T-Mobile 'de-prioritizes' tethering in favor of on-device data

tower cell
T-Mobile has begun throttling tethering speeds when towers are congested.

T-Mobile is letting customers know that it is slowing network speeds for its Mobile HotSpot offering during times of network congestion. And some of its customers aren’t thrilled about it.

TmoNews reported this morning that the nation’s third-largest carrier is notifying customers via email that they may notice reduced data speeds when tethering other devices to their smartphones to connect to the network. T-Mobile told FierceWireless that the policy isn't new but went into effect last month as part of One Plus, an unlimited plan for high-end users. 

“Because we want to provide customers with the best on-device experience, our network is now designed to prioritize T-Mobile on-device data over Smartphone Mobile HotSpot data,” the operator said on its website. “This simply means that in the small number of times or locations where there’s network congestion, customers may notice reduced data speeds when using Smartphone Mobile HotSpot.”

T-Mobile said users should notice “little if any difference” in speed between their on-device data and tethering “in the vast majority of times and places.” But some users aren’t convinced.

“Welp. There went my ability to tether,” wrote one Reddit user. “When you are in a metro area like me, you are always connected to a ‘congested area.’”

But others pointed out the ubiquity of fixed-line networks in urban areas, questioning why mobile users would tether to access the web via wireless rather than connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots.

The move underscores the challenges wireless carriers face as consumption of mobile data continues to ramp up. Both T-Mobile and Sprint may already be seeing significant increases in traffic due to their recently announced unlimited data plans. Both carriers launched basic unlimited plans in recent weeks, then doubled down with premium unlimited plans for their hungriest users.

“Despite plans that will encourage higher usage, (T-Mobile’s) management is comfortable that the network can handle the added load,” Jefferies analysts wrote in August. “We believe Binge On is the key driver, with the lower video quality providing better than expected load benefits…. T-Mobile will continue to add coverage (low-band) and capacity (mid-band) as it continues to add subscribers at a healthy pace.”

For more:
- see this T-Mobile web page
- read this Reddit thread
- check TmoNews’s report

Related articles:
Unlimited plans from T-Mobile and Sprint are compelling, but analysts say network concerns remain
T-Mobile tweaks new unlimited plan, adds premium offering
T-Mobile, Sprint pit new unlimited data plans against one another
T-Mobile killed Binge On and hatched a whole new set of problems

This story was updated Oct. 4 to clarify T-Mobile's network speed policies for tethering.