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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. michoolyoung's Avatar
      michoolyoung -
      Quote Originally Posted by NightWraith View Post
      The only way they will give you the Microcell or discount it is if your contract is up and you threaten to switch to Verizon. Well maybe not the only way. My buddies contract is up and he called and did that they gave him a coupon for it for free. Mine isn't and they said no they only give it to people they send it to in the mail because AT&T has noted the area as a bad area. I have to stand in the window of the upstairs loft to make a phone call with one bar from my house. I asked how that's not a bad signal area. No answer on that.
      A friend of mine could not get a signal and they gave him one for free.
    1. moyouximua's Avatar
      moyouximua -
      I just got the text last friday, the only thing i want know is what should i do know ? Keep use mywi or stop it ,anyone can help me?.........
    1. Tfost's Avatar
      Tfost -
      I am guilty but not going down without a fight. I got a letter in the mail today regarding this matter. Says they will change my rate plan on the 16th. Hopefully i can weasle my way out of this one. If they do this I will certainly leave AT&T. I will miss my iPhone. But there are other good phones out there. Sad for them. They will actually be losing a valued customer and a few contracts. Not a big fan of control freak Nazis.
    1. StealthBravo's Avatar
      StealthBravo -
      Quote Originally Posted by michoolyoung View Post
      A friend of mine could not get a signal and they gave him one for free.
      I got 2 for free
    1. DaMan05's Avatar
      DaMan05 -
      OOOHHHH CANADAAAAAAAAA and free tethering on all data plans. Including WiFi hotspot. All free
    1. StealthBravo's Avatar
      StealthBravo -
      yea but
    1. DaMan05's Avatar
      DaMan05 -
      Canada is the best country in the world? I know.

      lol lets not hijack the thread :P
    1. StealthBravo's Avatar
      StealthBravo -
      Quote Originally Posted by DaMan05 View Post
      Canada is the best country in the world? I know.

      lol lets not hijack the thread :P
      lmao
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by Moosestache View Post
      Lol your right no one is tethering.
      Poor grammar, rude & sarcastic - you still want us to believe you don't work for AT&T???

      I wasn't saying nobody is tethering. I was saying that unless you work in AT&T's tethering-detection department, how could you know that most people receiving these messages are tethering?
      Apple estimates only a small percentage of iPhone owners jailbreak. If that's true, I bet most people being targeted are simply heavy data users.

      P.S. you are = you're. "your" is possessive.

      Quote Originally Posted by Joedogg2112 View Post
      I jailbroke my iPhone 4 once and tried it for awhile and did not like it, it caused apps that I used to not work right and other things so I restored and since I did I have no issues with anything, I updated my phone and got the 4 gig a month tethering data plan and have no problems
      Come on AT&T - how stupid do you think we are? At least make these posts a bit more believable!
    1. thetoothfairy's Avatar
      thetoothfairy -
      Please play nice!
    1. DaMan05's Avatar
      DaMan05 -
      Ooooooh grammer nazi. kin eye play!!!??

      "...sarcastic - you still want...". u shud have used an em dash. it shud have bin "...sarcastic—you still want..."

      duh. noob. kthnxbye.
    1. sendertimes's Avatar
      sendertimes -
      I got that same message 3 days ago and called them and told them I use Netflix from my Iphone, and That if they change my unlimited data without my consent, I will file another Law sue agaist AT&T
    1. thetoothfairy's Avatar
      thetoothfairy -
      Play nice!
    1. Doran's Avatar
      Doran -
      I remember when Cingular went to GSM, I had to buy a new phone and get a new plan.... I am thinking that when 4G hits..... We might all lose our "unlimited" data....
    1. i.Annie's Avatar
      i.Annie -
      I'm not sure that making a change to a different type like to GSM is the same as one updating to a 4G device to use 4G. Kind of like the iPhone 2G to 3G when 3G network came out. But with the way AT&T is doing things who knows
    1. 808mp5's Avatar
      808mp5 -
      well... i plan to stop come April 15th to meet/beat the April 16th deadline... see how this all plays out... then after a short break... I'll see what kind of data usage i can get by streaming Pandora while i sleep or anytime my phone is plugged in
    1. NightWraith's Avatar
      NightWraith -
      Quote Originally Posted by michoolyoung View Post
      A friend of mine could not get a signal and they gave him one for free.
      See that's just not fair. . I wish they would have a plan on who gets one or two in stealths case and stick to it.
    1. scottw03's Avatar
      scottw03 -
      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

      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.
      I completely agree. If you think about it this way, you already pay to use the data. Wether it be on your phone or on your tethered ipad/laptop does it matter? You are still using the same data. You are paying AT&T to enable a function on your phone so you can tether the phone to something else. So if you find another way or pay someone else (as in MyWi) to enable that functionality and still use the data you are paying for does it matter? The data is still being used regardless.

      Now I am on an Unlimited data plan still and I only use about 1.6 Gb/month so even with tethering to a WiFi iPad or to a laptop, I still only use about the same amount of data. I don't use my phone for my primary connection. I use it when I visit my parents who do not have internet and want to tether my laptop to watch a TV show online or want to surf the forums. So we are not talking about a high demand or usage of tethering. I do not want to pay $20 extra/month just to have the ability to use it when my usage is extremely low. A one time payment of $20 for that ability is acceptable to me for my usage. Anything more than that is highway robbery.
    1. pcrussell50's Avatar
      pcrussell50 -
      Quote Originally Posted by alexevo View Post
      That isn't theft of services because you're allowed to modify your car any way you see fit unless it presents a safety issue to yourself or other drivers on the road. Since heated seat options likely wouldn't present that problem then nobody will care if you retrofitted heated seats into your car, especially if your car was already wired for them.
      You mean, like a phone that is already "wired" for tethering capability? A capability that can be turned on with a software, "switch"?

      Technically the iPhone didn't come with the ability to tether with version 3.0.0 because the BenM.at mod that people did which signed a different carrier package, thus allowing tethering,
      No native tethering of any kind was available in the iphone before 3.0.0, not even with the BenM.at mod. This fact forces me to conclude that tethering capability was put there by Apple beginning with 3.0.0, to be turned on at the carrier's discretion. All the BenM.at mod did was to make the "settings>general>network>internet tethering" toggle that was made part of the 3.0.0 firmware, visible to users who applied the mod. Further, they also gave out the APN's required to configure the tethering. Same as tetherme does for those of us with 4.x.x. It's not an aftermarket app like mywi, it simply turns on the iphone's native tethering capability. if you look at the file size of tetherme, it's like 40k or so.

      -peter
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      Quote Originally Posted by JohnGaltJr View Post
      Meanwhile let's all agree that this has probably NOTHING to do with network congestion-
      I think that's the one bit I fundamentally disagree with.

      It is not the amount of data but the way it is being used. CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access - and while you are tethering you are restricting the multiple access. It has major network consequences which is why it is prohibited.

      Before anyone says AT&T is GSM not CDMA, their 3G network is HSDPA which is Wide-CDMA as opposed to CDMA200 used by Verizon.

      Tethering has a major adverse affect on both voice and data for other people on the same tower.