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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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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.


"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov














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