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What’s Limiting Your Unlimited Data?

Posted In Editorials, Featured - By Mark Hearn On Friday, March 2nd, 2012 9:25am PST With 36 Comments

Right now Sprint’s biggest claim to fame is unlimited data. On the surface it sounds great, but have you ever tracked how much data you use in a month? Over the past year many have complained about Sprint’s slowing data speeds, even going as far as accusing them of throttling their customer’s connection. Sprint’s current ad campaign bills their offering as “truly unlimited data” and swears that they’re not doing this, but try telling that to an angry mob.

So what is really going on with Sprint’s network these days? A little while back we reached out to Sprint and received somewhat of a generic answer that the network had been battling capacity issues. Now before you draw the conclusion that Sprint’s network can’t support its customer load, that’s not exactly what the previous statement was saying. In addition to a massive customer load of over 55 million subscribers, an unknown percentage of customers are using large unauthorized amounts of data.

You might ask, how does one use an unauthorized amount of data on an “unlimited” service plan? Currently Sprint’s network is being victimized by an unknown percentage of unauthorized mobile hotspot users. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this practice, it’s when someone uses a third-party application to use their phone as a mobile hotspot without having the appropriate service plan.

Now before you say, things can’t be that bad, trust us, it’s worse than you think. In some of these cases of unauthorized data abuse, people use their phone as their household’s sole internet connection. Thinking back as I write this, I’ve personally seen someone use their connection to download media, stream videos and play PlayStation games online. One could only imagine how much data a monthly routine like this would rack up. However, the worst case of unauthorized data abuse that we’ve ever seen was an individual surpassing 100GB of data per month, in which Sprint stepped in with a warning.

There’s an old saying, “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” In this case the expression holds true. Of course we’re not saying that this is the one and only reason that Sprint’s network speeds have declined. With millions of people using large amounts of data well inside the terms of their user agreement, Sprint still needs to make some much needed improvements to accommodate their current user base.

As we continue to wait for Captain Hesse he and his crew to get things in order, you may find yourself tempted to explore other options. But with the competition openly throttling user data speeds, would you really be gaining anything? Hopefully by the time Sprint’s LTE is fully up and running, they will have taken the much needed measures to prevent history from repeating itself.

About - Mark is the founding father of SprintFeed. He is a nerd's nerd if ever such a thing existed. His love affair with the Now Network started with the release of the Treo 600 back in 2004 and has been going strong ever since. Highly opinionated and somewhat eccentric he shares his ramblings about his network of choice here at SprintFeed.

  • DaddyMassacre

    all them droid fans and there famous rom hacking dont help that sprint sell nothing but android… which reminds me give me a new WP7 device already

  • WillieFDiaz

    Ive had data issues LONG before there were unauthorized users and apps, and long before Sprint had any Android phones. It got worse the launch day of the EVO and went down from there.

  • erigion

    I live in Washington, DC and switched from T-Mobile to get the Epic 4G Touch. To say that I was disappointed with the data speeds I was getting is an understatement. Outdoors with full bars, I’m lucky to get anything slightly above 1000 kbps down and upload speeds fluctuate wildly. I’ve become extremely happy if I my download speed hits 300 kbps indoors. WiMax signal at 2.4Mhz or whatever the frequency it uses is a joke for signal strength in a city.

    I used to use 2-3GB a month while I was on T-Mobile and now I average just over 1GB with Sprint. I don’t think Sprint is throttling anything. I just think their 3G network is a joke. At least in my city.

  • http://twitter.com/MisterHearn Mark Hearn

    Considering Sprint’s 3G technology, my data speeds were reasonable (in my area) prior to the Android ambush. However, data speeds and voice quality can be a roll of the dice and highly depend on your location. This applies to all wireless carriers.

  • unashamedgeek

    I know this sounds lame, but I really noticed a drop in my speeds when the iPhone came out for Sprint. I use the Speed Test app on my Evo for testing speeds and I have done it since I got it at launch and after the iPhone came out, my speeds dropped significantly.

  • http://twitter.com/therealmattdub Matthew Wester

    No excuses here… android and ROM development are on every carrier. 3G is a joke (iphone not helping (why would you even get one on sprint in the first place).. but u cant complain if you have access to 4G. You can complain when your 4G is around 1MB or less down which it is here. I have to see improvement soon, I like Sprint… but I would rather pay a little more and it be worth it… and customer service is on the decline as well.

  • HiyaBuddy

    THIS is the exact reason why my blood pressure raises a little every time I see the advertisement from Sprint, touting their unlimited data. I live in the Boston area, in the eastern part of Cambridge, so Boston is the next town over probably a 5-10 minute drive. I have virtually zero 4G coverage indoors and 1 bar that comes and goes outside. On a good day, with clear skies and nice temperatures I’ll get 2 bars of 4G and be happy but those kind of days come once every thousand (once a) year. Otherwise I just use Sprint’s 3G network, which I have to say is very inconsistent with speeds in my area. The speeds go all over the place even in the wee hours of the morning (2-4 AM) and it wasn’t my phone, the EVO 3D, it was most definitely the network in the area because I tried of the Iphone 4S and the Epic 4G Touch and still received the same results. I have had speeds as slow as 60 kbps and as fast as 1900 kbs uplink. There were times, however, when the upload speed was at least 5 times greater than download speed, which was appalling to me. For example a max download speed of 120 kbps, but an upload speed of 900 kbps. I wasn’t happy to say the least. The first two weeks I had service, when I switched from T-Mobile for horrible customer service and an unreliable network, they were great. After the Iphone came out the network suffered greatly because at that time the 3G speeds became quite inconsistent. Our family data usage for the first month was 13 GB total, not that much for three smartphones, and it continued on until the Iphone came out. Our data usage dropped because of how slow the network became, google music would stutter while streaming and with youtube you had to wait 3-4 times the length of the video for it to load. For $240 a month, it was definitely not worth it for such slow data speeds. Thanks to the change in discount policy with Sprint, we switched over to Verizon and haven’t looked back. Despite the limited data we also picked up a wireless N router to ensure wifi in our household so we would use less data. Today, Sprint credited me the ETFs. With Verizon, we have had faster 3G speeds and enjoy the 4G LTE coverage that actually gets full bars indoors and outdoors. Verizon is the most expensive but you get what you pay for and we haven’t been happier. Our first major cell phone provider was Nextel with the classic motorola phones and the direct connect. We then switched to AT&T in 2006 but it was two years of coverage hell. We had absolutely no service inside the house and we were promised to have service within two weeks, well the remorse period came and went and it was a rough two years making phone calls in the house. It’s been 6 years and family members that visit us with AT&T have the same problems we did, no service indoors. In 2008 we went to T-Mobile and picked up our first smartphones, the G1, for the first two years coverage was insufficient in some places but we could manage because we had good coverage at home. Then T-Mobile’s customer service became horrible around November 2010. We had finally had enough of T-Mobile becoming sneaky by overcharging us and promising credit, but then receiving a different answer when we called back inquiring about the credit, that we went to Sprint. Sprint never really had customer service issues they were helpful. So I’m not bashing Sprint so much, seeing as I still follow Sprintfeed on Twitter. Then I transfered to a different college, Umass Boston, and had roaming in every class room and where I studied. I would always use at least 500 mb of roaming data and I knew Sprint only allowed less than 300 mb per month. So in the end I am happy with Verizon and I still think Sprint was a decent network but the coverage and data speeds weren’t sufficient for my needs.

  • iFonePhag4S

    Dude. Dont do it. I’ve tried all the mobile platforms except Blackberry. WP7 is one of the least useful and least fluid interfaces I’ve owned. I’m going to be getting rid of my HD7 shortly because everytime I use it I think to myself “I EFFING HATE YOU WINDOWS PHONE!”

  • iFonePhag4S

    My speeds on Sprints 3G have been okay. I did notice a small drop in speeds here around the iPhone launch. But with their Network Vision project they upped the 3G speeds, its usually around 500Kbps with peaks at 1Mbps. WiMAX is pathectic though, I get 5Mbps peak with norm around 2Mbps. In comparison to my HD7(7.2Mbps “3G” radio) which gets 5Mbps all day long with peaks of 6Mbps. Neither of those compared to my old myTouch 4G(14.4Mbps “4G” radio) which got 8Mbps normal use with 11Mbps peak. I can’t even imagine what their 42Mbps radio phones would get. I hope Sprints LTE compares.

  • Gerryf

    I’ve tried all the mobile platforms INCLUDING blackberry and working in the IT field I am constantly getting phones stuck in my hands with people pleading, “Make it work!” Every time someone does that all I can think (since Mango came out) is “Thank God I got the Windows Phone!”

  • ChadBroChillz

    I believe it is more the fact that they use half the amount of carriers as Verizon, plus Verizon has fiber connected to their towers, while Sprint uses bundled T1. Back in the day T1 was fine, but now we need microwaves or fiber. If sprint still had a landline service, I bet they would have as much fiber as Verizon, which would mean improved speeds. At least for NV, they plan on using Fiber and Microwaves. sadly probably more microwaves than fiber, which has unlimited capacity compared to microwave, which has only a few Gbps.

    I do hope Sprint decides to add more fiber after NV is complete. at least in the major cities.

  • N2musik1981

    I just ported my number 1 of my numbers after having very poor performance since August. I switched from a blackberry to 4 different models of android trying to get to the source of the issues. My primary residence is in New York city my and I have second residence in Washington, DC. I went home once in August and could not get any reception in my house in DC anymore, even out in the carport or going to the car, there was no service. I would get 1 bar if I was backing down from the driveway and consistently with dropped calls all over the area. In August, I was using the nexus s 4 g and switched to the Motorola photon in hopes of a better user experience. Wrong. In NYC, Sprint is so bad. My phone would literally go missing from the network for about 7 to 10 minutes at a time. My battery would not last 8 hours on standy. My data speeds on 3G (4G was usually on strike) were about 100kbs/second. On a good day, I could pull 400kbs/s (that was a great but rare thing lol). I got sick of calling into care and they telling me that four towers are down. I could nit believe that sprint only has 4 towers in NYC. Responses to text messages would come days late. Voicemails but no call in midtown Manhattan. The unlimited commercials would turn me into an angry man!!! If you can’t use it or if it is slower that your legless grandmother… I mean seriously. So, I will continue porting one line every two weeks until there are no more on Sprint. Not happy with Sprint at all.

  • zeromeus

    If Sprint is smart, they should throttle the speed of those people who use more than 10GB/month without a mobile hotspot plan down to 1kbps for the rest of the month so the rest of us who use data legally can enjoy the speed. I see AT&T doing that for people who use more than 3GB/month and I think it’s fair for the sake of the other millions who don’t use data illegally.

  • Starfury1

    its not pay a little more… do the math its a lot more…

  • Starfury1

    it really doenst matter how much data you use at a given time or a given month its the fact that up until network vision gets up and running and the network upgrades come to fruition the 3 g data you saw before every tom dick and harry had an android phone or an iphone, quickly diminished the availiable bandwidth… its the amount of users on a single pipe thats the problem not the amount of data that each user uses. the bandwidth is the same no matter how much you use the only real choice is either expand the pipe or reduce users throttling is a bandaid fix and not really good for business

  • Starfury1

    ill never go back to a windows phone… and i was with them from the beginning till i got my current epic 4g….

  • Freak4Dell

    This is why caps are a good thing. Mobile data was never meant to replace a solid landline connection. Why people even attempt to do that, I don’t know. The speeds would drive me nuts. I get that some people live out in the boonies and may not have access to landline internet, but I suspect that most of these people abusing mobile internet aren’t in that situation.

    It’s not going to solve Sprint’s speed problems at this point, because it’s only one factor of many, but it would be a step forward, at least.

  • zeromeus

    That’s like saying that no matter how many cars there are on the freeway, it would never jam. The matter of fact is that people who use too much data are those who are always on the network jamming it. If that person gets off, someone else could get on and enjoy using the bandwidth. While throttling may be a band-aid fix, it is the only choice Sprint has right now given their situation. If they have as much money as Verizon, then we would have speeds higher than AT&T.

  • Jon W.

    I also noticed a severe drop in 3G, not sure when it started if it was after the iPhone or the alleged “Tower Upgrades” were complete. 4G is great, but I can’t get connection in the weirdest places.

    The funniest one is about 10min from a major freeway, right outside a corporate store in a high-end shopping area…

  • Cocoman135

    out of the 5 phones on our line one used the “Unutorized hotspot feature” moderately (up to total 7-8 gigs( INCLUDING MOBILE DATA))and another had but only uses 5gb at MOST in a month usuall 2-3 gigs INCLUDING the mobile phone data the free hotspot is useful when you need to acess internet on a laptop and you cant.

    we are not the cheapos! we do have WiFi and we use on the road

    i must say that the downside to this is that it is like dialup in most cases becauase most sprint phone cant do the att thing of data+voice at the same time

  • B47524

    I was going to get an iphone on sprint. But all the problems with the data network made me rethink my choice. I’m so glad I didn’t go with sprint.

  • Schitzz

    There’s no point in having unlimited data because the service is horrible.

    it takes 9 million years to load a youtube video on a sprint iphone, most of the time its slower than edge during the day so I’m on wifi anyway

  • Tommy Thompson

    Where do you live?

  • Tommy Thompson

    Agree 110%. If you are abusing what Sprint gives you ie. using unauthorized tethering apps without paying for it, hooking it up to your PS3, Sprint has every right to diminish or completely kick that person off.

  • Speedstr

    I myself use about 2.5 gb/month on my smartphone. And I’m probably will end up using more per month in the years to come.

    I’m hoping that Sprint will still allow unlimited data on their phone plans in these next few years, because I think the carriers should see the writing on the wall, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE USING MORE DATA. I think it’s rather short-sighted that the carriers bring out new smartphones on their network, and boast about all the high end features of the phone, but don’t want to accept responsibility of PEOPLE actually using a “hit feature” frequently, (like using the internet, a feature we are taking for granted)

    Take Netflix or Hulu+…both of them advertise about being able to steam directly to your smartphone. I’m not saying everyone is streaming movies 24/7, since it would seriously drain one’s batteries, but third-party apps like these are creating an opportunity to consume large amounts of data . So why are carriers whining/blaming the subscriber, if they can’t wait to put the premium smartphones in their hands?

    I feel that if carriers can’t handle people using smartphones that are capable of consuming large amounts of data through third party apps, then maybe they shouldn’t be offering those phones in the first place. As long as Sprint doesn’t see their subscribers as a burden, and embraces the fact that people are going to start increasing their data usage at a rate that coincides with the advancement of technology, they have a chance to pull ahead as the leading carrier. I understand it will take some deep coffers to build/maintain a reliable network, but isn’t that how Verizon (who was the #1 network before they had the iPhone) came to be?

  • http://twitter.com/WillieFDiazSF William Diaz ✔

    I just took a mini vacation that resulted in many hours in a car driving across California, and going to different spectrum markets. I found that Sprint not only continuously has the slowest network of all 4 Major National Carriers, but that in markets where spectrum isnt over capacity or used at all (yes, I was in those markets) Sprint still has the slowest speeds of them all, and I found that they NEVER resulted in a higher than 550kbps speed no matter if I was inside, outside, near or far from a tower, nor did it matter what time of day the tests were run.
    I dont believe Sprint has a real capacity issue, but I do believe they are running low on spectrum due to MVNOs keeping Sprint afloat, and Sprint relying too much on 3rd-party 4G networks to keep up with demand. It would make sense that Sprint just flat out purchase Clearwire and Lightsquared, even if they fail and fall into bankruptcy, the purchase will yield massive amounts of spectrum that will keep Sprint floating for decades. That alone is worth the price, unfortunately, Sprint doesnt see that. If they did, they might actually have one of the most powerful 4G networks, dont have to recycle already precious and limited 3G spectrum for 4G as well.
    Either way, at the end of the day, in many markets Sprint have abundant spectrum, like all the areas I was travelling this weekend… Yet they still limit their network. So Sprint claiming “We have capacity issues” is hard to believe when you are one of only few devices on the network in an entire city. Either that, or Sprint really limits their capacity on purpose.

  • leozno1

    The issue with Sprint’s speed isn’t spectrum. The issue they are having is the T1 Backhaul they are using to supply their data. When they switch to Fiber, their speeds will be much improved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001227827240 Austin DeVito-Spiro

    On my iPhone 4s you can only download 20mb over 3G

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shawn-Sl-Carrtel/508585469 Shawn Sl Carrtel

    I thought Sprint was built on Fiber Optics? Remember the “You can hear a pin drop” ads.??

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001227827240 Austin DeVito-Spiro

    know with 5.1 you can download 50MB over 3G

  • Casey Anthony

    A “excessive” month for me would be 2 gigs. I use wi-fi at home & at work. I have a short drive so I don’t use that much data. People that use hotspot for there main internet screw over the rest of us because they are too cheap to buy real broadband. I have a docsis 3 cable connection at home at 40 megabit DSL at work so even wimix running at the full 10 megabits which it never does doesn’t even compare. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if Sprint did do data caps, it would speed up the network.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IOEJM7H6PUAIJMTOZSGZ65VRWY Anton Frost

    It’s interesting that network speeds seemed to dip right after the iPhone 4 and 4S launch on Sprint. I have WiFi at work, at home, and many of the locations I frequent around town but the occassions where I use 3G, the speed of it is painfully slow. It would almost be more affordable for me to be on Verizon, as I have never used more than 2GB a month. I don’t stream movies and most apps of any real size from the app store require being connected to WiFi, so that isn’t bothering me. E-mail. Web Surfing. Status updates. Text. That’s pretty much what I do and that doesn’t eat much data.

    Sprint needs to get it together before my contract is up in October of next year.

  • http://twitter.com/ikeydude ikey

    slow speeds, thank god for wimax

  • Mercystroke

    lol i can use 100gbs a month legally and within my rights of the contract without tethering a single thing, either they need to upgrade or just stick a limit on everyone like the other carriers have done.

  • UnhappyWSprintLTE

    Almost sounds like you work for Sprint – people Google to see why their service is so rotten and they find an article blaming hackers, and stop blaming lack of cell towers. When I first log in the speeds are high, then rapidly decline to 0.1mbps! This is with both 4G and LTE. Definitely throttled – please reply if you find the pattern – non-mobile url’s cause it to slow, perhaps? Netflix flows OK while Youtube takes an eternity. Sprint is spending their money on programming to hide their slow speeds rather than build new towers.

  • pissed off

    my u727 used to be good. Past year or so its been complete useless dog shit. Disconnects every 5 – 10 minutes of being on it. Go to like yahoo then google some stuff and the connection times out. EVERYTIME!.
    I’d rather have dail up than to have sprint’s 3g at this point. I am probably going to open a class action lawsuit if its possible.