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Welcome to Virgin Mobile’s Higher Calling: The 2.5GB/256kbps Usage Throttle Starts Friday

Phillip Dampier March 22, 2012 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Video, Virgin Mobile, Wireless Broadband 7 Comments

Not quite.

Virgin Mobile founder Richard Branson is trying to convince customers they should sign up with a phone company that only sells you the services you need, but if “unlimited data” is one of them, look somewhere else.

Starting Friday, Virgin Mobile will quietly begin to throttle “heavy users” who reach 2.5GB of usage on their “unlimited use” data plans.  For the remainder of the billing cycle, Virgin will reduce mobile broadband speeds to just 256kbps — comparable to a significantly congested 3G connection.

It’s a long fall from Virgin Mobile’s original unlimited data offer which the company briefly attempted in the summer of 2010.

Entirely reliant on Sprint’s mobile network (and now operates as the prepaid division of Sprint), Virgin Mobile couldn’t handle the demand and quickly threatened to slow down the connections of their heaviest users.

The carrier’s decision to set a specific limit for its speed throttle was originally intended to take effect last October, but was delayed until March 23, 2012.

Virgin Mobile’s delayed implementation of its speed throttle coincides with this imaging “refresh” of the “New Virgin Mobile” starring a timeless Richard Branson. (1 minute)

Virgin Mobile explains its reasons:

This change comes about because of the enormous data usage driven by our new more sophisticated smartphones, and the more extensive uses customers are finding for these devices.  We want to be able to serve our Beyond Talk customers who use these unlimited plans for their data-centric daily activity, primarily for regular access to email, the Internet, and social networking sites. Our goal is to ensure our products perform at the best possible level and that we have the best possible experience for all subscribers.  These control options are similar to those other carriers have in place ? and that Virgin Mobile maintains for its Broadband2Go product as well.

These plans are still unlimited.  There is no cap or limit on how much you can consume in any given month.  In order to ensure optimal network performance and a good customer experience for all subscribers, we are moving forward in establishing some parameters.

Most Beyond Talk customers will not experience a change in the performance of their Virgin Mobile service or notice any difference.  If you use this service for typical email, internet surfing and downloading, your throughput speeds should not be noticeably impacted.  For Beyond Talk subscribers who are using more than 2.5GB during a monthly plan cycle, limits to throughput speeds for the remainder of their monthly plan cycle will enable us to preserve overall network performance and customer experience.

The company’s redefinition of the word “unlimited” in nothing new in the world of mobile data.  T-Mobile, AT&T, and Cricket all throttle their customers when they exceed a certain level of usage, yet some still market “unlimited use” plans that many customers don’t realize are limited in usefulness when arbitrary allowances are exceeded.

Concerns for “optimal network performance” and “a good experience for all” disappear when you pull your wallet out. Virgin Mobile will reset your usage allowance to zero if you agree to pay for a new month of service the moment they’ve throttled your service.  That will get you another 2.5GB of usage, whether it preserves overall network performance or not.

Watch Virgin Group’s Richard Branson explain why Virgin Mobile wants to change the image consumers have about their mobile phone company.  A fine print disclosure that “unlimited” mobile data really isn’t may not change things for the better.  (2 minutes)

Currently there are 7 comments on this Article:

  1. jr says:

    The industry thinks you’re being selfish if you do anything but read text only email on the internet. Branson’s worth 4.2 billion despite the “enormous data usage”

  2. Andrew Madigan says:

    I had a Motorola Triumph on Virgin Mobile, I cancelled the plan last month. They should at least have some sort of premium option to increase the cap.

    • Alex Perrier says:

      i would actually be very happy with this plan instead of complaining. i currently pay $35/month for 3 GB with TELUS, and $10/month for unlimited messaging, incoming calls and WIND-to-WIND calls. If i were to take the Virgin USA plan here, i would pay roughly the same but get 1200 calls instead of incoming/W2W. That’s fine with me.

      Virgin Canada is much worse. For $35/month, you only get unlimited text, BBM and local calling. Unlimited Canadian long distance is $15/month. Besides BBM for BlackBerries, no Internet access is included. That is an extra $20/month for 1 GB, or $30/month for 3 GB (sometimes 6 GB).

      Branson should bless Canada with reasonably priced mobile service instead of letting Big 3 (though Bell owns Virgin Canada; figures) run the show. i agree that those in USA should get more full speed mobile Internet if they pay more (for example: 4 GB with the $45 plan or 7 GB with the $55 plan). They could do this to increase Sprint profits. However, a mobile connection with tethering prohibited (something i disagree with) is pretty generous to offer these plans with no overage charges if you use your entire full speed allowance.

  3. Zach says:

    Since the iPhone came to Sprint, it’s not like I’ve had much faster speeds than 256 kbps anyway unless it is late at night, especially in Los Angeles. It might as well stay unlimited for some people, I guess!

    • I have never been impressed with Sprint’s “4G” which is actually Clearwire. Everyone I know turns 4G from Sprint off to conserve their phone’s battery life.

      I wonder if their bandwidth throttle will actually allow 256kbps to be achieved, or whether Sprint’s existing congested network will only deliver a sliver of that when throttled. You could end up with 26kbps service.

  4. Jesse says:

    I’m getting anywhere from 4 to 40 kbps after being throttled whereas I got 70-140 kbps before being throttled. So even before being throttled I’m getting about half of what they promised the reduced speed would be. After being throttled my data speed is worse than the dial-up I had over a decade ago. I’m thinking I’ll switch to another company soon as I see a better deal on data plans. I don’t use the calling, I’d gladly give that up if they’d stop throttling me, or even pay a little more, but I’m not paying the phone bill every week to enjoy internet.

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