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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. Brr's Avatar
      Brr -
      By the way ladies and gentlemen, this was posted by a thoughtful insider ("iphonespecialperson") in the first thread:

      ATT internal info concerning tethering:

      Tethering is a practice that enables a customer to use a smartphone as a broadband connection for other devices, such as laptop computers, netbooks, tablets, and Wi-Fi-enabled and other computing devices.

      The Wireless Customer Agreement (WCA) requires our customers to be on a tethering plan if they use their devices to tether. Refer to the WCA from the Related Links section.

      What Is Going On?

      We are reminding customers of our requirement to have a tethering plan if they use their smartphone to tether. This is a reminder of the existing policy and a request to bring their account up to date.

      As of March 17, we will be sending notification to subscribers who are currently tethering without the appropriate and required smartphone data plan which is DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering.

      Process to Bring Account in Line With Policy

      Customers can do this in one of two ways:

      Call, click, or come into a store to change from their current data plan to DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering.
      Wait until the date indicated on the notification, at which point we will update their account and add the plan for them.
      Customers can also choose to stop tethering, in which case they do not need to take any action on changing their plan.



      Why Are We Doing This?

      Customers tethering without the appropriate data plan are not in line with the requirements of their Wireless Customer Agreement. Review this from the Related Links section.



      When Does The Communication Start?

      The notifications begin to go out on March 17, 2011.



      Which Customers Are We Addressing?

      The notifications are sent to smartphone customers identified as tethering without the appropriate plan. We are asking them to bring their account up to date by adding the required tethering feature.

      We will be notifying customers in stages, however, the plan is to eventually identify and notify all customers tethering with a smartphone, regardless of the type, without the required data plan.



      How Will They Be Notified?

      Notifications are sent by e-mail, SMS, and a letter sent through U.S. mail.

      Customers will receive a first notification to remind them of the terms and conditions, educate them about our tethering plan requirements, and ask them to bring their account up to date by changing to DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering.

      Customers may either bring their account up to date as requested or they may choose to discontinue tethering and remain on their current data plan.

      If they continue to tether and do not change their data plan to DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering, a second notification will be sent informing them that we have moved them to DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering, as we informed them in the first communication.

      Secondary notifications will also be sent via U.S. mail, e-mail, and SMS. Refer to the Related Links section to review samples.



      Frequently Asked Questions

      Which plan are customers automatically moved to if they do not bring their account in line with our policy?
      They are moved to 4GB for Smartphone Tethering. The $45.00/month plan includes 4GB of data per month; $10.00 for each additional GB thereafter, added automatically as needed. Mobile Hotspot capabilities are included for compatible smartphones. Refer to the Related Links section for more information.

      How does this work with customers currently on a Smartphone Data Unlimited plan?
      Handle business as usual. We do not offer a tethering option for subscribers who wish to remain on their Smartphone Data Unlimited plan. However, the customer can keep their unlimited data plan if they stop tethering. If they wish to continue to tether, they will need to move to DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering to align with our policy.

      Once a customer moves to DataPro 4GB for Smartphone Tethering, whether they do so on their own or we automatically update their account, the customer will no longer have the option to return to the Smartphone Data Unlimited plan.

      Where are customers directed to when they receive notification and have questions?
      The notification includes a phone number for customers to call with questions. These calls will be auto-routed to the EON/DEON specialty representatives trained to assist these customers.

      Similar to date as well: SIM Swapping

      Appropriate data plans are required to use Mobile Broadband devices (laptop, tablets, or AT&T Mobile Hotspot devices) on the AT&T Network.

      Effective March 16, 2011, AT&T will systematically enforce this policy by alerting customers with unlimited data plans when they take the SIM from their current smartphone, QMP, or basic phone and place it into a Mobile Broadband device to access data unlimited, that an appropriate data plan is required.

      Process

      Once SIM swapping is detected, customers will receive notifications via SMS and e-mail that an appropriate data plan is required for their Mobile Broadband device. If the customer continues to use their SIM in the device, their data service will be restricted for the remainder of the billing period unless they contact Customer Care to add the appropriate data plan.

      Reasons

      Any data unlimited customer who takes the SIM from their smart phone, QMP, or basic phone and puts it into a Mobile Broadband device is not in compliance with the requirements of their wireless customer agreement.

      Communication Key Dates

      Effective March 16, 2011

      Specific Customers Addressed

      The notifications will go to smartphone, QMP, and basic phone users with unlimited data plans who put their SIM into a Mobile Broadband device (Examples: Laptop, Tablet or AT&T Mobile Hotspot device).

      Notification Methods

      By SMS and e-mail

      SMS Communications

      The first message is sent when AT&T first detects SIM swapping activity.
      AT&T Free Msg: An eligible data plan is required when using a Laptop, Tablet or MiFi device. Call 611 as soon as possible for details and to avoid service interruption.
      The second message is sent when AT&T detects subsequent SIM swapping activity.
      AT&T Free Msg: Your data service has been restricted due to SIM swapping with a data connect device. Call 800-331-0500 to discuss available plan options.
      E-Mail Communication

      If we have the customer's e-mail address, the following communication will be sent after each out-of-policy usage.

      At AT&T, we value your business and want to ensure you have the data plan that's right for you. Did you know an eligible data plan is required when using mobile broadband? If you have recently swapped a SIM card from your wireless handset into your Laptop, Tablet or MiFi, your data service may no longer work properly on either device.

      Call us at 1-800-331-0500 (or 611 from your wireless phone) and our team will help you establish service with an appropriate data plan for your device and restore data service if necessary.
      AT&T offers a variety of plans to fit your needs in order to provide the best on-the-go experience on the nation's fastest mobile broadband network. Our team is ready to help you activate data service with the right plan. We look forward to your call. You can also visit our web page here to learn more.
      Thank you for being an AT&T customer.

      FAQs

      Does this policy affect all SIM swapping?
      No. This policy is being enforced for smartphone, QMP, and basic phone customers with a data unlimited plan on their account who put their SIMs into a Mobile Broadband device (Examples: laptop, tablets, or AT&T Mobile Hotspot devices) in an effort to share data unlimited between two devices.

      Why is AT&T notifying my customer about putting their smartphone SIM into their new tablet?
      Any customer using a Mobile Broadband device on the AT&T network is required to have an appropriate data plan which supports that device. This policy is now being systematically enforced.

      How will my customer receive the SMS notification if the SIM is in one of the Mobile Broadband devices?
      Most of these devices allow customers to receive SMS messages. However if the device does not, the SMS communication will continue to be sent for a period of up to three days. Also, if the customer has an e-mail address on file, AT&T will send a notification via e-mail.

      My data unlimited customer did not realize it was against AT&T policy to put the SIM from a smartphone into a Mobile Broadband device. My customer does not want to add a data plan for their Mobile Broadband device. What are the options?
      With the many services and ease of use of our great new Mobile Broadband devices, our customers will be able to fully utilize these devices. Also they get the best possible experience if they have an appropriate data plan for that device or they can select our DataPro with tethering plan for their current smartphone.

      If the customer continues to use their smartphone SIM in their Mobile Broadband device, their data service will be suspended until the end of the billing period, unless the customer calls into Customer Care to add the appropriate data plan.

      Note: If the customer does not contact Customer Care to add a plan, their data service will be restored for their smartphone at the beginning of the new billing cycle. If SIM swapping activity is detected during the next billing cycle, the data service on the account will be suspended again.

      Is my customer eligible for a data credit while his data service is suspended?
      No.

      Can my customer continue this process each billing cycle?
      No. If the customer continues the out of policy behavior, AT&T reserves the right to remove the unlimited smartphone data plan from the account.
    1. iphone 4 man's Avatar
      iphone 4 man -
      Quote Originally Posted by HCWHunter View Post
      And you watch 8 hrs. of Netflix or TV on your 3.5" iPhone? Yeah right. I watch podcast videos and a few free tv episodes on my iPhone on occasion and my eyes start hurting in less than an hour.

      I just don't buy the Netflix streaming on the iPhone
      argument. Maybe on an iPad or laptop, but not an iPhone for any length of time. I think people streaming Netflix are tethering to a big HDTV. Just my opinion.
      I do actually watch the videos on my phone, but I do occasionally hook up the output to a larger computer screen or HDTV. When I "watch" tv for 8 hours, it is normally on a news channel that I don't really watch, more like listen to. If I hear an interesting story I might watch for a few minutes and then go back to listening. I will watch an occasional ball game or other show as well. I have quit "tethering" all together but have actually used more data since then. I averaged 3 to 4 gigs per month "tethering", only going over 5 gigs once. I will probably use around 10 gigs of untethered bandwidth this cycle just to prove a point,
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by HCWHunter View Post
      I think people streaming Netflix are tethering to a big HDTV.
      Are we really buying into AT&T's new definition(s) of tethering?
      They must have some amazing DPI software if they can detect audio and HDMI cable connections.
    1. JohnGaltJr's Avatar
      JohnGaltJr -
      Many thanks, Brr! I posted a tiny portion of this earlier to show people that AT&T- by using their own words against them- is being either stupid or utterly disingenuous when they accuse people who stream as the "same thing" as tethering! This must also equally apply for "secondary" audio or video connections as they are most certainly NOT tethering!

      As long as the phone is NOT being use to channel the data stream to another computing device, then by strictly applying their own definition- we are not doing anything to violate the terms of our contracts. I would bet that NOWHERE in our contracts does it even mention external monitors, or powered speakers- or headphones for that matter.

      Kudos for posting the entire document. I can't wait to hear back from people that throw AT&T's own words back in their face.
    1. HCWHunter's Avatar
      HCWHunter -
      Quote Originally Posted by csglinux View Post
      Are we really buying into AT&T's new definition(s) of tethering?
      They must have some amazing DPI software if they can detect audio and HDMI cable connections.
      I don't think an HDMI cable is "tethering" in the classic sense, but I can see how ATT would. Running it via wireless to an apple tv or a roku and then to an HDTV would be tethering in the classic sense.
    1. sirlance0505's Avatar
      sirlance0505 -
      There was a post earlier that someone spoke with an att rep and they said any amplification of sound is considered tethering. If that's the case then just simply using the speakers built into the phone would be tethering, aren't those speakers amplifying the sound? Without them there is no sound therefore they are amplifying. I know this is stretching it but......

      BTW I am no longer using any wifi on my phone. I am using 3g 100% of the time now. I am gonna use what I am forced to pay for.
    1. The Amazing Atheist's Avatar
      The Amazing Atheist -
    1. scottw03's Avatar
      scottw03 -
      Quote Originally Posted by MYPHONEI View Post
      While I disagree with throttling Because unlimitted should have nothing to do with how much you use, if they dropped the spying for or guessing for tethering and throttled people who go over, like 10gb in a week or two then sure I would agree and support that
      yeah I would be cool with something like that. Considering that for the last few months I have been dealing with a 25kb - 195kb download speed, I would be perfectly fine with being throttled back to only 1Mb if I went over a certain amount of data in a week. I feel like I am back in the age of dial-up.
    1. Mes's Avatar
      Mes -
      Quote Originally Posted by scottw03 View Post
      ... I feel like I am back in the age of dial-up.
      Funny..... but true.

      Wonder if anyone has 'reconsidered' using voice for high (or higher than modem) speed data? Couldn't replace data, but might work as a supplement

      Unlimited voice is truly unlimited
    1. pcrussell50's Avatar
      pcrussell50 -
      Quote Originally Posted by sirlance0505 View Post
      BTW I am no longer using any wifi on my phone. I am using 3g 100% of the time now. I am gonna use what I am forced to pay for.
      has att forcibly switched your plan?

      if so, you may be the first. we've been asking for the last few days for people to report here if att has enforced the plan changes they threatened.

      -peter
    1. sirlance0505's Avatar
      sirlance0505 -
      Quote Originally Posted by pcrussell50 View Post
      has att forcibly switched your plan?

      if so, you may be the first. we've been asking for the last few days for people to report here if att has enforced the plan changes they threatened.

      -peter
      No I have not. I haven't even got the threatening text/email. Highest I have ever used is 2.6GB.(Even with tethering) What I meant is, I'm not gonna let att off the hook anymore using wifi when avail. it's all 3g from here on out. I'm forced to pay for data with my iPhone, so I'm gonna use the hell out of it now(non-tethering of course).
    1. MacDevil7334's Avatar
      MacDevil7334 -
      Quote Originally Posted by sirlance0505 View Post
      No I have not. I haven't even got the threatening text/email. Highest I have ever used is 2.6GB.(Even with tethering) What I meant is, I'm not gonna let att off the hook anymore using wifi when avail. it's all 3g from here on out. I'm forced to pay for data with my iPhone, so I'm gonna use the hell out of it now(non-tethering of course).
      Aren't you basically hurting yourself there? It's probably no skin off AT&T's back if one user decides to only get data via 3G. On the other hand, you will be relying on AT&T's slow network and spotty coverage to get all data on your phone (not to mention the fact 3G chews through your battery faster than wifi). Who's really getting the short end of that deal?

      AT&T's 3G download speeds are roughly 1/10 of what I get at home on wifi. Couple that with the fact that my office is located in an AT&T dead zone and I'll take wifi wherever I can!
    1. sirlance0505's Avatar
      sirlance0505 -
      Quote Originally Posted by MacDevil7334 View Post
      Aren't you basically hurting yourself there? It's probably no skin off AT&T's back if one user decides to only get data via 3G. On the other hand, you will be relying on AT&T's slow network and spotty coverage to get all data on your phone (not to mention the fact 3G chews through your battery faster than wifi). Who's really getting the short end of that deal?

      AT&T's 3G download speeds are roughly 1/10 of what I get at home on wifi. Couple that with the fact that my office is located in an AT&T dead zone and I'll take wifi wherever I can!
      Actually for MY situation 3g is very fast at home, on my way to work and at work. Battery usage is of no concern to me, I always have a charger within reach. My whole point isn't necessarily to "stick it" to att, I'm just gonna start using more of what I'm forced to pay for.
    1. Mamba4590's Avatar
      Mamba4590 -
      Here's my situation.. I woke up this morning to the AT&T email.. It says I have to stop tethering by the April 30th or they'll change my plan ... I use mywi alott wich I thether my iPad.. Imma give them a call and see what bs they tell me..

      Dec: 13.7
      Jan: 3.9
      Feb:1.3
      Mar: 8.2
      April : 7.2
    1. drewstone's Avatar
      drewstone -
      it def seems that it's over 5gb/month that tips them off. probably since the first round went into effect. i try to limit my usage to close to 5gb/month. i still haven't seen here if anyone has had their plan changed and if they did or did not have to pay a ETF......anyone hear that yet?!
    1. sirlance0505's Avatar
      sirlance0505 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mamba4590 View Post
      Here's my situation.. I woke up this morning to the AT&T email.. It says I have to stop tethering by the April 30th or they'll change my plan ... I use mywi alott wich I thether my iPad.. Imma give them a call and see what bs they tell me..

      Dec: 13.7
      Jan: 3.9
      Feb:1.3
      Mar: 8.2
      April : 7.2
      Good Luck and please keep us posted.....
    1. pcrussell50's Avatar
      pcrussell50 -
      Quote Originally Posted by sirlance0505 View Post
      I'm just gonna start using more of what I'm forced to pay for.
      why the change? why wouldn't you have simply done this all along? curious.

      -peter
    1. Trooper Sam's Avatar
      Trooper Sam -
      One thing is fairly certain: if anybody who visits this site had their plan changed, they would likely be here and letting us know.

      Does that mean we're in the clear? No. It just means it hasn't happened yet. But asking over and over "has anybody been changed?" will not make those people answer up. I am certain that once somebody discovers they're on the 4GB tether plan, they'll post it up here.

      Everything else is just speculation at this point.
    1. drewstone's Avatar
      drewstone -
      yeah, thanks, but maybe ppl that have had their plan changed may not read all 400+ posts. so, if ppl are asking if someone has had their plan changed is not a bad thing for the rest of us that are curious.
    1. Trooper Sam's Avatar
      Trooper Sam -
      No problem...keep banging on the machine until the prize comes out.

      I'm just sayin'...the prize will come out ANYWAY.