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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. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      Tethering is, I believe, specifically excluded from your plan.
      You are therefore breaking the terms of your contract and AT&T specifically say they reserve the right add any necessary data plan.
      If you are tethering I don't think you have a leg to stand on.
      If you are not tethering then they don't have a leg to stand on.
      It seems fairly straight forward to me - or have I missed something?
    1. Blufox's Avatar
      Blufox -
      I have had unlimited data since the first gen iPhone, and in the past 2 years have averaged ~32gb a month ( That was when I got my new job and started using PDANet/MyWi heavily ) . I am up to 17gb today, with 16 days left in my billing cycle. I didn't receive any of the other rounds of messages here, just the last one. Not sure what it means that I didn't receive the others, considering my usage hasn't varied at all from then to now. Sounds more like they just have a long list and are sending them out in waves.
    1. jamez1's Avatar
      jamez1 -
      Looks like Android users aren't receiving these messages yet.

      http://androidandme.com/2011/03/carr...could-be-next/
    1. Sfarijo's Avatar
      Sfarijo -
      Are people on family plans receiving these message's?
    1. Razz's Avatar
      Razz -
      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.
      Its not just about tethering. It's about legitimate users who use apps like netflix/pandora who are getting these messages as well. This is leading people to believe att is on a data witch hunt for heavy data users. Tethering is only one way that large amounts of data can be consumed.

      P.S. I just wish I could swap my unlimited plan from my i4 to my ipad2. I barely use any data at all on my i4.
    1. GrecoISU's Avatar
      GrecoISU -
      I don't understand how some of you use so much data. I tether the crap out of my phone to play World of Warcraft, watch Netflix, MLB.TV, download tons of podcasts, and plenty of other stuff and here is my usage:

      Oct-Nov 4.50 GB
      Nov-Dec 3.44 GB
      Dec-Jan 2.35 GB
      Jan-Feb 5.14 GB
      Feb-Mar 5.80 GB

      Still no e-mail, text, or letter. Last name begins with D.
    1. Channan's Avatar
      Channan -
      Quote Originally Posted by gotanmp3 View Post
      I'm sure others have said the same thing already, but the difference is that warez/cracks are copyright infringement and tethering on a data plan that doesn't allow tethering is a breach of the provider's terms of service. One is illegal, the other is breaking a contract, respectively.

      The main reason unauthorized tethering isn't frowned upon much is because you've already paid for the data plan. Somehow, AT&T feels they're entitled for more money for megabytes used on a computer versus megabytes used on your iPhone - even though they're the same megabytes and use the same amount of bandwidth regardless of what device they're being transferred to. It's like a gas station charging you more money per gallon for the same 87 octane gas, because you're putting it into an SUV instead of a Prius.
      Not necessarily. If you're tethering to a computer, you're more likely to use more data because you're able to view Flash, download files, torrent, etc. But with me, I mostly tether to my iPad. Rarely ever bring my computer out of the house. So I'm basically using data on the same device with a bigger screen. I'm not using up any more data tethering than I would on my phone. So screw AT&T if they think I'm gonna pay more for the convenience of a larger screen.
    1. slap690's Avatar
      slap690 -
      I think if At-T is going to nit pick about data usage, then everyone that doesn't use every last kb each month on a 2g or 200mb plan, should get every last kb rolled over to the next month. They do it with your minutes, I'm sure they COULD do it with your data.
    1. Sfarijo's Avatar
      Sfarijo -
      Quote Originally Posted by slap690 View Post
      I think if At-T is going to nit pick about data usage, then everyone that doesn't use every last kb each month on a 2g or 200mb plan, should get every last kb rolled over to the next month. They do it with your minutes, I'm sure they COULD do it with your data.
      Very good point!
    1. Razz's Avatar
      Razz -
      Quote Originally Posted by slap690 View Post
      I think if At-T is going to nit pick about data usage, then everyone that doesn't use every last kb each month on a 2g or 200mb plan, should get every last kb rolled over to the next month. They do it with your minutes, I'm sure they COULD do it with your data.
      The whole reason ATT is doing all of this is because they have oversold their network. If they let you keep that data, then usage would go up. Their network can barely handle the current throughput let alone if they upped the monthly data allotments (which is what rolling over the unused bandwidth would amount to).
    1. Muniyaz's Avatar
      Muniyaz -
      I received the email last week and called them. I asked what proof they had. I do not tether, I just use hulu/netflix/pandora like crazy. I told them if they try to change my plan they better show me some proof. I also said I know that if they do not advise you with 1 billing cycle notice that they are now in breach of contract and I can cancel and head over to big red. Last resort but I'm tired of them hounding on me about data. Last 6 months I have averaged 18-20g of data and they are like little Indian givers....I pay for unlimited, I better damn well get it. Has anyone who has received this txt/email kept tethering past the date given to them? Just wondering if this is truly just a big att bluff or what?
    1. Channan's Avatar
      Channan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Muniyaz View Post
      I received the email last week and called them. I asked what proof they had. I do not tether, I just use hulu/netflix/pandora like crazy. I told them if they try to change my plan they better show me some proof. I also said I know that if they do not advise you with 1 billing cycle notice that they are now in breach of contract and I can cancel and head over to big red. Last resort but I'm tired of them hounding on me about data. Last 6 months I have averaged 18-20g of data and they are like little Indian givers....I pay for unlimited, I better damn well get it. Has anyone who has received this txt/email kept tethering past the date given to them? Just wondering if this is truly just a big att bluff or what?
      So what happened? Did they not charge your plan?
    1. Sanady361's Avatar
      Sanady361 -
      Quote Originally Posted by MYPHONEI View Post
      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
      Well put.
    1. Muniyaz's Avatar
      Muniyaz -
      They gave me until 4/16/11 to stop something I'm not doing...that's why I'm curious about the first round customers who received these messages
    1. boxxa's Avatar
      boxxa -
      I used to push quite a bit of data. I have backed off since my wireless has gotten faster and I can use that instead when I am home. I do stream pandora, SiriusXM, and HuluPlus which consume quite a bit of data.

      I think the DNS entries are probably a big detector but I sell a VPN service to some people I know that allows their iPhones to encrypt all traffic between their devices to my server and then access things through there which hides any DNS request and TCP signature they may be using. All they see is a SSL connection
    1. JedixJarf's Avatar
      JedixJarf -
      good info kyle thanks.
    1. khaoticsquirrel's Avatar
      khaoticsquirrel -
      Maybe they are doing it based on regions? Just tossing that possibility out there...

      I consistantly use around 6-9 GB a month using NetFlix and Pandora and have yet to receive a message at all. I'm sure I will be receiving a message or two in the upcoming months/weeks.
    1. ash3s2012's Avatar
      ash3s2012 -
      I got An email from them a text massage and a letter on the mail as well lol it really pisses me off I almost pay 100 bucks for their plan and they Want me to pay 45 buck more? Ojala que se pudran en el infierno los hijos de su puta madre de AT$T
    1. fmlouder's Avatar
      fmlouder -
      im so happy i dont have to go through this bs.. as i have a unlimited data plan which is capped at 1 mbps for 26 bucks a month which at times doesnt give me good coverage but is good enough .. just hate the point its the only wireless carrier here.. i remember once i did 75 gig's in 1 month i was like omfg haha
    1. JedixJarf's Avatar
      JedixJarf -
      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.
      I tether my droid x all the time.