Rumor Mill: T-Mobile to impose data roaming caps

Starting April 5, T-Mobile USA plans to limit the amount of data that its customers can use while roaming onto the networks of other carriers, according to the blog TMoNews, which cited internal T-Mobile documents. Importantly, customers who exceed their limits won't be able to use data services while roaming until their next billing cycle, and will have to either return to T-Mobile's network or use Wi-Fi.

The documents said that while data roaming allotments are new for T-Mobile, they are used by carriers across the industry. The company also said that very few customers will use enough data off of T-Mobile's network to be impacted by the changes. The company said in the documents that it is making the changes so that it can "continue providing competitive pricing options in the industry."

T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 network currently covers 175 markets and 184 million POPs and its nationwide HSPA+ 21 network covers 217 markets and more than 200 million POPS.

A T-Mobile spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It appears that all of T-Mobile's data plans will have the new data roaming caps bolted onto them, though the limits will be staggered:

  • users of between 2 GB per month and 4.99 GB will have 50 MB of off-network data roaming per month;
  • users of between 5 GB and 9.99 GB will have 100 MB;
  • and users of 10 GB or more will have 200 MB.

According to the blog, T-Mobile will start notifying customers of the changes in early February via bill inserts, email and SMS messages. Customers will be notified by SMS when they reach 80 percent and 100 percent of their thresholds for off-network data roaming.

There are some limitations to the data roaming caps that should benefit consumers though. "Domestic data roaming will not be subject to data speed reduction," the T-Mobile documents state. "The allotment will be reset with each bill cycle. After the allotment is reached, the customer will no longer have data roaming access until they return to the T-Mobile network or connect via Wi-Fi if they have a Wi-Fi capable device."

Additionally, according to the blog, business, government, small business and T-Mobile employee accounts are not affected by the changes, nor are mobile broadband rates plans, domestic voice and text message roaming and international voice and data roaming.

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) spokeswoman Kelly Schlageter told FierceWireless that as of July 2010, Sprint caps off-network data usage at 300 MB per month for phones, and that off-network overage rates are 25 cents per MB. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) spokeswoman Brenda Raney said the carrier does not levy roaming charges "because with the scope of our network it isn't an issue." An AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) spokeswoman Emily Edmonds said AT&T "has a policy in place for customers who excessively use data on the networks of our roaming partners," and pointed to the company's terms and conditions.

The FCC last year mandated automatic data roaming rules subject to "commercially reasonable" terms and conditions. However, Verizon has challenged the rules in court.

For more:
- see this TMoNews post

Related Articles:
Humm: T-Mobile is back and in fighting shape
T-Mobile targets Sprint with cheaper unlimited smartphone plans
Verizon files suit against FCC's data roaming rules
FCC approves mandatory data roaming rules
AT&T, Verizon attack FCC's data roaming rules