In what can only be described as a real sphincter-clencher for Sprint customers, the nation's last true unlimited smartphone data provider has made a move that may signal the eventual end of that philosophy.

Yesterday, Sprint announced that customers on its Virgin-branded pre-paid arm, Virgin Mobile, will now be subjected to data throttling after 2.5GB of usage in a month. Sprint claims this will only affect 3% of all Virgin mobile data subscribers. The throttling will limit data hogs to a paltry 256Kbits/s once they've capped out at the 2.5GB mark in a single month - which is actually a little better than what T-Mobile does (dropping people to EDGE speeds).

This news will likely evoke a response from Sprint at some point - whether on their upcoming earnings call, or maybe even sooner than that. Unlimited is Sprint's marketing lifeblood, so we wouldn't expect them to begin throttling on their primary network any time soon. In fact, I'd expect a vehement denial of any move away from unlimited data by Sprint. But throttling and "unlimited" aren't exactly mutually exclusive.

We know how this song and dance goes - T-Mobile calls its data plans "truly unlimited," when it's clearly just marketing puff - consumers are throttled after reaching 2GB of data usage in a month. It's like having unlimited milkshakes - but after the first two, you have to drink them with chopsticks until next month rolls around. No doubt, this kind of advertising is highly tempting for a carrier looking to save a few bucks.


David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.ericcamil.com Eric

    "but after the first two, you have to drink them with chopsticks until next month rolls around. " That was what I needed to read with my morning coffee!

  • tehsusenoh

    It's funny, because they scold T-Moblie for doing the same thing in their ads.

  • nctrnl

    I had Sprint for 12 years up until this month. I live and work and play in Dallas within a 2 mile radius of downtown. I can say 4G/WiMax would work fine (while killing your battery), but on 3G, I was lucky to get 256kbps. Speeds on 3G were usually between 30kbps and 150kbps. In other words, nothing would change for Virgin customers in this area. That is still faster than what T-Mo will throttle you to after just 2GB.

    I finally went to Verizon before the unlimited cutoff and I am extremely satisfied with the data speeds in my area. It is like night and day. The only downside is that Verizon seems to be a little slow on releasing phones.

    • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

      I think they are talking about the speed "in theory". I think Sprint advertised their 3G speed as anywhere from 600 to 1400 kbps. And that's when you actually got 30 to 150. If they drop you to 256, you may get speed less than 30.

      • Brandito

        I think you're both mixing up kbits with KBytes.

        1400kb/s is roughly equal to 150KB/s

        256kb/s would be 32KB/s in theory.

        bits/8 = Bytes

  • http://donothaveone.com Ben

    Really Sprint you are the last hope in a fair carrier don't screw it up now.

  • Mr. Mark

    It's freaking 2011; why are cell phone carriers regressing instead of progressing? Everything is being done digitally and online now -- movie streaming, workflow collaborating, networking with friends and family, shopping, even renting movies and ebooks. Why is it that as the need for bandwidth and capacity increases, the carrier's ability and/or motive to supply it (and even just maintain it) decreases?? Completely ass-backwards!!!

    • L boogie

      The motive has and always would be greed. I was reading about that elsewhere on how international markets have much better bandwidth speeds at very low costs but here in the u.s, greed is the motivator though the capacity to increase that speed is there.

  • Jaz

    Take it easy people! Sprint is just throttling on virgin mobile. They still haven't announced it for sprint customers yet. And they won't be switching anytime soon either with their biggest marketing cash cow being true unlimited data. So take it easy and just wait it out.

  • Elvis

    They were prolly having issues with prepaid super cheap plans using their phone for home internet or something

  • Vinter

    Why wouldn't they throttle the side companies, they want their Sprint customers to have the best experience possible... especially with the upcoming battle with At&t-mobile.

  • Brad

    I'd say they're trying to push pre-paid users to the more expensive contract with Sprint. I could be wrong, but it just sounds like an incentive to switch to a contract to me.

  • Mclean

    They've been doing this for at least 4 months. They still call it unlimited on virgin, but its been throttled for a long time.

  • Zombiestuff

    Makes sense to me , I never really understood how they can offear the same unlimited everything at two different price points on a different brand name...now it makes more sense truely unlimited would be sprint and semi limited would be the side brands

  • reddragon72

    Sprint is only throttling Virgin because of there latest commercial and the lawsuit that could come from it. Sprint claims they are the only truly unlimited data carrier. Well that is not true because Virgin Mobile was truly unlimited. So Sprint was catching flak for it. So they simply put chains on Virgin and thumbed there nose at them. And before you say it, Cricket limits their data as well.

    Will Sprint change this for their direct customers? nope. Will they change it in the distant future? yep, but only when they roll out LTE in Q4 of next year. When that happens you will see tiered data plans for LTE, and no more Wimax coverage, especially since Wimax agreement with Clear is done at the end of 2012.

    • Jaz

      Thats the best comment Ive seen so far. They are just preparing for their marketing of unlimited plans. Right now sprint is in a very good position. A lot of customers are going to be flocking towards sprint for unlimited data.
      That is why sprint on july 28th I think, will be announcing their big plans for lte.
      Then when LTE rolls out they will be set.
      I also heard that LTE for sprint is going to cost them about 4-5billion to get out and will save them around 10-11 billion. So I would not be surprised if after lte rolls out they continue unlimited and not switch to tiered yet.
      Either way sprint wether tiered or unlimited will still be cheaper,plus their network is still very reliable. Even when I worked for verizon as a technician I still had a sprint phone. I'm glad I kept sprint and dropped verizon when they let me go.

  • SiliconAddict

    Sighs. What is it with Android Police not bothering to think through their posts. Really. Most of the stuff on this site seems to be as knee jerked as comments left by people.

    THINK about it. Virgin is a sep contract deal that is piggybacking on Sprint's network. Of course its going to play second fiddle to customers on Sprint's network. And also virgin is pay as you go is it not? It doesn't bennifit Sprint in any way to allow users of their second tier services to get the same bennis as what Sprint Customers get for signing up for 2 years. Finally there is the fact that Sprint is directly throwing the tiered data plan that V and ATT are using directly into their faces in direct advertising. *pulls hair out* For god sake you yourself reported this!! http://www.androidpolice.com/2011/07/13/video-sprint-take-shots-at-verizon-t-mobile-and-atts-data-plans-with-its-new-ad

    Why take shots if they are going to go the same route down the road!?!? THINK for god sake.

  • VM customer

    VM 3G speed in northern VA is average .25 mbps to .60 mbps compare to ATT 3G around 1.5 mbps. I believed VM throttles its 3G speed all the time.

  • Sprint Employee

    They are doing this for two reasons one was already mentioned, To push Virgin Mobile Customers into a contract with Sprint. The other reason is to take away some pressure from the network to give Sprint Customers a better experience. In no way is this a sign of Sprint throttling their network or getting rid of Unlimited Data.