Sunday, March 20, 2011

AT&T hunts free tether users.

The Story:

AT&T has started sending text messages and emails to those who are using tethering apps, without paying for the tethering service. (To my knowledge at the time of writing only iPhone users have been affected).

This is my opinion:

I am glad they are doing this.

For far too long have these mobile companies allowed users undermine the services they offer and the sales of their mobile broadband solutions. In the spirit of full disclosure I should make mention that I do work for a company that sells mobile broadband solutions, cell phones, and other devices that use these services. I will not deny that this may cloud my opinion, but so be it.

For those of you who don’t know what mean by mobile broadband solution let me explain, if you already know you can jump to the next paragraph. Many cell phone providers have devices that allow you to connect to the internet nearly anywhere you go by either plugging a device into a USB port on your computer or by simply carrying around a device that creates a wifi network. The service is based off of the same service that allows your mobile phone to connect to the internet nearly everywhere you go. People often ask why not just use the free wifi that you can find more and more places. This is a valid question, but the problem with using open wifi networks is that they expose your computer and your personal data to potential threats.
I know that in my very last blog update I was very negative about AT&T limiting their terrestrial broadband and this seems to be a contradiction to that opinion. I have to argue that this is a different case all together. Mobile broadband is currently a luxury, perhaps in a few years it will be as main stream as broadband is today. Also, I think they have laid out the case pretty well – You are using a service that we charge for, pay for it or stop using it. I don’t see an ulterior motive in this other than the potential that they are trying to remove their grandfathered unlimited plans. If they are trying to remove their unlimited plans, I would assume they could do it the way that Sprint is enforcing their premium data plans (if you change your hardware through upgrade or equipment swap it is applied).
Regarding AT&T removing unlimited data plans on mobile phones, I don’t see this the same way as I do for the removing it from DSL and Uverse. Freedom of choice is the biggest reason - AT&T is offered along side of 2 other post-paid carriers in thousands of locations across the country (Best Buy, Best Buy Mobile stand alone stores, Radio Shack, Target, some Wal-marts, some Staples, and Costco). They also have to compete with pre-paid phones in these locations. I will be worried if the other carriers follow suit, but right now I do see this as a reason that people choose their competitors – if they see enough of this, they may change their policy.

How do I think they are doing it?

I am not 100% sure how they are doing it, but I know how I would go after these users. I would check the ip ranges that data is coming from looking for things that shouldn't be able to be accessed from the phone listed on the account such as: Xbox Live/Playstation network servers, Steam servers, large file transfers (especially those in a format that a phone couldn't open), multiple simultaneous data transfers (from multiple computers access the web at the same time), and for those users that download more than 20GB (not that it is impossible with a phone, but it would merit some account scrutiny).

Am I missing the point?

Don’t feel bad about yelling at me in the comments, or @MichaelASander on Twitter. I will do my best to read and respond to anything that you have to say. Thanks for reading.

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