Perhaps there is no surer sign that the iPhone 5 is nigh than a report that AT&T (NYSE: T) is set to implement data-throttling policies in October, right around the time the new device is expected to hit the market. Such a move would see AT&T take a page out of its good friend T-Mobile’s book in slowing data speeds once a user has reached a certain threshold.
It’s not known where exactly AT&T will draw the line, but 9to5Mac.com says the new system will be in place during the first week of October. Data throttling is the new answer to the outcry surrounding overage charges: instead of hitting customers with exorbitant fees for each megabyte they consume over a certain limit, carriers like T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile (NYSE: VM) simply slow data speeds to a crawl until the beginning of the next billing cycle, in order to mitigate the impact that heavy data users have on its network.
T-Mobile kicks the throttling in at different levels of consumption depending on how much you’re willing to pay, with the highest limit taking effect at 10GBs of data a month. That’s way more than even the top 1 percent of mobile data customers are currently packing away in a month, with recent research from Nielsen pegging that number at around 4.6GB worth of data.
But with each successive iPhone release, AT&T’s network has seen an explosion in data consumption followed by grumbling from customers over the quality of its network. Throttling will be annoying for those at the upper limits, but a slow connection is arguably better than no connection or a ridiculously expensive connection.
Updated 1:55 p.m. – AT&T confirmed to a few outlets, including CNET, that it would be implementing a throttling policy that would apply to its heaviest users, although it didn’t specify numbers. In a statement posted on its Web site, AT&T attempted to link the need for this throttling plan as a reason why its merger with T-Mobile should be approved, which is kind of funny.