Despite what the "unlimited" plan might make you think, Sprint is exercising their right to throttle back on users they've deemed as using too much data. Heavy use contract customers on Sprint, as well as prepaid customers on Sprint-based MVNOs Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA, have been hit with warnings that starting next month Sprint will be engaging in "prioritization management" in congested areas.

FierceWireless has an example of the message being sent to customers:

"Beginning 6/1/14, to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times, Virgin Mobile USA may manage prioritization of access to network resources in congested areas for customers within the top 5 percent of data users."

Sprint has for the past several years been beating the drum of their unlimited data plans, touting their status as truly unlimited in the face of tiered plans from AT&T and Verizon, as well as an 'unlimited' data plan on T-Mobile that throttles user speed back if they blow past a soft cap on the service.

The prioritization management that Sprint will be engaging in will be throttling, but they've promised that it will only be in congested areas during congested times. If the Sprint customer that's in that top 5% either leaves the congested area or the congestion eases, their "speeds will return to normal."

As for where that 5% threshold lands, that's hard to say, though Sprint says that a user who uses over 5GB in a month is likely to be in that zone. Again, crossing into the top 5% doesn't mean you're automatically throttled — it's only during peak traffic in high traffic areas, and the prioritization scheme isn't applied to the account until the following month.

Now that Sprint's unlimited plan now has an asterisk on it, does that change your perception of the carrier?

Source: FierceWireless

 

Reader comments

Sprint begins throttling users in congested areas

113 Comments

Sprint is just useless here where I live, hell I have T-Movile and use about 30 GB or more a month and I still get the full speeds.

I use anywhere between 5-10GB/mo on AT&T. I'm pretty sure they throttle to 20Mbps or less. I haven't seen 50Mbps speeds since my first couple of months. That's still better than my girlfriend's (then) sprint phone that didn't even get service, let alone data in a north Dallas suburb. Insanity.

That's just a side effect of more devices on the network. Throttle speeds are much slower than that.

Posted via Android Central App

They can still cap you w/o throttling you down to edge speeds. The throttle is an adjustable policy. I sincerely doubt AT&T ramped up with that many users in my area in such a little amount of time.

I routinely get 40-48Mbps Up/7Mbps down on AT&T in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MN. I just ran Speedtest. 79ms ping, 26.1Mbps down/8.52Mbps up. I'm on their pre-paid plan, so I don't think they throttle since I can get such fast speeds all the time.

That's not what's happening and yes I'm sure it did ramp up with that many LTE users in a small amount of time.
I've personally seen it on 3 or the 4 major carriers in my area as they deployed LTE
I was on Verizon LTE when it was first deployed
Jumped to AT&T when it was first deployed
and I'm now on T-mobile LTE.

Verizon took more than a few months to slow down as the network didn't have many users, LTE was still a new thing then, AT&T slowed down in 3 - 4 months from 50Mbps - mid twenties and is now at around ~ 12 mbps in perfect signal areas.

T-mobile started out at ~33 Mbps, they only use 5mhz here and now is mid twenties a couple months later.

It's not only new users and upgrades to LTE phones, but existing users with LTE phones that never got LTE speeds before. Once you get LTE, studies show that usage goes up over time.
That's slows down the network fast as more and more users connect.
Network speeds are typically divided pretty fairly among connected users on the same rate plan,
The more users that are typically connected to a cell, the lower that the maximum speed you get tends to be, thats all your seeing.

Go to an area that has had LTE longer speeds get lower, go to a new deployment area and they are fast as hell again. they aren't going to the trouble of setting different speeds for different areas, and constantly changing a throttle. It's just the natural course for network speeds as more users hop on.

I always thought the sprint network throttled itself. I remember when I had sprint if I went anywhere where there was a considerable crowd (downtown, stadiums, large gatherings) my phone would show full bars but would not even register on a speed test.

via N7

I did that on the last months of my time with Sprint. I went to the movies while visiting my superslow hometown, with 60-70% battery on my EVO LTE, walked out with 30%. Network's so bad you gotta airplane that shit if you hope to have any juice before bed.

Posted via Android Central App and Droid Mini

Ha! Throttle data! What data? Oh you must mean this 3G data I get with you since I don't have LTE in Roanoke VA....

Posted via Android Central App

Same here in Richmond.. 0.8MBPS down and 0.02 up. with Full bars of service in an area that shows excellent coverage.

And you may never see LTE since Sprint uses NTelos' towers in this part of Va. NTelos has already stated that Sprint will not have access to their 4G.

Posted via Android Central App on the Nexus 7 FHD

Yea I've never been throttled on T-Mobile. I don't know what the soft cap is but I average about 35 to 50 gigs a month.

This message has been brought to you by the Galaxy S5

As far as I know there is no soft cap on the unlimited data simple choice plan, I average 30+GB per month and I never once been throttled, I avarage 15 Mbps down and 2 up on HSPA+ in my small town

That's a stupidly ridiculous amount of bandwidth usage. I blame people like you on Sprint for why these things happen.

You can blame him all you want but I believe he is on T-Mobile so I have a hard time imagining he is doing anything to the shit poor Sprint speeds.

Yes, I am on sprint and I hate them. I get such poor service on my phone it's pathetic. I am gone after my contract.

I comfortably use around 5 to 8 gigs per month on Sprint. It's all based on where you are. Here T-Mobile is the weaker provider. In your area it's obviously Sprint. Why not leave? It's probably cheaper to pay them off then it is to continue paying and complaining.

Some people just like to complain about everything and anything. I'm glad Sprint is doing this so their speeds will improve for most others who don't use that much data.

You are correct I am on T-Mobile, and their are many more people using 100+ gigs on T-Mobile network and it does not have a problem handling it the only problem with T-Mobile network is the rual network that needs to be upgraded

Exactly. These idiots do it just because they can. If they didn't watch freakin' porn all day and get a job....this wouldn't happen. Period. Nuff said...flame the fuck on!!

It's the number of concurrent users and not their individual monthly data totals that bog down data speeds.
Those high data users are getting the same speed as low data users when the network is congested.
Blaming the high monthly data users is picking a popular scapegoat and falling for the carriers misleading lies.

Posted via Android Central App

Get a job? Let's see...... while I'm at work my Pandora plays all day. I guess you think that should be outlawed as well. Maybe instead of a job you seriously need to get a hobby.

Posted via Android Central App

This is hilarious and I gotta admit I didn't see this coming so fast considering there terrible network. Its like putting obstacles in front of a dead snail, pointless.

Posted via Android Central App

With root and a little tinkering around my data will not be throttled ;) out of sight out of mind.

Posted via Android Central App

The reason it feels throttled is because of data hogs who are talking advantage of the network. When I do a speedtest early in the morning I get around 5 mbps but around noon those speeds drop to around 1 mbps because of heavy data users. So I welcome this change.

It bogs down later in the day because of the number of active users on your tower. You are blaming the wrong people. That is caused by the fact that people are awake and active.

Those high monthly data users are getting the same speed you are during those contested times.
The point of the data caps is to get people to pay for the service but avoid using it.

Posted via Android Central App

You are partially right. Just think about it for a little bit. People who are sucking down data will use less regardless of the time of day because they will either be throttled or self regulate their data usage. When they use less data it will help alleviate the network overall.

I live in Lawrence (about 45 min west of KC) and I have terrible 3G. Sometimes I can't even send a text out because the signal is so bad here.
I recently went to Denver and they don't even have LTE there. It made for some frustrating times on that trip...

Posted via Android Central App

Actually they just officially activated LTE in Denver and Colorado Springs recently. I think it was about 2 months ago. My service in Colorado Springs has been great since the transition. Full disclosure: I get my Sprint service via Republic Wireless.

Well actually, I was there last weekend. I can tell you with certainty that they didn't have LTE in downtown Denver...
Posted via Android Central App

I live the same distance East of K.C. and just barely got service. When you were finally able to get decent service, data speeds were at a snails pace. Sad when you live that close to Sprint headquarters and get horrible service. Glad I left them 2.5 years ago. Still hope they pull through though.

Posted via Android Central App

It's pretty great! I love it. I don't really have anything bad to say about the device :) Battery life has been surprisingly good :)

Posted from my BLU Life Pure XL :)

"[T]hey've promised that it will only be in congested areas during congested times."

Wait, isn't that, like, ALL OF THEM?

Posted via Android Central App and Droid Mini

So glad I left sprint eons ago. I could barely use the unlimited data because even in Atlanta there were so many dead spots and bars and places I'd go to would have no reception. Tried to get out of my contract by unlimited roaming but paid the etf. Even looked on sprints coverage map and areas that said I should have 4G were 2G at best. But I did have an epic touch 4G on wimax.
I've loved t-mobiles service and it really showed one I got my moto g. Took my phone from Atlanta to South Florida and even in areas of South Georgia that had low reception I could still make calls. And south Florida kills it with the reception and full 3G data
It's funny cause T-Mobile used to throttle and cap users. Now they are the only ones that don't (except tethering)
For the south at least, T-Mobile is incredible. Won't ever miss or go back to sprint.
Posted via Android Central App

Just when you thought Sprint data couldn't get any worse.
What's worse is that slower data (2G/3G) costs the carrier more than 4G...

Soooooooooo glad I dumped Sprint last year. This is just ridiculous. Go T-Mobile!

Posted via Android Central App

One more reason I'm leaving when my contract is up. I use about 10 GB a month right now and 90% of it is at work because that's the only place it's usable even though I have LTE coverage in most of the area I'm in, it's unusable in 75% of that area because it's so slow. I have LTE at my house but the 3G is faster. I have to use Spotify in offline mode when not on wifi. I'll be going to AT&T when my contract is up in a few months but if they start throttling me it may be sooner. I'd rather have capped data and be able to use it when I need to than unusable unlimited throttled data.
Posted via Android Central App

Stupid move by sprint wanting to throttle customers. They do that people might as well jump ship to at&t or verizon and at least get better data speeds and coverage.

Who are these people using 30 to 40 gb a month wtf. I would blame people like you guys for policy changes but truthfully they would've changed anyway. Just because there is always room for more money. Still tho

On top of already horrendous speeds, Sprint is going to begin to throttle thier users? What a joke.

So it begins. Back when I started with T-Mobile in November of last year I had the 5gb plan or was it 2gb? Either way, I hit my threshold and I got throttled which I expected. But even at throttled speeds I was still faster than my Sprint line. Since then I switched over completely and switched to the unlimited 4g lte and have never been throttled again. Loving my 29mbps average speed.

Posted via Nexus 5 Android Central App

They really would be better off going to tiered data. Except your speeds and coverage would still be horrid. But it would sound better.

Posted via Android Central App

Tiered data doesn't really stop congestion. Network congestion is caused by the number of active users. Tiered plans can only help congestion by scaring people out of actually using the service they pay for.

Posted via Android Central App

I had sprint till a couple months ago. There was no way I could use enough data to get throttled at the speeds I was getting. It's not like you could watch a movie or anything. The speeds were so bad I was lucky to get enough data to pull up a weather map. I had unlimited data and pulling 1.2GB a month at crappy 3g speeds was tough.

Wow, throttle that 0.5Mbps connection even further, huh? I bet you hit the top 5% on Sprint when you get about 500 megabytes downloaded.

Sprint is already losing a half million customers a quarter. Their network is so shitty how can it even need throttling?

I have no issues with Sprint throttling users who obviously and horribly abuse their cellular connection. There's only so much radio spectrum. Yes, Sprint needs a serious upgrade but the abusers are why we can't have nice things.

There is a possibility I am one who will be impacted by this. I use on average 10-15gb of data per month (without tethering).

As for those saying Sprint sucks, guess what, it works just fine for me. I get 15-20mb down and 6mb up while inside my workplace at my desk and even better outdoors. What works for me, may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for me. Let me spend the money I make on my choices, and I won't tell you how to spend yours.

You must be one one of the few cities they overhauled with fast LTE. Sprint has LTE where we live, but at 3-5mbps speeds (max).
via moto x.

Same here, my usage is more like 5-10GB and my average speed more like 10-15mbps (6mbps at home cause I live in a hole, literally, street dips below everything nearby). I'm relatively happy with Sprint tho I've thought about trying pre-paid SIMs over the summer once my contract is up (part of the reason I bought a Nexus 5).

TMo has traditionally had weaker coverage in Puerto Rico since they didn't even exist until like 2-3 years ago, no Verizon here either... So traveling around to see how Tmo holds up around the island or dealing with tiered data on AT&T would be my only options.

From what I've seen on my mother's/sister's AT&T lines, they're usually not any faster here because network's more congested, but AT&T does have better building penetration. What I don't get is why the throttling Sprint is gonna be doing doesn't go into effect immediately.

AT&T throttles in the same dumb way (for people still on unlimited plans), only turning it on during the next store l cycle. That makes no sense, specially if it's meant to alleviate emergency congestion... I think Verizon stated a while ago they do it on a per tower basis rather than account basis, which makes a heck of a lot more sense.

If I start getting throttled on Sprint I'll probably be gone, we'll see.

More proof that they are just managing congestion by discouraging users from using the service. If you use too much data, an arbitrary number that they won't tell you and may be different next month, they will punish you for a whole month but not the month you transgressed the made up unpublished line in the sand.....

Posted via Android Central App

I was wondering if something is up, I haven't seen a commercial for unlimited data in long time. We'll see how long this lasts. If they start loosing customers over this, they'll have no choice to stop.

**Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!**

Wait... How can I tell when I am being throttled? Will my mostly dead connection actually speed up to the throttled speeds?

I have Sprint and get faster data speed than Verizon and AT&T and T-Mobile where I live I constantly get 25 mps up and 10 down and never been throttled

Posted via Android Central App

Even when they were unlimited there was no point. You got unlimited data but the worst speeds out of any carrier. It's like giving you a bowl of rice and asking you to eat it one grain at a time, pointless.

Posted via Android Central App

i'm adding Dan Hesse to my "Mobile Wall of Shame" to join long standing honoree Peter "Do You Hear Me??????" Chou. who else should be on the list?

Nexus 5 + AT&T GoPhone

Those two deserve top billing. I'm about ready to add Sundar Pichai in third place. Holding off until after IO.

I don't think most of us have anything to worry about. Its just in high traffic areas at peak times. Don't go canceling your service just yet. Remember, AT&T tried this and it caused a lot of trouble for them.

**Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!**

I have Sprint and I hate them. It's my fault I have stayed with them so long, data speed are horrible for me in my city. What is the use in having unlimited data when I have to ask a friend to use the phone to search the Internet because my phone can connect.

Posted via Android Central App

It depends on the deployed area. Sprint's had 4G/LTE here for years and half the people I meet have Sprint phones. Speed has been phenomenal and lately you can get a good signal in most of the office buildings.

Maybe we're in some kind of special district but I have no complaints about the network. Tho I made sure my new phone is cdma/gsm/pcs agnostic to be safe.

Sprint is making it easier and easier to leave them. I've been waiting now for two years here for them to get LTE, and still nothing. And now they pull this. T-Mobile has great service here. Next month my ccontract is up. Just waiting on the Note 4.

This change does not alter my perception of Sprint, because I knew they were going to do it. No carrier can offer a truly unlimited plan and sustain it that way. Everybody should've seen this coming.

This is not the normal slow your speed down type of throttling... They are trying to employ some tricks to conserve data yet still give decent speed. When it cones to video for example they are giving it full speed but just not letting it over buffer so that if you close out of the video early you didn't waste data...
Yes in a lot of situations they will just slow people down but they are at least trying to make it less bad than the normal throttling we are used to.

Posted via Android Central App

Wow.... I understand where they're coming from but.... They keep making bad decisions and contradicting themselves. Wonder when sprint will stop with the gimiks and improve their service.

Posted via Android Central App

Doesn't change my perception one bit. Sprint has always been the less favored of all the companies, which is why I like it now. The more people switch to other carriers, the more bandwidth is left over for me. Sprint has always said they implemented throttling to the top users of data on the network, albeit previously I believe they said the top 1%. Either way, it doesn't affect most people. The shitty amount of bandwidth originally available at that particular cell tower, does... and it wasn't much in the past. The network vision has been taking a LOT of time and Sprint has been neglecting repairs and upgrades because they already PLANNED to return to most areas for additional spectrum rollouts and can do those other tasks at the same time instead of spending extra money for small return trips. Makes sense from a business standpoint, but of course we consumers don't see it that way. If you're having that much trouble, disable the Sprint proxies, root your phone, get rid of their network bloatware and flash a nice roaming PRL and Roam Control for those moments your Sprint tower is unable to please you.

46 days until my contract is up and I'm gone...not that I'm counting. Of course, I'll be missing the mind blowing 10 mbps down and 2 mbps up speeds from the tower that's less than a half mile from my house (I can see it out my window).

Bye bye Sprint. The only good thing about them was the $80 month unlimited everything bill. Just have to figure out who to go with now

Posted via Android Central App

You're only going to be throttled if you're on a congested tower, otherwise you're most likely fine.

**Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!**

Doesn't change my perception one bit. I've been a Sprint customer for more years than I can remember and I've always been as pleased with their service, as those of my friends that are using AT&T, T-Moble or Verizon. In fact, I hear them complain more than I ever think to do so about Sprint. I use WiFi most of the time anyway and even during months of my heaviest use, when I'm travelling, and watching movies and using GPS all the time, I barely go over 1.25 GB in a month. I'm by no means in the top 5% and if those folks are using 10+ GB of data a month, that seems rather excessive usage. But, hey. To each their own. I wish I had all the free time they apparently have to use that much data per month. :-)

straw + camel.....this could be the end of my 9 year relationship w good ole sprint. this was the only reason that i've weathered the network storm and many empty promises....

I've always been a data hog because Sprint said I could.

Don't hate those of us who actually use what we buy. If I only bought 10 gigs a month I'd only use 10 gigs a month. I bought no limit so I use no limit.

Hate yourself for under-using what you're already paying for.

Lemme tell you what. Sprint is great in my area. T-mo is non-existent! VZW is too expensive and AT&T is in between T-mo and VZW for service SO I'm glad all you dumb ass dipshits left. Good riddance.

Fuck T-mo
Fuck VZW
Fuck AT&T

Problem with it? Cause if you do, I really don't care.

"I'm glad all you dumb ass dipshits left. Good riddance! We don't need your money! We are better off losing tons of customers and hemorrhaging money! Screw T-Mo; Screw VZW; Screw AT&T. Screw 'em! With their fancy network which people can actually download webpages!"

I actually think that's a quote from Sprint's Q1 earnings call.

I download webpages just fine with Sprint. Problem with it? Do some research in the forums and see my LTE speeds. They're there, you just have to look.

I believe you. I really do. I'm sure your network speeds are great! And I have no problem with the fact that you LOVE Sprint (I mean, you have to LOVE them to defend them so passionately). But you are one of the very few that are satisfied with Sprint's network. For every one of you that is satisfied, there are tons that are not. Even their CEO admitted that they have to do better with their network and that a lot of their customers are frustrated with their service and that their poor service has contributed to their customer exodus.

Additionally, some research would do you some good....Sprint was named the worst of the big 4 in terms of customer satisfaction re their network. Links below (and there are tons of them if you bother to Google it)...

http://www.cnet.com/news/sprint-dead-last-in-consumer-reports-phone-serv...
http://www.businessinsider.com/sprint-ranked-worst-cell-service-2013-11

And that report was from November 2013. Judging from all the comments, it doesn't look like much has improved since then.

But to answer your question, do I have a problem with it? No! Absolutely not! I'm not taking away anything from your love affair with Sprint. Congrats! You love Sprint! Good for you! That doesn't mean Sprint doesn't suck for the rest of us.

Lol, 5Gb would take an entire month to hit here in Colorado with the slow speeds I've seen family get. Glad I still have VZW unlimited!

Rocking the HTC M8!

I was throttled to 15kb/s on Sprint when I was with them all the time...I wonder what it would be like if I was ABLE to download 5GB in a month at those speeds.../s

@ Derek, that`s makes me saying with them longer. The people who`s take advantage of what carriers give them deserve it, it`ll not concern anyone else. But as you the editor, you just shows your bias side especially in the end of your writing. never tell the truth of what you`re writing. Even if the carrier has good or bad service, all what you did making thing like a wake up call. That`s the speetest in southeast of michgan, https://www.dropbox.com/lightbox/home

In Central Pa area, Sprint is pretty good. I converted from Big Red to Republic Wireless and couldn't be happier. $30 and change with taxes, unlimited minutes, text, 5G data. If all you do is pod casting, Gmaps and a little video, etc... Sprint's 3G has been killer for that price. I haven't had any more glitches than I did on Big Red. They all suck to some degree at the end of the day, so why not pay less for it?? I love Sprint!!

They are doing this the right way whether you agree with it or not. They are notifying customers about the change. This is a could move for Sprint because it will level speeds out between users during those certain times in certain places.

Posted via Android Central App

I've had Sprint for two years and JUST - in the last three months - gotten amazing service. 4g LTE everywhere, even in spots where I previously couldn't even roam.

But I use around 6gigs a month (do everything on my phone) and have noticed considerably slower speeds and 3g in a lot of areas I used to get LTE. Never thought about throttling, merely that Sprint's persistent upgrades were slowing service.

SoftBank wants to convince the world that buying T Mobile will allow them to start a price war with VZ and AT&T. All it's going to do is allow everyone to increase their profits.

At this point, terminating and switching at the end of 2yr contracts just makes sense unless you want to get out of contracts altogether. Someone is inevitably going to offer you money to switch, and someone will inevitably screw you over regardless, so why not.

Posted via Android Central App

I pay for 30 gigs a month on Verizon. That's split between 3 smartphones, a 4G tablet and a 4G aircard. I get fantastic speeds and I'm in the NYC area. Don't believe the bullcrap that it's too congested. Sprints infrastructure is, will be and always has been way inferior. I know a company who installs Sprints pop-spots. They have been at it for 10 years. Sprint will never catch up.

Posted via Android Central App