As other carriers have ended unlimited data in recent years, Sprint has held firm. This was perhaps the saving grace of its network as Sprint struggled to catch up to other carriers in the race for LTE coverage. According to a report from Fierce Wireless, Sprint is going to be pulling back a bit on unlimited 3G/4G data for the biggest users on its network. Beginning as soon as next month in some markets, anyone who falls in the top 5% of data consumers could potentially be throttled down to ensure others can get connectivity.


This new report is backed up by Sprint's own FAQs, which now detail how the throttling will work. Sprint won't smack down everyone with high data usage, but getting into that upper tier makes you eligible for throttling during peak usage times. Sprint calls it "network prioritization," which sounds less threatening than "throttling." Technically, your data is still unlimited – it's just slower. Sprint isn't the first to make this distinction, but that doesn't mean throttling is no big deal. This isn't what people expect when they are promised unlimited data for life.


Sprint will count up data usage once per month, and add the top 5% to the network prioritization doghouse for the entire following month. To get out, your usage needs to fall below that level. What's the level? No one knows because it's based on overall network usage. Sprint says in the FAQ that it's probably somewhere around 5GB, but there's no hard number. That's a bit of a bummer because you can't even properly budget your data usage.

It's not clear how often Sprint's so-called "fairness algorithms" will have to clamp down on data usage, or how severe the effects will be, but heavy data users likely won't be happy.

[Fierce Wireless, Sprint]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • flosserelli

    Introducing Sprint's Guaranteed Unlimited Talk, Text & Data For Life!

    Because it will take a lifetime to download anything.

    • Nicholas Ruiz


  • jj14x

    Sprint - "home of unlimited dialup". Now, "home of unlimited throttled dialup"

    Every f*ing year, "We are bringing HUGE improvements to our network - that is our Network Vision - ETA next year" - rinse and repeat, year after year..

    • http://forum.xda-developers.com/member.php?u=1356962 ThilinaC

      dialup still exists ? o.O

      • flosserelli

        Obviously you have never tried to browse the web on Sprint.

        • Justin

          you sir, are amazing. *slow clap

        • http://forum.xda-developers.com/member.php?u=1356962 ThilinaC

          I don't live in US so I got no idea about sprint tbh mate,I actually thought you were kidding.

        • qu4ttro

          I dont have that problem but with this throttling I just might see it... :/

        • Gordon

          Exaggerate much?

      • Rtoodeetwo

        Lol, you think he's joking right? I wish he was but the 3 years I was with sprint this was the case. 3G speeds are mostly dial up speed. And they doing improvements and upgrades. Network vision my..... I switched to T-Mobile and they slow me down to 2g speeds, still way faster than sprint's 3G.

        • http://forum.xda-developers.com/member.php?u=1356962 ThilinaC

          Yup I actually thought he was kidding about the dial up speeds, feel for the sprint customers man.

          • archercc

            In fairness I was averaging about 160Kb/s on what sprint calls "3g." So its closer to ISDN speeds, to their credit.

            It didn't help that they called as city "live" when LTE covered 18% of the market in the city (even if the vast majority of that was rural).

    • archercc

      I got this 3 years in a row before finally jumping ship. If you bitch enough they will give you a $20 credit back on your account but after a while I decided Id rather just have a smartpohone that always worked.

  • GreatNews

    So T-Mobile is the winner once again will truly unlimited!!!!

    • Steve Barry

      I've been trying to stay strong with Sprint since I've been with them for probably 13 years or so. I stayed through the HORRIBLE Chicago NV update and it's been going well as of late to be honest. I don't have any complaints most of the time. I won't be in this top 5% as I'm around wifi most of the time, but regardless, this will be the final straw for me. I'll be hopping over to TMob shortly when contract for all three of my lines are up.

      • cubskru

        Let T-mobile pay the etf and go now. No need to suffer longer.

        • Steve Barry

          Thought about it, but the hassle to go through it isn't worth waiting for 3 more months until we're all off contract anyway. It would take that long to even get the rebate for the ETF, so it would essentially be a wash. And I'm thinking about holding off for a One+ One phone.

      • Matthew Fry

        I think T-Mobile has been taken a little off guard by how many new customers they are taking in. My bandwidth has been slowly but surely decreasing since the switch to LTE. Not to say it isn't still awesome. Just... less awesome. Getting 4.2 up and 1.6 down inside a building in the city.

        • Jephri

          20 by 20 LTE network and 600 frequency spectrum purchased from Verizon are coming in the next 6 months not to mention the spectrum auction. Things are about to get better for TMO

          • Matthew Fry

            Glad to hear it! Again, I'm still super happy with T-Mobile.

          • ProductFRED

            They purchased 700 Block-A, not 600. But either way, it's a lower (better) frequency than AT&T's 700 MHz and Verizon's 750 MHz. The HTC M8 (T-Mobile version) is the only phone out that supposedly supports Band 12.

      • qpinto

        key words are most of the time. I rarely have an issue with tmobile. if i call them up they take note of the issue and it gets fixed FAST.

      • bearballz

        Same situation as you. Sprint LTE/Spark has been okay, but wildly inconsistent in the Chicagoland area. My contract is up in June so I'll be giving T-Mob a serious look.

        • Brendan

          Naperville supposedly got 4G like last week. I'm not on even less signal of 3G. I had my hopes up. It's too bad we get amazing prices because of my dad's work, because otherwise we'd have switched to T-Mobile a long time ago.

      • topgun966

        Jump ship. I have Tmo and IMHO there is no stronger network in Chicago (including ATT and VZW) I have tried them all and Tmo has solid LTE all around the city and in the burbs. I live in Hoffman Estates but work downtown. My house I get about 40-50mbps and downtown get around 10-20. Last month I used 15.2gb which is consistent for me and never hear a peep from them. Its pretty easy to hit that too with the speeds you get. And you can travel international too with the "post paid" plans. I travel to Canada, Asia and Europe all the time and always have internet. With wifi calling, its like you are at home :)

    • jj14x

      If T-mo had any respectable coverage outside of the major cities, I'd jump to them in a heartbeat. But their coverage is horrible once you leave a major city.
      I may have to look at ATT's shared data plans. (Verizon, while they have great coverage, is not an option because of their locked down devices, and no Nexus availability)

      • ProductFRED

        Verizon devices are SIM unlocked out of the box. AT&T devices are not. Both bootloader-lock their devices. However, I'd still go with AT&T because I hate CDMA.

  • Cenarl

    Hard to believe it probably starts at 5GB lol But i guess if Sprints laughably slow speeds are true (I don't doubt it, just never tried them) that might be all the top data hounds can go through in a month :s

  • Nes

    Boy that Truly Unlimited image makes this a lot worse. I signed up with them as a last resort and that image was my basis, my guarantee. It clearly states no throttling. I want to sue them, even if my market is not deemed one of those saturated ones. My consumption goes from 10-30 GB a month, just by watching youtube, twitch and maybe amazon instant prime with the hacky flash support on dolphin. This is just disgusting. I demand at least they waive the ETF.

    • Daniel

      They are not technically throttling, they are just putting you lower on the priority scale.

      • ProductFRED

        If they promised no throttling paired with unlimited usage, then they're breaking that promise. I expect them to waive people's ETFs to avoid lawsuits.

  • Kevin Kohrman

    How can you be a top 5%. The network is so slow. They throttle you down.. You will be at 5mbs.

    • flosserelli

      Anyone that gets over 1 GB in a month will be in the top 5%.

      • John Smith

        That's such a low limit.
        For me, Ingress can use 400MB / month, but it's never lower than 160MB / month. On top of that, add maps and it can get very close to 1GB.
        Video advertising will have a lot of people pissed off

        • flosserelli

          I really meant anyone that manages to go over 1 GB on their network would probably put them in the top 5%.

    • Andrew

      Basic math: there's always going to be a top 5%.

  • guidomus_maximus

    Your slow, is going to get slower!

  • John Smith

    Without specifying a limit they could put thousands of accounts in the dog house - someone has to be in the top 5%.

  • Matt

    I don't think it's possible to use 5GB of data in a month on Sprint. That would require coverage and speeds that their network isn't equipped to handle.

    • Gordon

      Shall I post a screen shot of my wife's 40+gb & my 30+gb per month? And that's all while traveling 48 states

      • jeddo45

        Congrats. You're about to be throttled!

        • Gordon

          The faq says only in congested areas during peak times so this won't affect me much but I do worry this step is just the beginning of gradual steps to full data caps like the ripoffs at VZ & ATT

      • supremekizzle

        How in the fuck do you use 40+GB per month on a cell phone? Did you somehow turn your phone into a server?

        • JJCommonSense

          Well if u stream music (google play) at the highest quality setting amd watch a few netflix movies, its possible... I ran ip 16 gb on Tmobile just streaming music in the car going to and from work, my commute is 30 mins lol.

        • Gordon

          It's very easy if you're never on wifi. My wife streams a lot of Netflix & YouTube & our phones are our only Internet access. We stay on the road months at a time. In contrast I don't get how VZ & AT&T users can possibly keep it under 5gb. My wife would easily burn through that in 3 days & actually have a higher monthly bill. So 3 days worth of Internet with a higher monthly bill vs cheaper bill with unlimited. For people who travel it's a no brainer

      • topgun966

        Sorry, but people are not calling you a liar .... but bullshit. You would have to stream about 3 hours a day every day for the entire month to come close to that. And since I have never seen more that 8mbps on sprint's LTE .... seems not that probable. Lets do some math. You would have to average about 1-1.3gb a day. Now to hit that, you would have to be downloading 6.4 mbps CONSTANT 24 hours a day/7 days a week. If you can average 6.4mbps on sprints network 24 hours a day ... bravo Source; network engineer (and I can add).

        • Gordon

          Trying to figure out how to do a screen shot on my g2 and post it here, just looked & from May 3 to May 10 I've used 8.37 gb. You really shouldn't call bull when you're brains aren't loaded, OH! & I'm the light user, will check my wife's in a bit, will be much more than mine

        • sharpshank

          I used 37gb a month on average. I've used over 70 a month before. You have no idea what your talking about.

          • sharpshank

            Check out the screen shot

    • krudl3rx

      If you have LTE in a residential area and choose to use it over your WiFi it is quite easy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Jeremy6820 Jeremy Gomez

        I have almost no access to LTE, and last I checked, I had used over 20 gigs of data in one month on Sprint. Luckily, I live in a smaller town, so it may not be considered one of the "congested" areas.

    • Raven Null

      I get great speeds


      It's a shame too because I just passed the 15 day return policy 5 days ago. If I start getting throttled I'm switching to T-Mobile and have them pay my ETF

    • sharpshank

      I average 30gb of 4g a month the highest ever was 89 gb.

  • UniBroW

    sooooo glad I jumped that sinking ship back in October #tmobilelife

  • Nicholas Ruiz

    Unlimited data on Sprint is like infinite power for go-carts. On the freeway.

  • Adam Outler

    The Top 5% is the number of MB/month established right now. In 5 years they will be using the same number and 30% of users will be in the "Top 5%". My cable company established this number years ago and it hasn't changed since. Throttling is an excuse to not upgrade to meet demands of customers.

    • flosserelli

      Judging by the number of customers they lose every quarter, I'll be surprised if Sprint is still around in 5 years.

      • Dean Politis

        If they're lucky, maybe T-Mobile will buy them.

        • civil

          Sadly Sprint(Softbank) is more likely to have the money to buy T-mobile.

    • David Sousa

      If I'm getting this right, it is a race to the bottom. It's worse than data caps. If everyone starts to avoid being in the 5%, everyone will try to "leapfrog" (more like backfrog, but you got the point) each other. So, in the end, the overall load of the network will go progressively down as everyone try to increasingly consume less than their network neighbors. In theory according to Sprint's rules, of course.

  • cy_n_ic

    5gb at sprint speeds? Aint nobody got time fo dat!!

  • miri

    Considering I never use wifi, I guess that means I'll always have miserable data speeds T_T

  • Pupdog

    I'm on Sprint's network (through an MVNO) with no-cap unlimited data, i've hit about 5.5GB a few months. It's not hard if you're in an LTE area, pushing Netflix at lunch...

  • http://www.thepixelpuse.com/ Aj Meadows

    Sprint is just the worst. Jumped ship to T-Mo about a year ago. Haven't looked back.

  • Jephri

    That graffic looks like an ad for a erectile dysfunction pill.

  • Matthew Fry

    Very nice juxtaposition with the unlimited plan promo images.

  • Ryanmax

    So they will throttle 0.25 MB/s to 0.1 MB/s. I don't think anyone will notice see here http://goo.gl/LYCEdL

  • flonker

    Sprint: Our poor decisions in managing the market and securing infrastructure have led to a discombobulated entanglement of wireless signals that we refer to as our "network." Due to these massive failings on our part, our "network" is nearly constantly overburdened and consistently the slowest, lowest-rated option available to the consumer. Since our "network" is often barely usable, we have decided to punish those that use it. Thank you for your money.

  • Matt

    We all knew this was coming.

  • thakrisp

    and this is why tomorrow cant come fast enough. good bye sprint hello tmo $30 plan

  • Mike Harris

    The problem with this format is that there's always going to be a top 5%. So if, for some reason, every single customer decided to take a break and use very little data, there would still be a group of people getting punished. On the other hand, if every single customer decided to go crazy, only 5% of them would be punished.

    That's the problem with these "Bell Curve" solutions. Rather than come out with a static number that people can be aware of, they purposely keep it as vague as possible to create a chilling effect. They probably did a study and found that this approach does a better job of clearing up congestion, since more customers will curb their usage based on the fact that they could "go over" at any time.

  • Evan Anderson

    Enough misinformation, let's get the facts straight.

    1. THIS IS NOT BLANKET THROTTLING. If you read the FAQs you will notice that they use the term "network prioritization." This simply means that the people in the top 5% will have a lower priority attached to their requests.

    2. The prioritization is not in effect 24/7. Again, reading the FAQs reveals that the prioritization will only be applied when you are connected to overloaded towers or during times of congestion. Once you move out of the congested area or the congestion subsides the prioritization will no longer be in effect.

    This is much better than the hard throttles and caps in place at AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. Majority of the time you will not be subject to prioritization if you are a heavy data user.

    • flonker

      It's throttling. No need to explain any further. No need to stand up for Sprint. And, given the inconsistencies of Sprint's network, the "punishment" for those horrible people that use a service they pay for, within a contract and ad campaign written by Sprint itself, those punishments will widely vary.

      I live in what could be considered a "congested" network area. Not at all due to population density but Sprint's lack of installing adequate infrastructure. Should I be further punished as a Sprint customer simply because Sprint has never built a decent network in my area?

      AFTER Network Vision and LTE deployment I average 1-2mbps down with zero to one bar of signal. If I am ever determined to be in the top 5% along with say a user with Spark availability averaging 50mbps, how will this throttling treat each of us individually?

      Sprint has offered up continued promises to attract and retain customers and has NEVER honored those promises, and Truly Unlimited and Unlimited Forever are just the latest examples.

      F*ck Sprint.

      • Evan Anderson

        1-2Mbit/s is pretty normal for that low of signal strength. LTE is highly dependent on signal strength. Also, please don't spew lies about how they are building their network. The new installs are using the latest technology and leave room for easy improvements down the road. You may see poor experience because of incomplete upgrades in the area but this is just a side effect of sprint allowing access to LTE as it is deployed instead of waiting for the area to be more complete.

        • flonker

          Exactly where did I "spew lies" in my comment?

          • Evan Anderson

            "I live in what could be considered a "congested" network area. Not at all due to population density but Sprint's lack of installing adequate infrastructure.". The lie is you saying sprint isn't installing adequate infrastructure when the reality is they are building one of the most modernized networks.

          • flonker

            Being "modernized" and "adequate" is two different realities.

            I already said Sprint Network Vision upgrades have completed in my area, I'm still left with low signal and poor speeds. Why? Is the network in my area not "modernized" enough? No, Sprint hasn't installed an "adequate" number of towers to blanket their claimed coverage area. (And, an FYI, their network maps indicate a strong LTE coverage in the area. So if you want to call someone a liar...)

          • Evan Anderson

            I'm interested to know what area you are in. They may be done with the first round of NV upgrades but there are still more things to be done before the network is fully complete.

  • [A]dri[A]n

    Sprint: Where we have horrible service data speeds and will still throttle you! :D

  • http://googleplus.VoluntaryMan.com/ William Thieme

    This sounds reasonable but it's a slippery slope from there to unlimited 2gb.

  • nsuviolin

    ...because Sprint's decided that they're not running customers off fast enough?

  • Irinel Loghin

    Actually almost everybody was throttle.
    If you Changed your plan to Unlimited My Way, you would have been throttled for... Well... Almost everything... YouTube, Pandora, SoundCloud, you name it. If you're on the FRAMILY plan with the unlimited data, most of the streaming is throttled as well. Just go to sprint.com/termsandconditions and read the fine print about your unlimited plan...
    Not throttled, with a Spark enabled device you should get around 5-7Mbps for download... If you get more, then they are still tuning the towers, and the happy days should last around 2 months max.
    Considering that they started the Network Vision project a couple of years ago and in March they had it 60% completed, who wants to bet that they'll finish when LTE-A will be available? :)

  • Gustavo Martinez Avendaño

    And thats just this month. Last month i had over 80gb. I think they are throttling me already because i go from lte to 3g when am tethering. But all I do to remedy it is I go into airplane mode and then turn airplane mode off after 1 min and am back to lte. ;-) here is proof.

  • Gustavo Martinez Avendaño

    Here is last month usage lol. Sprint network. I did however struggle the last three years with very very low speeds here at my house but after complaining for years i finally enjoy the speeds that are decent enough to get watch my movies.:-)