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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. Sofaxkingxhi's Avatar
      Sofaxkingxhi -
      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)
      u do know u can't cancel without them charging the early termination. I have had the text and talked with the cs . they see it as YOU broke agreement of contract by tethering.( if u wanna spend the $$$$ and fight them in court have at it) so they accused u and honestly don't. know how they can prove it but ur measly salary can't trump att in court. just saying
    1. sprackleor's Avatar
      sprackleor -
      Its not a witch hunt lol, come on this is ATT were talking about.. they dont do witch hunts, they just start billing you and let you sort it out after the fact.

      This is just one of their innocuous, sporadically generated txt messages, err, veiled ad disguised as a helpful txt. I got the exact same txt 3 or 4 years ago on my blackjack 2. Just delete it and go on about your tethering.
    1. The_13th_Plague's Avatar
      The_13th_Plague -
      I must say this is a rather crappy move on AT&T's part. I'd venture to say that for every person who uses 5+GB's there are 5 unlimited subscribers using less than 1GB. No stats to back that up, but I know far to many people who are grandfathered in and only make calls, text, and fb.
    1. scottw03's Avatar
      scottw03 -
      Quote Originally Posted by capufo View Post
      I'm amazed, At&t never had a problem when it came to making people get the unlimited mandatory Internet plan, when the iPhone 3G came out. So no matter
      If u had 3G or not you were still been charged
      For it as long as u had an iPhone. It took them 3 years since them to out 3G service around my area and there still many towns out there with no 3G and they are been charged for that service every single month. But Att doesn't seen to have a problem with that. Regardless if u use it or not. But them they get all bitxhy with those who use their Internet plans as they were meant to be unlimited .
      You know what, I never really thought about that. We recently (Dec 2010) got 3G in and around my town in NC and I got my iPhone 3G in September 2008. We had slow as EDGE in my town for those two years. Because it was so slow and most of the time timed out for alot of different things like just trying to access my bank account online, I pretty much never even used the internet while I was away from home. Pretty much only used it when I was on WIFI since EDGE was painfully slow.

      I want my 2 and 2 months worth of Data money ($30/month), a total of $780, back since AT&T was not able to provide me the service I was paying for in my location. Yeah, I doubt I ever see that back. But it might be a good point to bring up with them when they start arguing about "tethering" definitions on the phone with me for Netflix and Pandora.

      Hell, if I get it, I am cancelling my account, getting myself a iPad 32Gb 3G on Verizon and getting a Skype account with a phone number or a Google Voice account. I hate talking on the phone as it is and I use my phone for more data related stuff than voice. Watch my $160 phone plan drop quite a bit. Verizon 3GB dataplan only $35/month. I use about 1.6 GB most of the time. Then just have my wife's phone plan.
    1. feidhlim1986's Avatar
      feidhlim1986 -
      Quote Originally Posted by dannyben View Post
      I'm sure I'll be censored or banned for NOT agreeing with the forum admins / owners, (and I'm not saying I agree or disagree with any of this talk or encouragement to steal) but...

      Can someone please explain why the talk of stealing service and fees to ATT or Verizon, without paying them for their tethering service is permitted (and even encouraged) here, but yet a slight mention of "crack" gets you banned.

      Personally, they are both WRONG & BOTH are theft of services. Why the double standard? The talk of apps like mywi are no different then those of ones like inst**ous. They BOTH are apps that take $$$$ out of the pockets of people who deserve to be compensated.
      You're not stealing a service. You've paid for the data and it's still coming through on your phone, where the data goes after reaching your phone is your business.
      Even on capped plans, you pay for your 5GB (or whatever) of data up front whether you use 1KB or 5GB. AT&T have been paid for their service. Tethering is not an additional service or cost to At&t. Your phone is still the device using the data you've paid for.
      However, downloading a cracked app means no one gets paid. See the difference?

      To be honest, charging for tethering is like if ISP's charged you extra to use a Wifi router.
    1. mw_w's Avatar
      mw_w -
      Can't wait for the result article, thanks for the great info.
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      Here in the UK there has never been 'unlimited' data.
      Most tariffs specifically exclude Tethering/Streaming/VoIP
      You can pay extra to have a plan that enables tethering/streaming data and more again for VoIP.
      The mobile data network was never designed for lots of data - it was designed when very few phones accessed the internet and for sending small amounts of data to a small screen.
      With 3G the situation improved, with Edge one user could hog all the channels effectively blocking a tower from servicing other customers. due to channel/time slice restrictions.
      While this has improved with 3G the system still relies on time slicing and tethering and streaming have very different usage patterns (It was a long time ago I was shown some stats from Deep Packet Inspection used by UK providers and it's very easy to tell streaming and tethering from other types of data usage. It appears that the US carriers are way behind UK carriers in their data usage analysis and they are using very crude analysis.

      People using vast amounts of data (most plans in the UK are limited to 512Mb or 1Gb) will be causing network congestion for other people - it is an intrinsic problem of mobile data networks and almost impossible for AT&T or anyone else to counter without data caps.

      Tethering is excluded from plans for a reason - if you are tethering it will be causing network problems which is why they charge more.

      I was always surprised that AT&T had 'unlimited' data and the amounts of data some people use on a system that was never designed for it.

      Personally, I pay extra (22/month for calls/texts/MMS and data) for a 3Gb limit which allows tethering and streaming and the only time I've exceeded it was when my home broadband was out of action. Mobile data networks were never designed to replace broadband, only supplement it on your phone when you don't have access to a proper network.

      AT&T seem to have set unrealistic expectation levels and going after people who use a lot of data when that is what the promised is wrong. But charging people who tether is acceptable IMHO provided it was excluded (as I believe it was) from your agreement.

      I'm sure this will run and run....
    1. Go Gators's Avatar
      Go Gators -
      Quote Originally Posted by i.Annie View Post
      That's a good question. I wonder that too. If it really is about tethering then I don't think android users will (well I don't know if android has third party tethering tools...)

      It seems to just be looking like it is flat out for people who use a lot of data whether it is with tethering or not. So android users *should* get the notice too if they use a lot of data.
      Yes, a lot of Android devices offer tethering, and have been for a long time.
    1. coolguy742's Avatar
      coolguy742 -
      As always, kyle's stories are the best! Now on a serious note, this is absolutely terrible for the community that ATT is doing this they have unlimited data plans for a reason leave them be!
    1. peacedog's Avatar
      peacedog -
      Apple is going to have trouble pushing cloud storage and services to people with capped data. I streamed a movie off my computer using the StreamToMe app over 3G. I estimated that I was using ~250Mb/hour.

      I'm on the 2Gb plan, and I use Mywi, but no text/email yet. But my tethering is exclusively with my iPad and my kids' iPods. I doubt the data usage on those will raise any red flags.
    1. Zamphire's Avatar
      Zamphire -
      I really doubt it's based off strictly Data usage alone.

      Last month I used 16.9GB of data, and most months are about the same. I watch NetFlix all day at work, so it eats up a good bit of bandwith and have yet to get a text message about tethering.
    1. ca3's Avatar
      ca3 -
      Quote Originally Posted by piston597 View Post
      I am grandfathered into the unlimited data on my i4 and have not received any text... yet... I use roughly 1gb per month... Haven't experienced any issues on 4.2.1... just sayin
      i havent either an i use 1.5, i might go by usage
    1. 2Jaze's Avatar
      2Jaze -
      Quote Originally Posted by iAppleHack View Post
      AT&T Really needs too inform there technical support on what tethering is. When I called, the tech didn't really understand what tethering is, I had too explain most of it too him!
      Now let me explain TO you the difference between "TO" and "TOO!"

      Lol j/k




      Nahhhh I'm not
    1. 2Jaze's Avatar
      2Jaze -
      Quote Originally Posted by feidhlim1986 View Post
      You're not stealing a service. You've paid for the data and it's still coming through on your phone, where the data goes after reaching your phone is your business.
      Even on capped plans, you pay for your 5GB (or whatever) of data up front whether you use 1KB or 5GB. AT&T have been paid for their service. Tethering is not an additional service or cost to At&t. Your phone is still the device using the data you've paid for.
      However, downloading a cracked app means no one gets paid. See the difference?

      To be honest, charging for tethering is like if ISP's charged you extra to use a Wifi router.
      /thread
    1. psychodave's Avatar
      psychodave -
      My question is this, I don't see anything in my contract about tethering.. Does anyone else see wording related to the separation of phone data and tethering data? I feel that when push comes to shove that AT&T will end up in a class action lawsuit and be forced to allow those grandfathered into unlimited data plans to unlimited tethering.
    1. iPittsburgh's Avatar
      iPittsburgh -
      Quote Originally Posted by i.Annie View Post
      That's a good question. I wonder that too. If it really is about tethering then I don't think android users will (well I don't know if android has third party tethering tools...)

      It seems to just be looking like it is flat out for people who use a lot of data whether it is with tethering or not. So android users *should* get the notice too if they use a lot of data.
      Android phones can be "rooted" to give the user root access to the phone like jailbreaking an iPhone, and can then create "unofficial" wireless hotspots like mywi.
    1. BustAGroove's Avatar
      BustAGroove -
      I'm on an AT&T Premier account, too. All phones on family plan have unlimited data. No warning messages from AT&T yet because I don't think any of us hit 5/GB month.
    1. Khirsah's Avatar
      Khirsah -
      I have yet to get a text msg and i mywi all the time for my gf's ipad and my laptop.. the laptop not nearly as often except for on vacations. My unlimited dataplan usage for the past 6 months:
      Nov 10 - 6.2GB
      Dec 10 - 7GB
      Jan 11 - 6GB
      Feb 11 - 4.7GB
      Mar 11 - 2.1GB
      Apr 11 - 8.7GB
    1. billchase2's Avatar
      billchase2 -
      I kept my unlimited data plan as well and have not received a notice (yet). The most data I've used in a month though, is 1.2GB.
    1. MYPHONEI's Avatar
      MYPHONEI -
      Quote Originally Posted by dannyben View Post
      I'm sure I'll be censored or banned for NOT agreeing with the forum admins / owners, (and I'm not saying I agree or disagree with any of this talk or encouragement to steal) but...

      Can someone please explain why the talk of stealing service and fees to ATT or Verizon, without paying them for their tethering service is permitted (and even encouraged) here, but yet a slight mention of "crack" gets you banned.

      Personally, they are both WRONG & BOTH are theft of services. Why the double standard? The talk of apps like mywi are no different then those of ones like inst**ous. They BOTH are apps that take $$$$ out of the pockets of people who deserve to be compensated.
      Tethering is not stealing that's the problem. Tethering is a switch.

      One cannot steal if nothing is stolen. I have read over and over AT&T "gives in" after people call and argue.
      If AT&T truly had a strong Case they would never give in. Fact is they go to court they must prove something was stolen.
      We pay for the service
      We pay for the data
      Tethering fee is a double charge Junk fee and AT&T knows it.

      Some of us are brave enough to tell AT&T to shove it

      But as for the mods and site I would hope they would do something about people calling others thieves, just say. AT&T has the right to charge the fee blah blah but leave a poster out of it. There are two sides to a conflict each side believes they are right.