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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. gotanmp3's Avatar
      gotanmp3 -
      Quote Originally Posted by dannyben View Post
      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.
      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.
    1. Cal1982's Avatar
      Cal1982 -
      I use mywi rarely. I mostly download movies from the thebigu.info. I might use 500mb to tether and about 10 gig to download movies to my phone using download manger lite. Well I got a email and a text from att. Well I called them and told them I don't tether and that I just download movies. They said the email has nothing to do with how much data I use and it's that I was or was tethering. Well I called a second time and this time they said that anybody over 6 gig is getting flagged. I ask them when did it say I was tethering. They said they did not know
    1. i.Annie's Avatar
      i.Annie -
      I like your explanation. It makes a lot of sense. Better said than mine thank you!

      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.
    1. NoKluE's Avatar
      NoKluE -
      I'm currently on day 9 of 30 and already over 4GB of data. Haven't received any meesage since the first round. I have MyWi but rarely use it but I use Netflix and Pandora alot.
    1. thetoothfairy's Avatar
      thetoothfairy -
      Quote Originally Posted by i.Annie View Post
      You make a very valid point. I agree. With the way things are going, we just have to face it, get mad (or not lol for some), accept it, and move on. Nothing much we can do about both large companies like AT&T or the customers who may or may not use a lot of data. It's just the way things are unfortunately.
      As long as there is data plans there will be data hogs..... however AT&T knows this so maybe they should do something to improve their own situation like creating a network than can actually provide the amount of data they sell or offered when the iPhone came out.
    1. Mookest's Avatar
      Mookest -
      I got this message last week and i only did 2 gigs all of march. I'm running 3.1.2.

      For Android people... you get re-directed to buy tethering when you try to use the built in feature. There are tethering apps on the marketplace like Tetherme or something like that. BUT here is where it gets fun. AT&T Filters the marketplace So you cannot find a tethering app. Even when you are on WiFi. Here is the workaround: Power off Remove your sim. Power on. connect to wifi the marketplace your now unfiltered apps. Then reverse and it lets you keep and use the tether apps.
    1. CZroe's Avatar
      CZroe -
      I just want somene to write a guide on how install and set up OpenVPN on a Tomato or DDWRT router so that I can use a VPN tunneling application and not worry about ANY of that.
    1. gdd2010's Avatar
      gdd2010 -
      Shoot! I think I blow the roof off that and they haven't spoken to me at all. Then again, I'm on a premier account through my employer.
      I think I hit around 30 gig/ month. Lol
    1. JAYPIFF's Avatar
      JAYPIFF -
      I got that text too, If they mess around I'm going to spring Evo
    1. CZroe's Avatar
      CZroe -
      Quote Originally Posted by thetoothfairy View Post
      As long as there is data plans there will be data hogs..... however AT&T knows this so maybe they should do something to improve their own situation like creating a network than can actually provide the amount of data they sell or offered when the iPhone came out.
      This, and it should apply to wired ISPs just the same. For example, any additional capacity they create gets used to market things like "speed boost" which only help mainstream users buffer their YouTube videos faster at your expense. Traffic shaping is evil. Data caps are stifling future Internet uses before they can even exist. The lack of net neutrality is doing the same thing to the less popular services. Look at the uproar everytime WoW update changes the packet signature of WoW traffic and then understand that every other MMO that ever hopes to compete with WoW would have to pay off ISPs with money they haven't earned yet if they expect equal treatment and all the other games and such suffer as a result. If I want to play my old copy of Quake III Arena that no ISP cares about anymore, WoW and YouTube prioritization would probably make it a more miserable experience than when I first got my cable modem in the 1990s.

      Quote Originally Posted by gdd2010 View Post
      Shoot! I think I blow the roof off that and they haven't spoken to me at all. Then again, I'm on a premier account through my employer.
      I think I hit around 30 gig/ month. Lol
      They're proably busy plotting your assasination and don't want to tip you off.
    1. thetoothfairy's Avatar
      thetoothfairy -
      I don't know what the big deal is with AT&T with this... they wanted to be the giant! Sprint offers soooooooo much and they aren't complaining. I know AT&T has more customers however that is what they wanted....

      Apple should have made their own network so we didn't have to deal with anyone but them with their products is how I feel... lol
    1. Cal1982's Avatar
      Cal1982 -
      Next Bill Cycle: 04/19/2011
      Data (MB): 10435.8 of Unlimited
      Messaging: 9035 of Unlimited
    1. kraziebone's Avatar
      kraziebone -
      I am worried when the iPhone 5 comes out it will come with a mandatory data plan that is not unlimited. That way they can slowly desolve these unlimited plans by pitting them against new devices.
    1. capufo's Avatar
      capufo -
      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 .
    1. capufo's Avatar
      capufo -
      Quote Originally Posted by thetoothfairy View Post
      I don't know what the big deal is with AT&T with this... they wanted to be the giant! Sprint offers soooooooo much and they aren't complaining. I know AT&T has more customers however that is what they wanted....

      Apple should have made their own network so we didn't have to deal with anyone but them with their products is how I feel... lol
      I agree so much with you, apple should have invested on their own network but them again no one knew that the iPhone was going to revolutionize the phone market.
    1. Nickaroni22's Avatar
      Nickaroni22 -
      I have a friend that works for AT&T, he has told me that he's pretty sure they know who's jailbroken and who isnt. This may have something to do with the use of MyWi, My3G. My3G allows you to download large apps from the app store, facetime on 3G uses 3mb a minute Ive read. MyWi is def a data hog! I use Netflix, and now MLB at bat 11, and I use a SlingBox, I've used 5.6gb as of now. I havent heard anything from AT&T as of yet.
    1. mikerlx's Avatar
      mikerlx -
      Quote Originally Posted by drewstone View Post
      i say screw 'em (At&T) only due to the fact that their service sucks. Yeah, i tether, but i also have a Verizon Mifi, and if they give me crap about it, ill e-mail them the bill from Verizon and tell them to kiss my *****. my contract is up soon anyway, so if they wanna change my contract, go for it, i don't care.
      ATT service sucks I get dropped calls all day especially during those good conversations. Anyway, ATT needs to update there towers just for the iPhone, so data hungry users have more options and better coverage. Customers is always right.
    1. Ethanolic's Avatar
      Ethanolic -
      What about the people with the iPad unlimited data plan running on the iphone 4??? There are no texting plan nor voice on the iPad.. so how are they going to text me or let me know? Besides all iPad billing are on monthly automatic transactions, they can't just hike the bill and charge me without my consent...
    1. iFrosty's Avatar
      iFrosty -
      I wonder if location has a factor in these messages. Maybe they are sending those messages out to people in average to below average areas trying to scare them. That way there is more data to go around once the hysteria kicks in.
      Its just a thought...
    1. Orby's Avatar
      Orby -
      Quote Originally Posted by i.Annie View Post
      Nice write-up, really informative. It truly is a hunt for unlimited data users who uses more than 5GB. Those on the capped plan already won't be targeted whether tethering or not bc they have to pay $10 per gig after using up 2GB anyway so AT&T could care less about them. It isn't about tethering. I think AT&T really just wants to kill unlimited data off as much as possible. Thanks for the info.
      I think this, plus trying to alleviate congestion on their network through extra charges (trying to change user behavior with the stick rather than the carrot) is a major, if not only, motivation for this recent wave.

      No offense to Cowboy or his employers, but I believe AT&T isn't smart enough to look at the few tipoffs (and there are a few, all I can think of were mentioned in this article or its predecessor) that can't be dodged with preparation or spoofing on the user's end--they're just looking at the data hogs and are trying to cull the herd.

      Quote Originally Posted by javiert30 View Post
      In our contract with ATT, under iPhone and Certain Other Devices says:

      I agree that ATT may add required plans to my account and bill me the appropriate monthly fee if I use an iPhone or other device that has plan requirements.

      So if they do it, we all going to have to pay the early termination fee agreement $325.00 to cancel the contract. But I tell you what, I will pay it without think about it.
      And there goes the "contract change = free exit" hole. I bet that clause has been there since 2007 at least. Possibly unenforceable, but it'd take a whole lotta time and money to get it to a venue where'd you would have a chance of winning the case (you'd have to bring the suit in AT&T-land in Houston County, Texas) with competent lawyers to beat back AT&T's.

      Quote Originally Posted by CZroe View Post
      I just want somene to write a guide on how install and set up OpenVPN on a Tomato or DDWRT router so that I can use a VPN tunneling application and not worry about ANY of that.
      Wouldn't do squat against aggregate data monitoring on AT&T's end. Apparently it doesn't matter (or we haven't found the pattern) where your data is going, just the amount. 25 GB over AT&T's spectrum to Netflix over your iPhone directly, over your tethered laptop, or to your home router via VPN then onto Netflix is still 25 GB of data, which is what AT&T appears to be latching down on.

      Simple economics, folks. 30/month for unlimited data (let's say 5 GB safely), or 45/month (since a tethering plan automatically revokes your unlimited data) for 4 GB and 10/month per GB after that, rounded up?

      This is a screwjob. Nothing less. I expect this from Verizon... wait; come June 30th or so, it'll end up like this there too I bet.