Sprint To Use Virgin Mobile Brand to Test Data Speed Throttling

Published on July 13, 2011
by Ina Fried

In a move that may send a shiver down the spine of data hogs everywhere, even Sprint is starting to explore options other than offering fully unlimited smartphone data.

Sprint, the last major carrier still offering completely unlimited smartphone data plans, said on Wednesday that it intends to start throttling data speeds for customers on its prepaid Virgin Mobile brand, starting some time in October.

While the move has no direct impact on Sprint-brand customers, it shows that the carrier is at least dipping its toe into metered data. Specifically, Virgin Mobile customers will start to see a major cut in their data rates once they have used 2.5 gigabytes in a particular month. Full speed will be restored the following month, Virgin said, and the company won’t charge any overages.

“Based on current usage patterns, fewer than three percent of Virgin Mobile USA customers use more than 2.5GB of data usage per month,” Virgin Mobile said in a statement. “After reaching this level, this minority of customers may experience slower page loads, file downloads and streaming media.”

Once customers hit their limit, their speeds will be limited to 256 kilobits per second or below for the remainder of that plan cycle.

T-Mobile pioneered the use of implementing speed downgrades once users hit a certain threshold. AT&T and, earlier this month, Verizon, have also moved away from unlimited data, though they charge overage fees rather than slowing speeds once users hit their cap.

“We are all facing the same situation and this is the best way for Virgin Mobile to maintain the best network experience as data usage explodes,” Virgin Mobile President David Trimble said in a statement.

However, by shifting away from unlimited data, the burden has moved onto consumers to try to estimate how much data they are using, a task that many find confusing.

Separately, Virgin Mobile also ended a $10 monthly surcharge for BlackBerry devices but raised the base price of its Beyond Talk plans by $5 to $10 per month.

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