T-Mobile’s Legere Channels Robin Hood Again

CEO John Legere has publicly declared war on data hogs who threaten to ruin T-Mobile for regular consumers.

“This week I am taking aim at a select group of individuals who have actually been stealing data from T-Mobile,” he wrote. “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.”

The problem lies with some purchasers of T-Mobile’s unlimited 4G LTE plan for smartphones.

T-Mobile includes a fixed amount of LTE to be used for tethering at no extra charge, but some customers are using workarounds to get around the limit. They’re downloading apps that hide their tether usage, rooting their phones, or writing code to mask their activity, Legere claimed.

The group is only “1/100 of a percent of our 59 million customers” — but some of them are using 2 TB of data a month, he added.

“We are going after every thief, and I am starting with the 3,000 users who know exactly what they are doing,” Legere vowed.

Some of the data hogs will accuse T-Mobile of throttling data, but “this is not the same issue,” Legere insisted. “Don’t be duped by their sideshow.”

Reactions to Legere’s War Cry

Legere was more profane in an earlier post on Reddit.

“Man I love this guy,” commented Nerfman2227 on Reddit. “He speaks his mind and he don’t give a f*ck.”

T-Mobile should “just cancel any contract for people using more than 200GB per month or 1TB in any given year,” suggested memtiger.

“Why doesn’t he just institute a policy of charging those who use over like 1TB of data?” asked RoyalJElly420.

“T-Mobile is losing money on those customers as it is,” responded “Logvin,” a T-Mobile employee. “If you’re using more than a couple hundred GB of data [per] month,” they are not making money off you. They would rather you just leave.”

The Need for a Crackdown

It’s important T-Mobile take action, said Tuong Nguyen, a principal analyst at Gartner.

“Even though it’s a small number of customers, the impact on the network could be significant on however many people are sharing that cellular tower,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Legere could be taking a lesson from history. AT&T’s network suffered when iPhones were introduced, as no one had anticipated how much data iPhone users would consume. The carrier was dogged by complaints about its inadequate 3G service.

Those complaints peaked at South by Southwest in 2009, when thousands of attendees complained they couldn’t get wireless access.

That forced AT&T to invest heavily in building out its network infrastructure and in improving WiFi access in major cities, where iPhone usage was highest.

It’s Net Neutrality’s Fault

“The fact that some people are using as much as two terabytes of data in a month is truly stunning,” remarked Sue Rudd, a research director at Strategy Analytics, “but T-Mobile was likely to attract such users with its Unlimited 4G LTE offer.”

Exceptionally heavy consumers of data “are often not actually end users but P2P sharers or virtual resellers of content,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

The problem arose because Net neutrality “lets a few abusers capture disproportionate amounts of data while normal users see decreased throughput,” Rudd observed.

Standard protocols are not fair — Adaptive Bit Rate “favors the first users who can grab the highest throughput and devil take the rest, while TCP favors larger video packets over higher-value voice and messaging,” she explained.

The Legitimacy of a Crackdown

T-Mobile does mention limits on tethering in the fine print, Rudd pointed out.

Software flaws that let abusers bypass tethering limits are probably difficult to fix, she surmised, but T-Mobile’s tethering problem “will become manageable,” Rudd said, because even existing users will lose the totally unlimited plan next year.

T-Mobile did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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