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Almost every major mobile carrier in the world implements data throttling for clients with unlimited data plans. Data throttling is the technique used by data carriers to limit bandwidth. To the end user, this means agonizingly slow connection speeds.

If you are on an unlimited plan that’s throttled once you exceed certain limits or you have a data cap, as most people do, this article offers practical advice on how to avoid throttling.

Why Do Carriers Throttle Bandwidth, Am I Affected & Is It Legal?

A broadband speed test Are You Getting The Broadband Speed You're Paying For? Are You Getting The Broadband Speed You're Paying For? How fast is your Internet connection, really? Your Internet service provider quotes you speeds, but how do you know if you’re actually getting the speed you’re paying for? You can find out using one of... Read More will usually alert you to the possibility that you are being throttled. Carriers do this to prevent one individual or a few people clogging up the network. When a few users generate a massive load on the network, the result is slow speeds for everyone. This is the justification for data caps.

Despite this seemingly clear logic, data throttling remains a sensitive and controversial issue. On the one hand, you have data carriers trying to keep their networks fast, and on the other you have data users who want to do whatever they please with their data plan. After all, why shouldn’t you get what you paid for?

The problem has been that mobile data carriers engage in false advertising. When customers buy unlimited data plans, they are rarely told that the contract includes a ‘fair usage’ policy. This policy is usually buried in illegible fine print on the website or printed marketing material. Often, the word ‘unlimited’ has an asterisk next to it with a corresponding footnote that merely states, “terms and conditions apply”. Most customers learn about the fair usage policy when their download speeds drop to a crawl.

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False advertising is a serious concern worldwide and several mobile phone companies are now finding themselves on the wrong end of the law. For example, in 2012, AT&T was hauled to a small claims court by Matt Spaccarelli in Simi Valley, California. While awarding Matt $850, the judge noted that it was unfair for AT&T to limit data usage after selling an unlimited plan. Subsequently, AT&T announced that they were discontinuing their unlimited data plan.

Monitor Your Data Usage

One of the easiest ways to avoid being throttled is to keenly monitor your data usage. To start with, find out exactly how much your data plan provides. Depending on your location, this will range from 1 to 3GB. Armed with this information, several mobile apps can help you monitor your data usage.

Android 4.0 8 Cool New & Revised Features In Android 4.0 Ice-Cream Sandwich 8 Cool New & Revised Features In Android 4.0 Ice-Cream Sandwich It’s a new year, and we have a new version of Android. Known popularly by the code name Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.0 is an important update to Google’s mobile operating system. It will be... Read More  and above already features a data usage monitor offering several ways to track data usage. For example, it can give you a predicted usage based on the previous month’s usage. It even recommends a daily data cap. This gives you a fairly good idea of how much music you can stream and how many YouTube videos you can watch during the month.  But in case your device is running a lower version of Android, the following free apps in Play Store are great; Onavo Count, 3G watchdog and My Data Manager.

Apple iOS also offers a way, albeit not very useful, to monitor your data usage by going to ->Settings ->General -> Usage  -> Cellular Usage. Reset the statistics at the beginning of your billing period and then monitor your usage during the month. For more intelligent data stats, you need a free data usage app such as DataMonitor (requires Jailbreak) or Onavo Count.

Use Wi-Fi

Avoid using the data carrier’s network any time you can use your own home network or office network. It not only helps conserve your data, but it is also more reliable since you are unlikely to hit a dead zone in one section of your home.  Also, make it a habit to update all smartphone apps over Wi-Fi.

Minimize Streaming Services

YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, and other streaming services hog data. You can easily exhaust your data plan and find yourself throttled within the first few days of your billing period. If you have kids, you have to be very careful what they do on your mobile device when you don’t have Wi-Fi. These days, smartphones and tablet computers double up as kid boredom destroyers. Many popular Android & iOS games are bandwidth intensive. For example, games with detailed 3D graphics are bulky to download while games that rely on an active Internet connection to play use up loads of data. As a rule of thumb, avoid games that require you to interact and play with other people online.

kid with ipad

Data Compression

Data compression is quickly becoming the method of choice to reduce bandwidth usage and generally speed up the Internet. This method works by sending an optimized version of content across the network. The latest Chrome browsers for Android (Ice Cream Sandwich) and iOS use data compression technology to reduce  data usage and improve mobile web browsing. Google hosted proxy servers, aptly named SPDY (pronounced Speedy), optimize content before delivering it to your mobile device. To activate data compression go to  “Settings -> Bandwidth Management -> Reduce data usage”. Only HTTP requests are routed via SPDY, secure connections are still routed directly to your mobile device. Google’s internal testing shows that the feature can decrease data usage by over 50% and significantly improve page loading times.

spyd proxy

There are also several mobile apps that use similar methods to compress data. Onavo Extend, compresses your data by up to 500%. It is available for both Android (ICS) and iOS. Opera Browser for Android comes with an “Off Road” mode that uses cloud compression technology to reduce data usage and improve browsing speed.

Root Your Android Device, Modify the ROM & Delete the “Throttle Services” Files

Some data carriers rely on certain configurations in Android devices to cap data. These can be changed to scuttle throttling. When most of us think of data limitation, we think of it as occurring from the carrier’s side. This isn’t always the case; client-side data capping is more common than most of us believe. Deleting the “throttle services” files can work if the carrier is using client side data capping methods. In the US, T-Mobile & AT&T no longer use client side methods so this will not work there.

rootedandroid

It may come as a surprise to learn that phone manufacturers occasionally work with carriers to make data capping easier. For example, in the US, AT&T had originally disabled HSUPA (High-Speed Uplink Packet Access) on the HTC Inspire 4G and Atrix 4G before enabling it in April 2011.

VPN

A VPN service can help you evade throttling if your carrier only throttles peer-to-peer traffic. Encrypting your data prevents your carrier from seeing the contents of your traffic. The network can still see that you are moving large amounts of data, but they have no way of telling what kind of data it is. Take note that this may not work if your carrier has a data cap irrespective of the type of data. Hotspot Shield is an excellent free VPN app Hotspot Shield: A Solid VPN That's Available Free Of Charge Hotspot Shield: A Solid VPN That's Available Free Of Charge Read More available on both Google Play and the App Store.

fastest-vpn-hotspotshield

Conclusion

These tips should help you avoid being throttled. However, many people become victims of data limitation as a result of false advertising. Protect yourself by reading the marketing material from your mobile network keenly. Be particularly vigilant to read the small print to find out the upper limit at which the network starts to throttle your data.

Have you been a victim of throttling in the past? How do you manage your data usage? Let us know in the comments.

Image credits: Squirrel83, Andrew MasonIntelFreePress

  1. Michael Weldon
    July 11, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    I monitor my broadband usage by means of this little app, written by a genius called Rob Dawson, and available from his 'CodeBox' website:-

    http://codebox.org.uk/pages/bitmeteros

    It works on all major platforms;Windows, Mac & Linux. I run 'Puppy' Linux, and a bunch of us on the Puppy Linux Forums developed our own version which allows you to total aggregate usage across multiple 'Pups', since many of us run several different Puppies.

    http://www.murga-linux.com/puppy/viewtopic.php?t=99025

    I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to keep an eye on their data usage.

  2. Michael Weldon
    July 11, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    I'm in the UK, and our ISP is TalkTalk. We moved to TalkTalk after our previous ISP, British Telecom, were charging ridiculous amounts for a monthly landline broadband plan with a 20GB/month limit; somewhere in the region of £750 per annum. This was, however, on fibre optic, with high down & up speeds (so we could hit our limit quicker, right?)

    TalkTalk's plan is unlimited, but fairly slow speeds.....and this is using the same optic fibre cabling... (???)

    Anyway, I monitor usage by means of this little app, written by a genius by the name of Rob Dawson, and available from his 'CodeBox' website:-

    http://codebox.org.uk/pages/bitmeteros

    It's been written to be as lightweight as possible, and has an interactive demo on the siteto show you how it works. I run Linux (Puppy Linux, to be precise), and it's been written to be pretty much cross-platform; it'll work with Windows, Mac, and pretty much all the major flavours of Linux. We developed our own version of it on the Puppy Linux Forums, to be able to give an aggregate total across multiple OS's (many of us run half-a-dozen or more 'Pups'; this lets us add up the total usage across every 'Pup' we run.

    http://www.murga-linux.com/puppy/viewtopic.php?t=99025

    The newest version allows you to distinguish between internet downloads, and LAN usage, so you can see how much of your total is accounted for by each.

    I'd recommend this for keeping an eye on data usage.

  3. James Carlson
    April 8, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    I live in the us like others. And I have what was claimed to be "Unlimited 4G DATA" with slight slow downs. After only 2.5 gb which was gone after about 3 or 4 days. I thought it was only going to be a slight difference. And I was so wrong. I was throttled all the way down to about 10 kbp/s and even at some points lower than kbp/s. It is ridiculous. Thank you T-Mobile for the worst service ever.

    • Tom Baraka
      June 28, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      hahaha! sorry bro we are expriencing same situation here in kenya slow internet its boring man

  4. Rafsun
    March 6, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Thank you soooo much for ur free help. My data throttling ended and im in my full speed once again. MakeUseOf....ur the best. I wish i coukd rate u. I was throttled from 1mb to .12! But now the best part is im getting 3mb speed! Cheers!!!

  5. Unknown
    January 21, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    I hate to tell this, but my mobile carrier throttle my internet speed to 0.03 kb/s! I have unlimited plan, but I have sluggy internet speed.

  6. Amee.n
    January 19, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    for me,i live in sudan and the fastest internet you could hardly get there is about 2 to 3 mbps and its so expensive ,some times i dont even feel like im online.

  7. unknown
    January 16, 2015 at 12:37 am

    Take back your service tear down their infrastructure. Show them what angry people can do stop b8&%$@ng about it and do something about it.

  8. Joseph O
    March 1, 2014 at 5:55 am

    I live in the US and I have to deal with T-Mobile's awful service, after I use 500 MB of "High Speed Unlimited 4G" u get throttled to about 7Kbps which is unbearable.

  9. Daniel pegler
    February 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

    At least you guys have unlimited usage plans. Here in Australia excess data above your cap isn't throttled but charged at anywhere from 2 to 8 cents per MB

  10. Kobun37
    December 10, 2013 at 10:26 am

    There are two ways you can still get unlimited high-speed with no throttling in the US...

    1 - Buy a Verizon account with grandfathered unlimited data. Basically you do an assumption of liability and take over the account of someone who still has the unlimited data feature. VZW has not offered this feature in four or five years, and you can't change the plan. Whatever the amount of minutes the person had is what you get. Expect to pay the account holder a couple hundred bucks unless you can find someone who is looking to unload several lines at once and is desperate to get out.

    Or switch to Sprint or T-Mobile's unlimited. If you live in an area where these carriers have high-speed 4G or LTE, you're in luck. I have TMO and hit 120 GB a few months back with no throttle.

  11. Doug
    December 4, 2013 at 9:53 am

    To sell services the carriers created in the consumers unrealistic expectations. I don't think it unreasonable to expect the carriers build the network resources needed to be able to provide what they sold. I'm not sure how they are going to convince the public that video on demand and other high bandwidth web content where ever we may be at at any particular moment is an unreasonable expectation.

    • kihara
      December 5, 2013 at 7:59 am

      You are quite right, it isn't an unreasonable expectation!

  12. Matthew H
    November 29, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Great article as always Kihara!

    • kihara
      December 5, 2013 at 7:57 am

      Thank you Matthew!

  13. Mark A
    November 29, 2013 at 6:06 am

    Same here in Malaysia. It seems that every carrier advertise "UNLIMITED data plan". They really emphasize a lot on the word UNLIMITED...which lots of people thinks that it is a great promotion. Friends used to say that "aaa" has good plan, because it has UNLIMITED data plan. LOL...

  14. Ketharaman Swaminathan (GTM360 Marketing Solutions)
    November 28, 2013 at 7:58 am

    FUPs have been around for years. It's irresponsible for consumers to claim ignorance of it. Thanks to the regulator's intervention, I suspect, there's an interesting twist to FUP in India. Each plan has two variants, one which operates in the common way of throttling speed without additional charges for additional data usage, the other where the speed is not reduced but subscriber pays additional charges for additional data usage. While MNO websites and store attendants could do a much better job of explaining these two options, they definitely make their existence clear upfront.

  15. Curtis Kemmerle
    November 27, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Try switching to AIO. They offer unlimited talk and text with 3Gb data on a month-to-month without a contract for $55/month.

    AIO is a new subsidiary of AT&T so you reap the benefits of their network on a smart phone for &40, $55 or $70 per month.

    I learned about this when I started filling a contract installing the POS for these stores in Sacramento area.

    See http://www.aio.com for more info

  16. Meidimi S
    November 27, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Great article, used to have an unlimited data plan but then I started getting throttled to 15kbs which is ridiculous, so use it on my tab to download series which takes forever. On my phone I pay per GB which is much faster. My wifi also gets throttled after a 1gb or so, very sad situation i live in but i make do with what i have. I live in sudan.

  17. Esaure
    November 27, 2013 at 4:43 am

    Why you didn't recommend 'Android Firewall donate' (or free version) for, as its name says, Android for those with root?

    By default, we can enable white list, mark apps to conect over wifi and/or data (root required).

    I'm a S4 mini happy user with CyanogenMOD & Android Firewall Donate but i have it in my Iconia Tab

    • Kihara
      November 27, 2013 at 4:52 am

      You are quite right, Android Firewall Donate lowers data usage and adds security to Android. There are quite a number of tools one can use to reduce data usage, what I have included in the article are just a few examples.

    • Kyle
      December 27, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Just use DroidWall. Free and simple to use (need to be rooted obviously)

  18. Pam
    November 27, 2013 at 12:55 am

    Even Internet providers/wifi are doing this... I have been with the same company; pay a fortune for higher speeds and "unlimited" plans and now I am getting messages that I will be charges $ for each additional minute.... Seriously???? I can't wait to cut the cable cord (this is very close to a reality)... Their fees are OUTRAGEOUS and now they are charging by the minute.

  19. Diego
    November 26, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    I switched to Solavei who uses T mobile network because the unlimited data caps at 4gb. Higher than most others.

  20. Antonio F
    November 26, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks for a useful article! Another user friendly and free app you can use on Android, IOS, and Windows Phone is OOKLA Speedtest (http://www.speedtest.net/mobile/).

    • Kihara
      November 27, 2013 at 4:49 am

      Thank you! It looks like a cool tool, I'll check it out.

  21. Steve
    November 26, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I wonder if the providers have some detection Aps running. Every time I run a speed-test I get poor results (about 750kbps download) BUT if I re-start the test immediately, I get 6+mbps !! I am based in Ireland

  22. Muthu K
    November 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    nice article...

    • Kihara
      November 27, 2013 at 4:52 am

      Thank you Muthu!

  23. Frank P
    November 26, 2013 at 7:51 am

    all we need now is a list of throttling apk's to delete and a How-To ;)

  24. Kamruzzaman C
    November 26, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Thanks for sharing these information. I used to use Hotspot Shield free version but sometimes it creates problem and shows too much ads.

  25. Yalqadi
    November 26, 2013 at 6:44 am

    actually,the free version of Hotspot Shield throttles your connection.

    • Guy Andrew
      November 26, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      Yes i found that to ironically with Hotspot Shield

    • ehw
      November 28, 2013 at 2:13 am

      My AT&T LTE 4G checked out at ping 29 ms, 27.88 Mbps Download and 5.03 Mbps Upload on Ookla Speed Test. After installing free version of Hotspot Shield the numbers were ping 158 ms, 1.23 Mbps Download and "Upload test failed". That is horrible. Needless to say I removed Hotspot Shield from my iPhone 5S. Because makeuseof has always been a valuable and dependable source of information I decided to ask what was the problem. That is when I found this thread. So --- what accounts for this hit on the numbers? and, what kind of numbers should I expect if I were to subscribe to their service? If there is still a significant hit I don't want to throw my money way even at $5/mo. Can anyone help me out?

  26. Kyem G
    November 26, 2013 at 3:26 am

    Same here in India... Each n every network is just cheating their customers with the same false advertisement of Unlimited internet usage.. Once upon a time a full Unlimited internet plan used to be as cheap as ?98 ($1.5)mfor 2G and the same has gone a whooping up to ?199 ($3) for the slow 2g and now for 3G, is upto ?2000+ ($31) for a few GB and after throttling, they won't even provide the 2G speed of 128 kbps, the speed goes down drastically to 2-4kbps... With which even Facebook needs a minute time to load...
    My opinion for all Indian is to go for a local cable broadband where you'll obviously get a great speed and service with plans of 256kbps to 8mbps from ?400 to ?2000 .. You'll be highly satisfied and you r free to use a wifi router to share the internet. And when you are out of ur home in transports, as our railway stations n bus stops don't have public wifi, you may check ur fb updates n mails in no time, use the social networking packs for ur mobile. Choose reliance or aircel for these packs costing ?16 and ?24. For ?24, you'll get 100mb of data usage for 1 month and if you use them all, you'll b charges ?.01 for a kb of usage... So I think its enough for whats app, bbm, fb and mail...

    • zackery ward
      March 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      Hey, I am going to Mumbai in a few days and I am willing to spend whatever amount is necessary to get the very best data plan. Preferably 4G. 10-15gb a month would be fantastic. Any help would be great. Thanks!

  27. Jared
    November 26, 2013 at 3:06 am

    YEa, at&t's NET10 service sold me some falsely advertised unlimited internet on my android and it wasn't until i had to call customer service 15 times and spend about 8 hours on the phone with them " which if you ask me probably cost them more than if they just stuck to their word on unlimited data."
    And the representatives kept sending me back and fourth to eachother for days and days until finally one told me that there was an error with my internet account, they fixed it about 8 times then finally sent me to a very evil sounding automated question system which said i was in violation of their TOS for watching a movie. Then gave me a warning and cut my internet off for about a month, The next month they reinstated my internet with the warning of 2GB limit on internet when it clearly stated on the package, "unlimited data use". Now every month after the first few days my connection goes down to a staggeringly low 5kbps and is hardly even usable! Thanks a lot at&t NET10 service!

    • kihara
      November 26, 2013 at 5:55 am

      5kps! Wow that's really slow even on a throttled service...

    • Kannon Y
      November 26, 2013 at 6:55 am

      Wow, that's outrageous. Net10, Straight Talk and Tracfone aren't my favorite companies in the world (they're all owned by the same company). I wish they would throttle to 3G at the lowest. It seems that they're throttling to 2G or, in some cases, speeds even below that.

    • Kannon Y
      November 26, 2013 at 6:59 am

      Great article! I'm hoping to try some of these apps out soon. I finally got a phone that works on all the biggest four American carriers, so I can finally test each one. I'm going to guess that AT&T is the worst throttler and Sprint WiMAX is the best.

  28. Caroline W
    November 26, 2013 at 1:08 am

    Yes, the common asterix next to 'Unlimited' is a bit naughty as they should say clearly what it 'Really' entails because many people don't read the tiny writing about what the asterix means. So to me, it is very false advertising. I just switched broadband companies and made triple sure it is Totally unlimited, but are they going to slow me down even though the guy said No,No,No - Probably, but my old company did regardless of the same repetitive "No's". A good article Kihara :)

    • kihara
      November 26, 2013 at 5:55 am

      Thank you Caroline!

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