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  • AT&T vs Unlimited Plan Users: Round 2


    We reported that AT&T was cracking down on tethering 3 weeks ago, and it looks like they're up to it again. Based on forum comments, we've summarized what we're seeing from AT&T.

    The first round appeared to be users on AT&T unlimited data plans that used more than 10GB of data in March. The latest round appears to be similar users using more than 5GB in March. It appears AT&T is on a data witch hunt. We've seen the message sent to users who simply use a lot of bandwidth (and never even tether/jailbreak) as well as users that use unauthorized tethering. What's most shocking is that many users have reported calling AT&T and were asked if they were using Netflix, Pandora, etc. Some have been told that using those services is the definition of tethering. We're not sure if this is coming down from the AT&T top, or if this is simply non-technical AT&T customer service reps that are confused about what tethering is. However, based on the number of user reports, and the chances that users are very likely reaching different reps, this seems like deliberate AT&T rep training. Seemingly unethically, many customers are being convinced to pay for a tethering plan when they're in fact not tethering at all.

    For users that have been wondering, here's some analysis and summarization of posts across the forums:
    1. Some users who never have jailbroken have stumbled upon our forums and have reported that they have received the infamous "Did you know tethering your Smartphone ....?" texts.
    2. Users of MyWi, PDANet, and TetherMe have received the texts.
    3. Users are of all iOS's versions (at least we've seen 3.1.3 - 4.3). There's no iOS version pattern.
    4. Only unlimited data plan users are receiving the texts.

    As AT&T is only pursuing unlimited data plan users, it seems this is most likely a data witch hunt rather than anything else. Obviously, if AT&T starts pursuing 2GB capped plans, then I think the perspective changes. It may simply be that they're chasing the biggest users right now.

    Need To Know Information on Tethering

    We've got a fairly techy community here, and users have been speculating all sorts of ways AT&T could be monitoring. We wanted to clear up some of the misinformation:
    1. HTTP User Agent: As some AppStore apps allow different user agents, this is not a 100% positive indiciator.
    2. DNS entries: Your tethered OSX/Windows computer hits specific entries like windowsupdates.microsoft.com. This is a pretty good indicator that your tethering with an OS other than iOS. While you could argue that you could point your browser to these URL's, that doesn't explain why data was transferred back and forth. (If you want to make an app that you can install on your iPhone that simulates the communication of Windows update chatter and send that to AT&T as an explanation, we wish you luck!). This does not apply for iPad to iPhone tethering of course.
    3. Content: Your Safari browser won't download Flash. Given that Flash is in widespread use, most pages you visit on a tethered PC will access Flash content. However, this is also not a 100% positive indicator as you could have installed comex's awesome Frash.
    4. TCP signatures: OS's have specific ways of ack/nack, TTL (time to live) start, congestion, and more for TCP requests/responses. It's possible to guess at the OS based on these signatures. However, because the tethered device is behind the NAT, active fingerprinting is not possible. Passive fingerprinting is possible if the tethering app is not completely rewriting the packets, using elements like OS IPid patterns, ttl, and others.

    These seem to be the 4 big mentions - with the DNS entries to OSX/Windows updates being the most vulnerable (and probably least likely to be used). We're guessing it's probably #4. While that's probably the most network appliance intensive, it appears AT&T only has a few huge pipes for it's 3G network traffic to go out of, so there's not many places this needs to be done. Unless of course it's PURELY based on the amount of data - possible, since users are asked if they "use Netflix or Pandora."

    We'll do a roundup on what each of the tethering apps do with respect to TCP signatures, as we're strongly convinced AT&T's data witch hunt has no merit (again, evidenced by many users that don't tether at all receiving those "nasty" messages simply because they have an untethered plan and are using > 5GB per month). We'll have another article with our analysis of tethering apps TCP signatures in the next few days!
    This article was originally published in forum thread: AT&T vs Unlimited Plan Users: Round 2 started by Kyle Matthews View original post
    Comments 721 Comments
    1. alexevo's Avatar
      alexevo -
      Back to my question about my unlimited data SIM. I thought it was like an iPad SIM with the unlimited data where you can just transfer the account information and change all the personal stuff? Plus phone numbers are tied to SIMs but can be transferred to another SIM. Example? When I got my iphone 4 I had to get a microSIM and transfer my number from my regular size SIM to that one via AT&T store. I know I could have cut the other one but since the microSIM was free I didn't see the point in going through that hassle since I don't have one of those SIM cutters to do it more precise than the scissors I own.

      Has anyone tried to sell their unlimited data iphone SIM and been successful at transferring the account info into someone else's possession?
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      As no one has picked up on this, I will. Your contract is with you. As was said before when you asked, you can't sell it.
      You can move your number and contract to another SIM owned by you but you can't sell your contract to someone else.
    1. Trooper Sam's Avatar
      Trooper Sam -
      Although you could probably add somebody to your account, give them rights, and then just remove yourself from the account. I suspect that would work.
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      Only if you still want to be liable...
    1. Moosestache's Avatar
      Moosestache -
      Quote Originally Posted by MYPHONEI View Post
      Calling the Kettle Black? I would read my own posts.

      Maybe I came along just a month ago and then maybe I didn't.

      You have no idea for sure, I could of been silent for years.

      there is no requirement to join to read the news here.

      As far as "Rip" friend its called debate, and as far as saying people are employees of At&t, you are one of them that I suspect, but it's not because of disagreement its because you have (using your definition) and a couple others have, "Hijacked the threads" as well. How many posts have you posted on tethering? I have most of your posts.

      I could be silent and make it a one sided conversation.

      Poor At&t....................

      I think tethering is a switch and should not be a charge and should be free, I have the unlimited Iphone plan since the Iphone was first released by Apple, 1st Gen, how long have you had Iphones?

      I've been a loyal Customer of Cingular then At&t since 2003 how long have you?

      WOW talk about crap, who cares how long someone has posted? You have no idea who they are, we do not post our Pictures and complete resumes on the internet ( I would advise against it) we can be anyone from Sara Palin to Obama.......you have no idea who I am or who these "Long time posters" are

      Maybe I'm Bruce Sewell LOL.


      I have a stance and I defend it, I also like to read other's stances but debate the facts of the stance just as they debate my facts.

      That's called Socratic learning, the great Argument. Personal attacks should not be apart of the argument yet I have fallen into the trap a couple times.

      Its not a Hijack to be on topic, yet this post is not on topic, so lets stay on the topic about At&t and unlimited and the attack they have on it which has included accusing people of tethering.

      Good day
      Not sure if you realize this, but your join date shows up on your posts. Cough Verizon Employee Cough cough...

      Quote Originally Posted by csglinux View Post
      This type of post does more harm to the archer than the target. Fire away...
      I love this quote.. Do you remember... I'm rubber your glue bounces off me sticks on you?? My 6 year old uses that one.

      Do you really think I care what you and Myphoney post here.. We get it, you are mad you have to pay for tethering. If you want to make things better then tell some of the people what to do. Which you haven't yet. If you just want to complain and accuse people of things go ahead.

      You asked earlier about the fact that I blamed people for abusing the system then acted concerned about them. You didn't quite get it, so I'll explain it.

      I think the people that are using huge amounts of data are ruining it for all of the rest of us. So yep that annoys me.

      However, if one of them comes on here and says, Jee I just got this letter what should I do, then I have no problem telling them what I think would be best. I don't think a lawsuit will help in the short term, or probably ever, but certainly not now. I don't think racking up huge amounts of data to screw at&t will help either.

      I certainly think if I got the letter, and I was still under contract, and I still wanted to keep my unlimited plan, I would call them up and deny tethering, then stop doing it for a few months, keep my data usage low and see how things shake out. That seems to have the best chance of accomplishing all your goals. If, for some reason, you have to, or want to keep tethering, I would still call up and deny it before the drop dead date. I really think that at&t will eventually change everyone over. Then it gets back to a fight that will be hard for you to win.
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      Please don't feed the Troll.
    1. ptrrabbit's Avatar
      ptrrabbit -
      Thanks Kyle. Hey, I got the notice from Att also. Talked w/rep and was told I could loose my grandfathered unlimited data plan, and be charged $47 per month for X amount of gugs
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      Welcome to the forums ptrrabbit
    1. ptrrabbit's Avatar
      ptrrabbit -
      Thanks Kyle, Peter Kunde here. I also got the Att text. Talked w/rep and was told that I could loose my grandfathered unlimited data plan, and be charged $47 for X-amount of gigs, and $10 for each gig over x-Amt. This is scary, and the main reason I jailbroke was to be able to use Internet at a reasonable $ amount. My current Att bill is $127/month.
      What can one do to still use MyWi or Pdanet and be untouchable by Att?
      Many thanks, Peter Kunde
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      so you JB to try and rip AT&T off? That is not what Jailbreaking is for!
    1. Dragonsoul80's Avatar
      Dragonsoul80 -
      Question : can AT&T tell if u are tethering to different Idevices , I don't tether and I have the unlimited data package , my usage is between 5 and 9 GB a month , my question is if I choose to buy an iPad and tether it with my iPhone 4 or if I tether to one of my kids iPods , will AT&T b able to tell I'm tethering.?
    1. ptrrabbit's Avatar
      ptrrabbit -
      I think I'm not ripping off Att. I'm paying a good amount to them. I got laid off, am on unemployment of 1100 per month, do not have cable at this house, so just trying to survive.
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      That is the unanswered question - all evidence appears to suggest a very cack handed approach which would suggest not.
      But they might accuse you of it without tangible evidence.

      Quote Originally Posted by ptrrabbit View Post
      I think I'm not ripping off Att. I'm paying a good amount to them. I got laid off, am on unemployment of 1100 per month, do not have cable at this house, so just trying to survive.
      By using services you are not paying for?

      Do you also steal your food?
    1. EP74's Avatar
      EP74 -
      After I recieved the text, I called AT&T. I asked them, "What do you consider tethering?" We all know about tethering by using your phone as a modem, but did you know using ANY cable to connect to your phone other than Charging and Syncing is considered tethering? This means auxillary cables to car audio, a/v cables to TV, also bluetooth to enabled stereos while streaming is all considered "Tethering." When the first rep told me that, I asked to speak to her supervisor. The supervisor, Laurie Miller, told me the same thing. She quoted section 6.2 of the wireless service agreement. I told her she was misreading what tethering is. Then she assured me that using your phone as a modem was 1 way, and using cables to either amplify sound or a/v to view (netflix or youtube, etc.) on TV while streaming is another way. What do you think of this BS. Personally I think AT&T is targeting unlimited users to reduce amount of data usage because their servers cannot handle it. Either that or simply con stupid unlimited users to a 4GB cap at a higher price. I mean c'mon really, why monitor my usage if I am unlimited? Stupid AT&T is just trying to renig on the contract. Can anyone say Class Action Lawsuit?
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by Moosestache View Post
      I love this quote.. Do you remember... I'm rubber your glue bounces off me sticks on you?? My 6 year old uses that one.

      Do you really think I care what you and Myphoney post here.. We get it, you are mad you have to pay for tethering. If you want to make things better then tell some of the people what to do. Which you haven't yet. If you just want to complain and accuse people of things go ahead.

      You asked earlier about the fact that I blamed people for abusing the system then acted concerned about them. You didn't quite get it, so I'll explain it.

      I think the people that are using huge amounts of data are ruining it for all of the rest of us. So yep that annoys me.

      However, if one of them comes on here and says, Jee I just got this letter what should I do, then I have no problem telling them what I think would be best. I don't think a lawsuit will help in the short term, or probably ever, but certainly not now. I don't think racking up huge amounts of data to screw at&t will help either.

      I certainly think if I got the letter, and I was still under contract, and I still wanted to keep my unlimited plan, I would call them up and deny tethering, then stop doing it for a few months, keep my data usage low and see how things shake out. That seems to have the best chance of accomplishing all your goals. If, for some reason, you have to, or want to keep tethering, I would still call up and deny it before the drop dead date. I really think that at&t will eventually change everyone over. Then it gets back to a fight that will be hard for you to win.
      I actually agree with much of your last two paragraphs, although I'd go a step further and
      advise folks not to tether at all (with or without a tethering plan). IMHO, tethering
      and SMS charges are both taxes on stupidity. Today's smartphones already do way more than laptops of
      a few years ago and people really should be able to learn to live without. Why risk losing an "unlimited"
      data plan? You and I agree this is very likely to happen anyway at some point in the future,
      so those folks that enjoy streaming (to their phones) might as well make hay while the sun shines. I don't
      necessarily agree that that would constitute network abuse, since AT&T chose to use the word "unlimited"
      when advertising its original iPhone data plans. That was the point of Kyle's original post.
      AT&T are coming after folks that aren't tethering - at least not in the traditional definition
      of tethering.

      But your paragraphs 1 and 2. Sigh... Can't you make one post without the obligatory
      sarcasm or condescending comments? I don't think you realise how bad some of your own posts make you look.
      And please, for the love of all that's holy, stop saying you don't care what we post. You obviously
      do, or why else are you gearing up to flame me in response to this message? We all know you're going to...
    1. JohnGaltJr's Avatar
      JohnGaltJr -
      I got this directly from an AT&T written memo. I have forgotten exactly where but if you search for the text it will pop up everywhere as quoted. It seems to be pretty precise. Any other use must therefore be permitted. What, will using earphones be "prohibited" next?

      This is how THEY define tethering:
      "Many AT&T customers use their smartphones as a broadband connection for other devices, like laptops, netbooks or other smartphones– a practice commonly known as tethering." Emphasis mine.


      This is most certainly going to end up with a class action being filed in Federal Court. Their lying and deceit trying to unilaterally change a contract because they're not happy with the deal they made with the original unlimited plans can NOT be permitted to stand. Any use of data within your phone- i.e. YouTube, Netflix or Pandora are NOT tethering under any stretch of the imagination. Tethering must require the use of a TETHER- not to mention connectivity to another computing device using the data connection! They must think we are stupid. The courts have historically taken a very dim view of "fine print" disclaimers defining away pretty clear terms in the "large print". Unlimited meant unlimited except for tethering. They are now trying to change that definition to include STREAMING and that is unconscionable!
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by EP74 View Post
      After I recieved the text, I called AT&T. I asked them, "What do you consider tethering?" We all know about tethering by using your phone as a modem, but did you know using ANY cable to connect to your phone other than Charging and Syncing is considered tethering? This means auxillary cables to car audio, a/v cables to TV, also bluetooth to enabled stereos while streaming is all considered "Tethering." When the first rep told me that, I asked to speak to her supervisor. The supervisor, Laurie Miller, told me the same thing. She quoted section 6.2 of the wireless service agreement. I told her she was misreading what tethering is. Then she assured me that using your phone as a modem was 1 way, and using cables to either amplify sound or a/v to view (netflix or youtube, etc.) on TV while streaming is another way. What do you think of this BS. Personally I think AT&T is targeting unlimited users to reduce amount of data usage because their servers cannot handle it. Either that or simply con stupid unlimited users to a 4GB cap at a higher price. I mean c'mon really, why monitor my usage if I am unlimited? Stupid AT&T is just trying to renig on the contract. Can anyone say Class Action Lawsuit?
      I wonder what the situation is with bluetooth headsets, stereo bluetooth headsets, etc.? It would seem to me they'd fall in the same category.
    1. rcullan's Avatar
      rcullan -
      I got the message and have since stopped tethering... thought I have started streaming nearly non-stop internet radio from 6AM till after midnight.

      I have used about 4Gb in 6 days into my billing cycle. Lets see what they have to say about this. I'd be curious to see if they give anyone grief for its truly a method to strong arm people out of the data plan.

      I only got warned in this second round. Do we know if anyone from the first round actually got changed over?
    1. MYPHONEI's Avatar
      MYPHONEI -
      Quote Originally Posted by Westerman View Post
      Ok guys stop insulting each other. It's okay to voice you opinions but no need to make the conversation heated.

      Ps I am an Att employee
      So its your fault? Lol
      Just kidding

      My intentions were to explain why tethering should be allowed and how At&t is making something out of nothing.

      I'm sorry to post that I suspect some to work for AT&T, its just hard to read so many pro At&t posts and not think that.

      So I appologise for that.

      One thing I will not change or apologise is when I read tethering at all causes users harm, At&t sells a tether plan so If I tether on my unlimited right next to a 2+2 person and we are both using the same amount of data,
      The 2+2 person can't be considered right and I'm wrong because within 5 minutes I could go online and give up unlimited and then choose 2+2 tethering plan and continue to tether the same way same amount.

      No difference.
    1. rcullan's Avatar
      rcullan -
      Quote Originally Posted by famoussasjohn View Post
      I have an unlimited plan, and have yet to receive a message from em. I will laugh at them and never change my plan. They force me to, I will be more than happy to cancel my agreement with them forcing a change in my original agreement. (never used any tethering apps)
      Ya well I hope you enjoy paying your early termination fee. Read your contract, there is a clause they change change your smart phone data plan at anytime without notifying out.

      In all seriousness, legally, they could have done with without these txts, letters, and emails. If they could without a doubt "prove" you are tethering. Which is yet to be seen, and throws some credence to the fact this is a data hunt only