T-Mobile Declares War on Unlimited Plan “Abusers”

T-Mobile CEO John Legere

T-Mobile CEO John Legere

In a blog post this morning, T-Mobile CEO John Legere declared war on the few T-Mobile customers who have found ways to take advantage of T-Mobile's smartphone unlimited data plans to provide unlimited tethering.

Last August T-Mobile announced a similar initiative, but did not actually crack down with actitve enforcement.

This time - the gloves are off.

John Legere pulls no punches - calling these customers "thieves" who "know exactly what they are doing":

This week, I am taking aim at a select group of individuals who have actually been stealing data from T-Mobile. If their activities are left unchecked their actions could eventually have a negative effect on the experience of honest T-Mobile customers. Not on my watch.


We are going after a small group of users who are stealing data so blatantly and extremely that it is ridiculous.

Here’s what’s happening: when customers buy our unlimited 4G LTE plan for their smartphones we include a fixed amount of LTE to be used for tethering (using the “Smartphone Mobile HotSpot” feature), at no extra cost, for the occasions when broadband may not be convenient or available. If customers hit that high-speed tethering limit, those tethering speeds slow down. If a customer needs more LTE tethering, they can add-on more. Simple.

However, 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. It’s a small group – 1/100 of a percent of our 59 million customers – but some of them are using as much as 2 terabytes (2,000GB!) of data in a month. I’m not sure what they are doing with it – stealing wireless access for their entire business, powering a small cloud service, providing broadband to a small city, mining for bitcoin -- but I really don’t care!

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. The offenders start hearing from us tomorrow.

What Happens if You Are Busted?

T-Mobile is one of the few carriers to still offer a truly "unlimited" data plan - but they have always been very clear that this unlimited high speed data is for use on your smartphone only, and the unlimited plan includes just 7GB/mo of shareable data that you can use for tethering.

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Once that 7GB is used up, there are no overage charges, and your access is not cut off - but tethering speeds for the remainder of the month are throttled to a crawl.

Some people have used apps like PDANet to avoid these limits, and T-Mobile is now cracking down to stop this.

T-Mobile's "Network Abusers FAQ" explains that T-Mobile has "developed technology that can detect people who deliberately choose to break our terms and conditions" - and these customers will get an initial warning, and then if they do not cease and desist, they will be automatically moved from their unlimited plan to an entry-level 1GB limited T-Mobile data plan.

By being dropped to a 1GB plan, these customers will actually have their monthly bill initially go down. But if they want more than 1GB of high speed data, they will have to opt-in and pay for a higher level limited plan, with "Unlimited" no longer being an option for those who have been black-listed.

What is Unlimited On-Device Good For?

Even without being able to hack an unlimited smartphone plan to allow for unlimited high speed tethering, these plans still have a lot of merit for RVers. There's a lot one can do on-device to take advantage of the unlimited data this is officially encouraged by T-Mobile.

In a previous article, we showed how to use an unlimited smartphone data plan as a streaming device for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBONow and other video services:

Unlimited Entertainment: Getting HBO (and more) on the Road

But also keep in mind that T-Mobile reserves the right to throttle unlimited speeds for the very top users on congested towers:

T-Mobile Clarifies Throttling – Defines “Unlimited” as 21GB

Unlimited Tethering - Almost Extinct

The only LTE-speed cellular plan remaining that supports unlimited and unthrottled tethering without running afoul of the carrier's terms and conditions is Verizon's old grandfathered unlimited plans.

These plans are rare, expensive, and require jumping through hoops to acquire.

But for those who work on the road, at least until Verizon finds a way to shut them down, they are often considered indispensable.

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