Verizon warns it will throttle back speeds for data hogs

Timed with iPhone pre-orders, the move is seen as protecting other users

Verizon Wireless today warned new customers that it will throttle back data speeds on the top five per cent of users who hog network bandwidth, a move apparently timed with the Feb. 10 carrier's launch of the data-hungry iPhone 4.

In the past, Verizon has joined other national carriers in suggesting that data hogs could be targeted, especially since smartphones consume extraordinary amounts of data that can overburden networks. The iPhone is considered a heavy data user, as customers have been known to access multiple applications and run video over the AT&T cellular network where the phone has until now exclusively run in the U.S.

Verizon notified new data customers about its plans on Thursday on its Web site ( download PDF ), almost as a footnote, warning that if customers "use an extraordinary amount of data and fall within the top five per cent of Verizon Wireless data users, we may reduce your data throughput speeds periodically for the remainder of your then-current and immediately following billing cycle."

The notice explains that the move is intended to ensure high quality network performance for other customers during peak demand times and in crowded locations. "Our proactive management of the Verizon Wireless network is designed to ensure that the remaining 95 per cent of data customers aren't negatively affected by the inordinate data consumption of just a few users," the notice concludes.

Analyst Jack Gold at J. Gold Associates said most average data users will be happy that Verizon is working to keep networks uncongested. "Not only is Verizon not going to break any FCC rules with this action, it will probably make most people happy," he said. "If you get a number of bandwidth hogs on the network, it messes up the network for the rest of us. It's a shared resource.

"A user who downloads three YouTube videos at 5 p.m. might affect my ability to get an email," he said.

Gold and other analysts predicted Verizon's move will be followed by other carriers. "The whole notion of unlimited data is unsustainable," he said.

Rather than raising rates, as some carriers have done to limit usage, Verizon has said it will limit speeds, although it is not clear by how much.

Gold said the Verizon action obviously comes in conjunction with the launch of the iPhone , which went on pre-sale to Verizon customers on Thursday. "Look at what iPhone did to AT&T, which saw data rates go up dramatically with iPhone, especially in New York and San Francisco," Gold said.

"As more and more smart devices get on the network, you'll see more data metering or throttling or whatever you want to call it," he said. "They can either let a lot of hogs on the network and get complaints from everybody else or try to get ahead of matters."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

Read more about wireless networking in Computerworld's Wireless Networking Topic Center.

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