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Verizon Wireless throttles with a light touch

In an effort to make its new bandwidth management policies as innocuous as possible, Verizon is scaling back speeds to its highest-volume unlimited customers only when network congestion is present

Verizon Wireless implemented its network capacity management—or ‘throttling’—policies in February, but it has only just last week begun to enforce them. Verizon began sending notices to customers last week that its new network management schemes were now in effect, but also tried to mitigate any possible outcry by emphasizing how few of its customers would be affected.

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In an FAQ posted on its Website, Verizon said only 3G smartphone customers with unlimited data plans would be affected, exempting its newly signed base of 4G LTE unlimited customers as well as any customer who has signed up for its new tiered plans (CP: Verizon’s new data plans: a gigabyte is a gigabyte is a gigabyte). Of those unlimited 3G smartphone customers, only the top 5% heaviest volume users are affected. And then those users will only see their speeds throttled back if they happen to be on a congested cell.

According to the FAQ:

“95% of our data customers will not see any change in service. You’ll continue surfing the Web, downloading music, uploading pictures and sending emails just as you always have. The highest data users, the top 5% with 3G devices on unlimited data plans, may experience managed data speeds when connected to a congested 3G cell site after reaching certain data-usage levels in a bill cycle. High data users will feel the smallest possible impact and only experience reduced data speeds when necessary for us to optimize data network traffic in that area.”

What that means is Verizon will allow unlimited data use at the fastest speeds wherever capacity is readily available, but in congested areas the highest volume users will take a back seat to historically lower volume 3G users, tiered-plan subscribers and even LTE smartphone customers using 3G as a backup.

While exploding smartphone data usage obviously has forced Verizon to foist some sort of bandwidth policy on its unlimited customers, it seems to be taking pains to make sure its policies are less intrusive than its competitors'. T-Mobile has instituted a cap-then-throttle policy, which allows customers to consume a bucket of megabytes each month and then face reduced speeds for the remainder for the billing period (Unfiltered: T-Mobile fully implements throttle down usage caps).

AT&T has been moving smartphone customers onto usage-based pricing plans far longer than its competitors, but it still has a substantial base of unlimited customers, which will all face new bandwidth restrictions in October (CP: AT&T subscribers holding onto their unlimited plans—but change is coming). AT&T is also using the 5% of heaviest users as the cut off for its throttling policy, but it appears to be downgrading speeds to any user as soon as they breach that top 5% barrier for the rest of their billing cycle, regardless of whether they’re on a congested or uncongested cell.

Sprint is the only operator that is still supporting an unlimited 3G plan that remains truly unlimited (Verizon’s unlimited LTE smartphone customers still enjoy the privilege), and its anticipated launch of the iPhone should put the allure of unlimited data to the test (CP: Sprint iPhone with unlimited may not budge users from AT&T and Verizon). Verizon seems to be trying to get as close to Sprint’s policy as possible without turning its 3G network into a free-for-all.

Verizon is implementing throttling with a light touch, which could make all of the difference between a policy that draws endless amounts of anger from customers and a policy they don’t notice at all (Unfiltered: Throttling with a light touch might make new data restrictions invisible).

Because Verizon is initiating throttling only when the network is congested, not just ordinary users, but even high-volume users, may actually see an improvement in service. Congested cells produce a huge number of data failures and slow down everybody’s performance as too many phones compete for limited shared bandwidth. In many cases the highest-volume users are responsible for that congestion, but often they’re victims of it as well, being shut out of the network when other high-bandwidth consumers are present. By throttling down their speeds, Verizon may be prioritizing its other customers over its biggest users, but it’s also improving every customer’s chances of getting a connection.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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