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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. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by confucious View Post
      I am sure AT&T would much rather no one tethered at all.
      It could also be that AT&T's revenue from LaptopConnect cards is drying up. There's less need for these cards with more and more people owning smartphones.

      Quote Originally Posted by Moosestache View Post
      I think your mother is calling you, it is time for you to come upstairs and have supper. Being 30 and living in your mom's basement must be quite fun.

      Was my comment a bit sarcastic, yes it was. Was your reply to my first comment childish, sarcastic and rude, yes it was. Go home and grow up, let the grownups play here.
      What a great comeback! How long did that take you?

      Here's what I don't understand. Let's assume you aren't paid by AT&T,
      you do have some kind of a life and you are able to get yourself
      a girlfriend. Why then, would you spend your life camped out on an
      MMi forum with the sole purpose of defending AT&T in such a vitriolic manner? You profess to care about the kids that are going to lose their unlimited data plans, yet in your next post you slam them as immature data hogs that are ruining the network for everybody else. Which is it?

      I'm still waiting to hear how you know the percentage of tethering users amongst those being targeted by AT&T's current text and email campaign.

      If you can't think of a constructive counter-argument, just respond with an off-topic random personal insult. That always seems to work.

      Seriously, I hate sarcasm. I can't believe you've got me stooping to your level.
    1. MYPHONEI's Avatar
      MYPHONEI -
      Quote Originally Posted by csglinux View Post

      I'm still waiting to hear how you know the percentage of tethering users amongst those being targeted by AT&T's current text and email campaign.
      At&t has the ability but they have over 71 million customers

      I truly think they are just looking at smartphone people but the only grandfathered in people are probably 5 million or less Iphone users.

      To look at 5 million is doable.
      Then its hit or miss it seems
    1. Moosestache's Avatar
      Moosestache -
      Quote Originally Posted by csglinux View Post
      It could also be that AT&T's revenue from LaptopConnect cards is drying up. There's less need for these cards with more and more people owning smartphones.



      What a great comeback! How long did that take you?

      Here's what I don't understand. Let's assume you aren't paid by AT&T,
      you do have some kind of a life and you are able to get yourself
      a girlfriend. Why then, would you spend your life camped out on an
      MMi forum with the sole purpose of defending AT&T in such a vitriolic manner? You profess to care about the kids that are going to lose their unlimited data plans, yet in your next post you slam them as immature data hogs that are ruining the network for everybody else. Which is it?

      I'm still waiting to hear how you know the percentage of tethering users amongst those being targeted by AT&T's current text and email campaign.

      If you can't think of a constructive counter-argument, just respond with an off-topic random personal insult. That always seems to work.

      Seriously, I hate sarcasm. I can't believe you've got me stooping to your level.
      Listen, you took an off hand comment about lots of people tethering, which they are, flew off the handle and started correcting my grammar. Go away until you have something useful to add, or you can whine a bit more, it doesn't matter to me.
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by Moosestache View Post
      Listen, you took an off hand comment about lots of people tethering, which they are, flew off the handle and started correcting my grammar. Go away until you have something useful to add, or you can whine a bit more, it doesn't matter to me.
      Nowhere was I whining. And it clearly does matter to you; you're always stepping in to defend AT&T, no matter how unfair their policies appear to everyone else.

      I accept a lot of people on this forum probably are tethering on an "unlimited" plan and I don't condone lying to AT&T reps about it. However, the bulk of the population doesn't jailbreak and only a tiny minority of jailbreakers bother to post on these threads. So it seems like neither one of us can be sure that the majority of people calling in to complain to AT&T about these messages are, in fact, tethering and then lying about it.
    1. utahfuntimes's Avatar
      utahfuntimes -
      ONE OF THE MAIN POINTS TO THIS STORY IS BEING LOST IN THE CONVERSATION...

      Contracts with AT&T say absolutely nothing about restrictions on streaming, nor anything about Netflix or Pandora. What the contracts DO mention is tethering. This is why AT&T is trying to put their own spin on the definition of tethering... because tethering is mentioned in the contract and they are trying to use it as a means to get rid of unlimited data plans.

      It would be like the port authority being given a contractual agreement allowing them to charge a toll on a bridge for "Trucks" and then deciding to get around the contract by telling people "your vehicle has four wheels, so by our definition it is a truck... pay up."

      I can put lipstick on a pig and try to call it a super model, but by true definition it is still a pig. AT&T sure has a set of balls trying to write their own definitions of "tethering." Heck, since we are writing up our own definitions of tethering why don't they just say tethering also means any phone call that is over 10 minutes long, downloading any file or app that is over 100mb, or using my iphone during peak hours.
    1. Moosestache's Avatar
      Moosestache -
      Quote Originally Posted by utahfuntimes View Post
      ONE OF THE MAIN POINTS TO THIS STORY IS BEING LOST IN THE CONVERSATION...

      Contracts with AT&T say absolutely nothing about restrictions on streaming, nor anything about Netflix or Pandora. What the contracts DO mention is tethering. This is why AT&T is trying to put their own spin on the definition of tethering... because tethering is mentioned in the contract and they are trying to use it as a means to get rid of unlimited data plans.

      It would be like the port authority being given a contractual agreement allowing them to charge a toll on a bridge for "Trucks" and then deciding to get around the contract by telling people "your vehicle has four wheels, so by our definition it is a truck... pay up."

      I can put lipstick on a pig and try to call it a super model, but by true definition it is still a pig. AT&T sure has a set of balls trying to write their own definitions of "tethering." Heck, since we are writing up our own definitions of tethering why don't they just say tethering also means any phone call that is over 10 minutes long, downloading any file or app that is over 100mb, or using my iphone during peak hours.
      That is the big question. The problem we have right now is we don't have at&t's definition of what tethering is. We have some people here who have spoken with the customer service rep at at&t and have been told one thing. My guess is these reps don't have a clue what they are talking about, and they are just saying things to get you off the phone. If that is the case, I would just ask to speak to a supervisor and explain to them the difference between tethering and downloading data. Then tell them you aren't tethering.

      However, it could be that those reps can see that you are indeed tethering. If they can see that, and you tell them you aren't, well maybe that is why they are coming up with their screwy explanations, rather than call you a liar on the phone. If they know, and you are tethering then you are in trouble. If they know and you aren't then you should be ok.
    1. pcrussell50's Avatar
      pcrussell50 -
      notwithstanding old confucious' high standing around here, in his vitriol against tethering, he has thus far failed to explain how a bit that gets consumed by tethering is more damaging to the network than a bit that gets consumed by a streaming app, or an email.

      -Peter
    1. Moosestache's Avatar
      Moosestache -
      Quote Originally Posted by csglinux View Post
      Nowhere was I whining. And it clearly does matter to you; you're always stepping in to defend AT&T, no matter how unfair their policies appear to everyone else.

      I accept a lot of people on this forum probably are tethering on an "unlimited" plan and I don't condone lying to AT&T reps about it. However, the bulk of the population doesn't jailbreak and only a tiny minority of jailbreakers bother to post on these threads. So it seems like neither one of us can be sure that the majority of people calling in to complain to AT&T about these messages are, in fact, tethering and then lying about it.
      Sort of funny, Ive read everything youve posted and all youve done so far is whine. Boohoo grow up and come back then doood, oh and complain about my grammar. Mean old at&t upsettin you, why dont you call us all att employees, thatll show us, dont forget to comment on the grammar again, and please dont forget that darn old grammar, probably Ive forgotten a few apostrophes this time too, drats.
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      [QUOTE=utahfuntimes;5964066]ONE OF THE MAIN POINTS TO THIS STORY IS BEING LOST IN THE CONVERSATION...

      Contracts with AT&T say absolutely nothing about restrictions on streaming, nor anything about Netflix or Pandora. What the contracts DO mention is tethering. This is why AT&T is trying to put their own spin on the definition of tethering... /QUOTE]

      Streaming is probably worse for the network than just tethering. But while I defend AT&T charging people for tethering, their trying to say streaming is tethering is just plain wrong. They probably need to restrict streaming for the sake of the network, how, I don't know, but lying is not the way.

      They should have prohibited tethering and streaming in their contracts. They did prohibit tethering so people don't have a legitimate argument for that, but syreaming has never been prohibited - that is AT&T's fault, I think they are likely to have serious problems on their hands if they continue their farcical definition of 'tethering'.
    1. JohnGaltJr's Avatar
      JohnGaltJr -
      I'd also like to know how tethering (or any other use of) 3G data- which I believe comes down a wholly separate "pipe" than voice- can have any effect on the frequency of dropped calls. I'm specifically addressing AT&T but perhaps it is the same thing for Verizon?

      Why not try to "blame" people with air-cards then also for causing problems?

      Face it- the future is wireless data.

      First people abandoned their copper lines into their homes for POTS and went to mobile phones. I can count the people I know that still have a "home phone" on my fingers. Then people started dropping their cable modems in favor of using wireless broadband connections in many cases. IMO that trend can only increase many fold as time goes by. Suppliers of this data pathway must adapt or be left in the dust by the competition in the marketplace- if there is still any left after this merger.
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      Quote Originally Posted by pcrussell50 View Post
      notwithstanding old confucious' high standing around here, in his vitriol against tethering, he has thus far failed to explain how a bit that gets consumed by tethering is more damaging to the network than a bit that gets consumed by a streaming app, or an email.

      -Peter
      Streaming and tethering are both as bad as each other, just AT&T never prohibited streaming so they cant now say you can't do it.

      The reason they are both far, far worse than other forms of data usage is because of the way the mobile data networks work.

      Basically, if I understand correctly, each base station (or cell, or tower) has multiple channels and multiple time slices. These can be allocated between voice and data with voice always being given priority and when a bit of data is transmited it takes a channel for a period of time and releases it so someone else can use the channel, this can happen multiple times per second so many people can use a few channels.

      Tethering and streaming both grab and hold a channel or channels so no one else can use them. A few channels can service many hundreds of voice calls, or 'normal'data uses but only a very few tethered/streaming connections. If a base station has 8 channels and there are 7 people tethering/streaming then only 1/8th of it's capacity is available for everyone else's data/voice which is why they have connection problems.

      I'm sure someone with more technical knowledge can explain it better than I have, it was explained to me a few years ago by someone who was a telecoms engineer and confirmed by others, the exact details are a bit hazy but that is the gist of it.

      If my memory serves me wrong then I would appreciate someone enlightening me but if I am right it does explain why networks do not like tethering or streaming.
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by Moosestache View Post
      Sort of funny, Ive read everything youve posted and all youve done so far is whine. Boohoo grow up and come back then doood, oh and complain about my grammar. Mean old at&t upsettin you, why dont you call us all att employees, thatll show us, dont forget to comment on the grammar again, and please dont forget that darn old grammar, probably Ive forgotten a few apostrophes this time too, drats.
      This type of post does more harm to the archer than the target. Fire away...
    1. MYPHONEI's Avatar
      MYPHONEI -
      Quote Originally Posted by confucious View Post
      Streaming and tethering are both as bad as each other, just AT&T never prohibited streaming so they cant now say you can't do it.

      The reason they are both far, far worse than other forms of data usage is because of the way the mobile data networks work.

      Basically, if I understand correctly, each base station (or cell, or tower) has multiple channels and multiple time slices. These can be allocated between voice and data with voice always being given priority and when a bit of data is transmited it takes a channel for a period of time and releases it so someone else can use the channel, this can happen multiple times per second so many people can use a few channels.

      Tethering and streaming both grab and hold a channel or channels so no one else can use them. A few channels can service many hundreds of voice calls, or 'normal'data uses but only a very few tethered/streaming connections. If a base station has 8 channels and there are 7 people tethering/streaming then only 1/8th of it's capacity is available for everyone else's data/voice which is why they have connection problems.

      I'm sure someone with more technical knowledge can explain it better than I have, it was explained to me a few years ago by someone who was a telecoms engineer and confirmed by others, the exact details are a bit hazy but that is the gist of it.

      If my memory serves me wrong then I would appreciate someone enlightening me but if I am right it does explain why networks do not like tethering or streaming.
      Honestly this is a failed argument.

      This is the 21st century, phones, all phones are becoming hand held computers and rely on the web.

      Iphone requires a data plan because the basic functions of the IOS is based partly on the web and connectivity to the web just as android does.

      At&t wanted the Iphone, both US carrires requires data plans. In this At&t was then obligated years ago to plan for a network that could support the phone and the future.

      You and others keep blaming people for using the network, it is not our fault. At&t wants the money and huge profits then brainwashes people into a logic that we are somehow responsible for the problems with the network they have not upgraded.

      As the use of wireless advances as well as cloud computing, it is the duty of the wireless carriers to provide and keep up the needed services we pay a premium for.

      It is At&t's fault for the congestion not the users.

      It is a failure to blame users.
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      The 3G network was designed well before the iPhone and other Smartphones were thought of.

      While LTE will improve coverage it is still WCDMA so will not, I believe, improve the situation. Streaming and tethering were never envisaged when the mobile data network was being designed.

      It is their 'duty' to provide the services you want?

      I don't believe there is such a solution and if one is invented, the cost of implementing it would be so prohibitive as to be unworkable.

      Do you know of a solution that could be implemented? Or are you just pissing in the wind?
    1. Irish Rose's Avatar
      Irish Rose -
      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'm grandfathered into the unlimited data plan as well. I use about 3GB per month. Half of that usage comes from MyWi. I haven't received any text message from AT&T so far.
    1. 808mp5's Avatar
      808mp5 -
      There's more apps than pandora and netflix. Ex. I4iphoned which is linked to megadownload. With mega and no subscription I'm allowed to download 1 file up to 999MB at a time. Do one a day for a month and shy 30GB. Now that's not tethering but still "abusing" my unlimited plan? I could also use MyTube and download all my favorite YouTube videos. Either way I bet AT&T would say I'm tethering.
    1. confucious's Avatar
      confucious -
      Either way AT&T would be wrong.
    1. Esjay's Avatar
      Esjay -
      It is not only people with unlimited data. We have 4 iPhones three of which are tethered. I have received the email and text on two of my devices one with the 2GB plan. This line has never used more than 4GB in a month and costs me $10 per GB but still had to call them about that line. Just thought this might help narrow down how they are detecting tethering.
    1. MYPHONEI's Avatar
      MYPHONEI -
      Quote Originally Posted by confucious View Post
      The 3G network was designed well before the iPhone and other Smartphones were thought of.
      I don't get your point? Iphones require data as part of the function of the phone. At&t wanted Iphone so it's At&t's responsibilty to provide the network for the phone.
      While LTE will improve coverage it is still WCDMA so will not, I believe, improve the situation. Streaming and tethering were never envisaged when the mobile data network was being designed.
      Really? I was tethering 6 years ago with my palm 680 phone PDA net, I think its been around a long time.

      It is their 'duty' to provide the services you want?
      Uh provide the services I pay for. 3g and not drop my calls.
      I don't believe there is such a solution and if one is invented, the cost of implementing it would be so prohibitive as to be unworkable.

      Do you know of a solution that could be implemented? Or are you just pissing in the wind?
      More towers?
      Better switches and equipment?

      Why would it be wrong to expect At&t to put money into the system with them signing up more people? Seems like they should be expected to upgrade and increase the system to support the business they are doing.


      All other business expand by investing in buildings and infrastructure why should At&t be any different.

      As a customer I expect this and I expect the service to be upheld to a reasonable standard.
    1. tribe51's Avatar
      tribe51 -
      I dont have an issue with them trying to reel in the super heavy users but I strongly disagree with the way they charge their customers. Texting and MMS are data and should be included in those usage amount, not charged separately as an additional fee.

      I also cant stand how they charge extra for calling and messaging Canada because its not like there is some border-long invisible data/voice tollbooth. Actually being that I live in the Eastern US, Montreal and Toronto are closer to me than Los Angeles but yet I have to pay an extra fee. Its ridiculous. Due to those policies I have no sympathy for ATT getting taken advantage of by JB and Tethering users. I say, have at it folks.