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Here’s one way of being able to offer unlimited data plans, without crippling your network with too much use: make sure that those who try t…

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Here’s one way of being able to offer unlimited data plans, without crippling your network with too much use: make sure that those who try to use the service to its fullest, cannot. That, at least, appears to be what Verizon has planned for its smartphone users, in a tweak to its terms that was unveiled today, the first day the iPhone went on sale on its network.

It all started with a document on Verizon’s website, which indicated that, from today, Verizon would begin two new policies to manage excessive traffic on its mobile data network.

Data “throttling”: Verizon is offering the iPhone on two-year contracts with unlimited data plans that start at $29.99, but suddenly that “unlimited” is starting to look quite the opposite.

Verizon writes that subscribers who use an “extraordinary amount of data and fall within the top five percent of Verizon Wireless data users” might be subject to having their mobile data connections slowed down, “to ensure high quality network performance for other users”.

Network optimization: This second item is more general and might affect all smartphone users, not just those who are “extraordinary” consumers of mobile data. Verizon says that it will start to “optimize” data like texts, images, and video files so that they take up less bandwidth. Verizon notes that although it makes a lot of effort to avoid changing text, image, and video files within the compression process, “the optimization process may minimally impact the appearance of the file as displayed on your device.”

This is a debatable point. If anything, it may turn out that now that Verizon has brought attention to this appearance issue, people will start to look for flaws — something that may get a lot easier to do with the class of HD smartphones that are now hitting the market.

Bytemobile, which is a network optimisation specialist that works with a number of tier-one operators worldwide, would not confirm whether it is working with Verizon, but in defense of optimisation, Ronny Haraldsvik, VP of marketing, had this to say: “We optimize when/where needed and only when there’s congestion, without impacting what-a-person-can-see-with-the-human-eye with regard to quality — transparent optimization.”

While these new policies were only revealed today, they should come as no surprise — particularly since Verizon is offering unlimited data plans on the iPhone, a device that has been known to drive heavy data use. While these policies do not relate to the iPhone specifically, it is no coincidence they were launched in the same week that the device debuted on the network, with offers first being extended to existing Verizon Wireless customers.

This is likely to be just the start of operators’ plans to reign in traffic on the network, say some observers. Openet, which works with a number of operators like AT&T (NYSE: T), Vodafone (NYSE: VOD), O2 and Verizon Wireless, says that we will eventually see app-based pricing coming down the line.

“I believe it’s Verizon’s intention to do more in usage-based and app-level pricing, yes,” said Marc Price, vice president of technology and CTO of the Americas. “But i’s not just app-level pricing. We will also see app-level controls, offering people extra bandwidth for services like video, by paying for it.”

But for now, there will likely be more questions about how Verizon’s policies will work today. For starters, will “extraordinary” data users be told that they are getting throttled, and how does the population vet that throttling to make sure it’s not being applied to everyone?

The full text of Verizon’s note follows. You can also access the PDF here.

As part of our continuing efforts to provide the best experience to our more than 94 million customers, Verizon Wireless is introducing two new network management practices.

We are implementing optimization and transcoding technologies in our network to transmit data files in a more efficient manner to allow available network capacity to benefit the greatest number of users. These techniques include caching less data, using less capacity, and sizing the video more appropriately for the device. The optimization process is agnostic to the content itself and to the website that provides it. While we invest much effort to avoid changing text, image, and video files in the compression process and while any change to the file is likely to be indiscernible, the optimization process may minimally impact the appearance of the file as displayed on your device. For a further, more detailed explanation of these techniques, please visit http://www.verizonwireless.com/vzwoptimization

If you subscribe to a Data Plan or Feature on February 3, 2011 or after, the following applies:

Verizon Wireless strives to provide customers the best experience when using our network, a shared resource among tens of millions of customers. To help achieve this, if you use an extraordinary amount of data and fall within the top 5% of Verizon Wireless data users we may reduce your data throughput speeds periodically for the remainder of your then current and immediately following billing cycle to ensure high quality network performance for other users at locations and times of peak demand. Our proactive management of the Verizon Wireless network is designed to ensure that the remaining 95% of data customers aren’t negatively affected by the inordinate data consumption of just a few users.

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