks like they're trying to drive the band width hogs to the other carries while improving the performance of their base subscribers. As long as they don't touch unlimited for phones I'm ok with that. I'm assuming they're getting ready for the "flood" of Iphone users they're expecting.

By tenks on 10/24/2011 4:26:05 PM , Rating: 2
I personally think Sprint is doing this to help avoid a situation that AT&T got itself in..I'm sure they know the influx of iphone customers on unlimited plans will severely stress their network out. So to help alleviate this, I'm sure they're just pulling the plug on the less popular unlimited plans. This frees up all bandwidth for their new iPhones that they just invested billions and their company's future on. methinks they want to protect that investment as much as they can...Freeing up bandwidth is definitely a step in that direction.

T-mobile UK tethering
By smilingcrow on 10/24/2011 4:31:44 PM , Rating: 2
Reading this I feel very lucky for what I have in the UK. I bought a HTC Desire 18 months ago on T-mobile with a 3GB data allowance. I sold the phone as I only wanted the contract which made the net cost of the contract $1 per month. I tether exclusively with this SIM via a Nokia 5230 and use 3GB a month with no charge if I go over; they disallow video streaming etc during peak hours if I go over the 3GB allowance.
Even when the contract expires in 6 months I can continue at £10 per month which still looks very cheap compared to the US. I get unlimited landline calls as well as 100 mins/texts.

Strange coincidence for Mr. Mick
By abhaxus on 10/31/2011 12:52:48 AM , Rating: 2
Strange that Mr. Mick recently felt slighted by Sprint with his billing for some spam/fraudulent text messages, then has made it a point to post a bunch of horribly slanted "articles" about Sprint's business practices.

It takes less than 30 seconds to go to Sprint's site, add a smartphone to the cart, and pick a plan with mobile hotspot to see that it only costs $29.99 for 5GB of data. Which is not more expensive than Verizon, or ATT. In fact, it's substantially cheaper. The "hotspot" plans he talked about were for broadband "Mifi" type devices.

What a sham. This is really disgusting. If you are going to post such poorly researched ridiculous drivel on this site, you should make sure that it says "Editorial" in the title, just like your bashing about your own personal problems with the company.

Short Sighted
By KPOM1 on 10/24/2011 4:55:39 PM , Rating: 1
Sure, they need to pay for all those iPhones they committed to, but this is a bad move by Sprint. Their 3G network is slower than Verizon's and AT&T's, and now it is also more expensive. It used to be that they offered unlimited 4G ostensibly because their 4G network was more efficient, but now that's going away. Sprint will be left with the most expensive plans and the worst service. That doesn't sound like a winning combination to me, and it doesn't exactly strengthen Sprint's own case that blocking the T-Mobile/AT&T merger benefits consumers.

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs

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