Virgin Mobile to begin smartphone data throttling in March

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) prepaid brand Virgin Mobile will start throttling the data speeds of smartphone customers who exceed a 2.5 GB monthly cap beginning in March. The decision to throttle customers comes after Virgin postponed the move last fall; the plan to throttle data speeds was originally announced in July.

Virgin said that starting March 23, if customers on Beyond Talk plans exceed 2.5 GB of data usage in a monthly plan, their data speeds may be reduced to 256 Kbps for the remainder of the month. Data speeds will return to normal once the customer's next billing cycle starts, but if customers want to avoid waiting they can simply restart their plan by topping up their account.

Virgin said customers will receive a text message letting them know their data speeds will be reduced for the rest their billing cycle once the cap has been reached. The changes will not affect users' ability to make calls or send text messages. The company's Beyond Talk plans range from $35 per month for 300 anytime voice minutes and "unlimited" data up to $55 for a plan with unlimited voice minutes and data.

"By putting this data speed reduction in place, we're making sure we can deliver the same quality service you've come to expect from Virgin Mobile," the company said in a statement on its website. "We hope you understand." 

Other carriers have instituted data throttling for their heaviest users. In October AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) started throttling the data speeds of smartphone users with unlimited data plans who are among the heaviest top 5 percent of data users in a given billing period. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) also began last year a "network optimization" policy that applies to its top 5 percent of heaviest smartphone data customers still on its unlimited plans. Verizon argues that this is not throttling because it will only apply when customers are connected to a congested cell site, and otherwise their data speeds will be normal. T-Mobile USA also throttles customers' data speeds if they exceed data caps. For its Sprint-branded customers, Sprint does not conduct data throttling. 

For more:
- see this Virgin Mobile site

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