Even if you have an unlimited data plan, many of us are aware that mobile carriers will begin slowing down, or throttling, video content when there's too much traffic on the network. But it's happening more than it should.
Researchers looked at the throttling practices of four of the biggest mobile phone carriers. What they found isn't what consumers think they are getting.
We'll tell you which companies have been singled out and why. Plus, we'll show you how you can test your phone to check if your carrier is slowing down traffic.
Mobile videos routinely being throttled
A new report by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Northeastern University found that T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon and AT&T throttle video content around the clock. Consumers have been led to believe that the throttling begins during peak service hours.
Throttling not only slows down speed, but it also brings down the quality of the video. The researchers also found that certain steaming video providers were throttled more than others.
For example, AT&T throttled YouTube 74% of the time and Netflix 70% of the time. However, it didn't slow down speeds for Amazon Prime Video. T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon throttled YouTube, NetFlix and Amazon Prime Video.
The study collected data from 650,000 tests in the U.S. between January 2018 and January 2019 using the Wehe app. The app measures whether a provider is throttling speeds.
Using the hypothesis that peak service hours take place in the evening, the researchers found that throttling took place throughout the day. Geographic differences also played no part in when throttling occurred. Throttling also increased with the rise of unlimited data plans.
As for the mobile carriers, they are questioning the report's methodology. AT&T responded to the report by stating, "we don't throttle, discriminate, or degrade network performance based on content."
How throttling affects consumers
When a mobile carrier throttles video content, consumers experience longer download times and interruptions while viewing videos. And viewers may likely have been experiencing this for a while.
A September 2018 study by analytics firm OpenSignal of consumers' mobile video experiences found that the U.S. ranked 47th among 69 countries studied. T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon and AT&T all ranked "fair" as well.
But in a July study, OpenSignal said Verizon was the only major carrier to move into "good" territory for customer experience. Experts say all this could become moot as 5G networks start rolling out across the country.
5G networks provide higher data bandwidth. This will result in mobile carriers being able to handle customers using larger amounts of data without needing to throttle.
Is your video content being throttled?
Signs that your video data is being throttled include longer download times and interruptions during playback. But if you really want to make sure, there is an app that can help.
The Wehe app was developed by researchers from Northeast University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. You can use it to test how much a mobile carrier has slowed down or sped up video content on such apps as Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, Skype and more.
The Wehe app is available for Androids and iPhones. The app will only check the throttling on your phone's network. When the results say the app has detected a differentiation, that means data is being throttled by your network provider.
For example, we tried out the app on a T-Mobile phone. Differentiation was detected on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
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