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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 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.


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