Verizon posted a “Data Disclosure” page today revealing the company’s “throttling” plans for high bandwidth customers which is currently defined as:

As of August 2011, the top 5% of data users were using 2 GB or more of data each month.

We found it particularly interesting because it is likely to affect Verizon iPhone customers who purchased their 3G iPhone 4 unlimited plan at launch.  The policy went into place on September 15th.

Will I be affected by Network Optimization?
Only a small percent of customers will be affected.  To be affected, you must be:

  • A data customer on an unlimited data plan;
  • Have a 3G Verizon Wireless device (if you have a 4G LTE device you will not be impacted); and
  • Among the top 5% of data users in a given month.

Then, you will only be affected:

  • When you are on the 3G network; and
  • When you are connected to a congested cell site.

If Verizon has 50 million data subscribers (guess:>50% of 95 million subs), that is 2.5 million subscribers.

Interestingly, Verizon is telling customers who are affected to upgrade to a 4G phone.  Apple obviously doesn’t (yet?) offer a 4G iPhone so they will be steering iPhone users to other devices.

Reps are being told to offer these as solutions to customers who want to avoid throttling:

  • Upgrade to a 4G LTE smartphone
  • Migrate to a usage-based (tiered) data plan
  • Use WiFi more often

Verizon says this isn’t officially throttling because it is only put in place on congested cell sites.  However, those who want truly unlimited plans in the US might want to consider a Sprint iPhone which is highly likely to come in a month or so.

We’ve pasted the whole FAQ below:

Network Optimization

You rely on our high quality wireless communications service and we strive to continually provide it for you.

Ensuring Reliability. Our 3G network is the largest, most reliable high-speed wireless data network in the country. With tens of millions of customers, it’s our responsibility to upgrade and improve our network, services and practices, so you can continue to trust the network.  With this in mind, we’ve implemented new Network Optimization practices that will affect a very small percentage of customers.

Optimizing Our Network.  Our Network Optimization practices ensure that you can count on the reliable network you expect. To optimize our network, we manage data connection speeds for a small subset of customers – the top 5% of data users with 3G devices on unlimited data plans – and only in places and at times of 3G network congestion. This ensures that all customers have the best data experience possible.

Implementing Change. 95% of our data customers will not see any change in service. You’ll continue surfing the Web, downloading music, uploading pictures and sending emails just as you always have. The highest data users, the top 5% with 3G devices on unlimited data plans, may experience managed data speeds when connected to a congested 3G cell site after reaching certain data-usage levels in a bill cycle. High data users will feel the smallest possible impact and only experience reduced data speeds when necessary for us to optimize data network traffic in that area.

Helpful Tools to Manage Your Wireless Data Experience.

  • My Verizon and My Verizon Mobile – Monitor data usage in real-time by logging on to My Verizon from a computer or My Verizon Mobile from your device. My Verizon also lets you analyze the amount of wireless data used by each line on your account.  Simply “Run Account Analysis” in My Verizon and then click on “Data Usage” for a breakdown.
  • Data Usage Calculator – Do you stream music? Surf the web? Upload photos? How much data do you use, and how much do you want to use? The data usage calculator breaks down the common features and activities so you can easily estimate how much data you might use each month.
  • Data Usage Widget – Download our Data Usage Widget, available on most Android™ smartphones, for a quick way to track wireless use during each billing cycle with just a glance at your phone screen. The widget can also connect you to My Verizon with one click. Similar widgets are available on most BlackBerry® phones.
  • #DATA – Check data use by dialing #DATA and pressing send from your Verizon Wireless phone and you’ll get a free text message with data information. While this tool will not show up-to-the-minute data use, it is a great way to quickly check your general data use amounts while on the go. For real-time data use information, go to My Verizon.

How To Track and Manage Your Wireless Data.

In addition to the tools and widgets, this video guide can help you manage your own wireless use.

Track Usage

“It’s Easy To Track Your Wireless Usage” Here’s a quick explanation of how to easily check and monitor your wireless use. Our store and customer service reps give the low-down on easy shortcuts you can use to check data, text and minute use, and account balances from your Verizon Wireless phone.

ANSWERS: Frequently Asked Questions

Why are you implementing Network Optimization?
We are well known for our wireless networks and we are dedicated to ensuring that our customers have the best wireless experience possible.  Our network is a shared resource with tens of millions of customers.  We are implementing Network Optimization practices to ensure that all of our customers have the positive experience they expect.

Will I be affected by Network Optimization?
Only a small percent of customers will be affected.  To be affected, you must be:

  • A data customer on an unlimited data plan;
  • Have a 3G Verizon Wireless device (if you have a 4G LTE device you will not be impacted); and
  • Among the top 5% of data users in a given month.

Then, you will only be affected:

  • When you are on the 3G network; and
  • When you are connected to a congested cell site.

What about the other 95% of data customers?
There will be no change. The overwhelming majority of our data customers, 95%, will not be impacted at all.  The relatively high data consumption of just a small portion of data users could cause congestion for the rest of users, so we’re making this improvement to ensure that everyone continues to experience the nation’s best, most reliable network.

Is this the same as throttling?
No, this is not throttling.

How is this different than throttling?
The difference between our Network Optimization practices and throttling is network intelligence.  With throttling, your wireless data speed is reduced for your entire cycle, 100% of the time, no matter where you are. Network Optimization is based on the theory that all customers should have the best network possible, and if you’re not causing congestion for others, even if you are using a high amount of data, your connection speed should be as good as possible. So, if you’re in the top 5% of data users, your speed is reduced only when you are connected to a congested cell site. Once you are no longer connected to a congested site, your speed will return to normal. This could mean a matter of seconds or hours, depending on your location and time of day.

When will you begin Network Optimization?
We plan to begin implementing our Network Optimization program in September 2011, though it may take several weeks to fully implement the practice.

How will I know if I’m in the top 5% of data users?
As of August 2011, the top 5% of data users were using 2 GB or more of data each month.

How do I know if I will be impacted by Network Optimization?
A good rule of thumb as of September 2011 is this: If you’re on an unlimited data plan, have a 3G device and are using more than 2 GB of data in a month, you’re in the top 5% of data users and will be impacted by Network Optimization when you’re connected to congested 3G cell sites.

Starting at the end of August 2011, if you are on an unlimited plan, are a high data user and had a contract prior to February 3, 2011, we’ll notify you through bill messages and on your My Verizon account if you may be affected.

How long will 2GB of data be the threshold?
We will update this number as the amount of data used by our customers changes over time. At that time, we will also update information on this website.

How do I know if I’m likely to reach 2 GB of data in a month? 
2 GB is a lot of action on your little smartphone – here are two examples of what you can do with less than 2 GB of data on your phone in a month:

  • Send 7,500 emails; visit 750 web pages; stream 150 minutes of music, 1 hour of high-resolution video and 5 hours of low-resolution video; and upload 60 photos.
  • Send 7,500 emails; visit 150 web pages; stream 150 minutes of music, 1 hour of high-resolution video and 5 hours of low-resolution video; and upload 300 photos.

To view your data use, log on to your My Verizon account.

How does this relate to the announcement you made in February about data optimization and data management?
By alerting customers in February 2011, and including the notice in our terms and conditions as of February 3, 2011, we made sure customers knew we began reserving the right to implement Network Optimization practices.  In February 2011, we began alerting customers:

  • Data Management – (note: now named “Network Optimization” to more accurately describe the tools) – Verizon Wireless may reduce data throughput speeds in a given bill cycle for customers who use an extraordinary amount of data and fall within the top 5% of data users.  The reduction will only apply to those using congested cell sites and can last for the remainder of the current and immediately following billing cycle.  The reductions will only apply when appropriate in locations and at times of peak demand.
  • Data Optimization – (note: now named “Video Optimization” to more accurately describe its function) – Verizon Wireless is implementing optimization and transcoding technologies in its network to transmit data files in a more efficient manner to allow available network capacity to benefit the greatest number of users, and although unlikely, the process may minimally impact the appearance of the file as displayed on the mobile device.

Haven’t you already begun implementing the Video Optimization policy that you announced in February?
Yes. We began implementing video optimization in February 2011 in a number of markets, and we will continue to do so.

How will I be informed about changes associated with Network Optimization?   
We updated our Terms & Conditions on February 3, 2011. If you signed a contract on or after February 3, 2011 the new Terms & Conditions were included in that contract. Starting at the end of August 2011, if you are on an unlimited plan and had a contract prior to February 3, 2011, we’ll notify you through bill messages and on your My Verizon account if you may be affected.

What is the message that will appear on my bill?
If you are on an unlimited plan, using a 3G smartphone, in the top 5% of data users and have a contract prior to February 3, 2011, the following message will appear on your monthly Verizon Wireless bill or on your My Verizon account to notify you that you may be affected:

Information Regarding Data Usage
Verizon Wireless strives to provide its customers with the best experience when using our network, a shared resource among tens of millions of customers.  To further this objective, Verizon Wireless is implementing Network Optimization Practices designed to ensure that the overwhelming majority of data customers aren’t negatively impacted by the inordinate data consumption of a few users.  Network Optimization is based on the practice that if a cell site is not congested, your connection speed will not be impacted.  If you’re in the top five percent of data users, you may experience a reduction in your average data speeds only when you are connected to a congested cell site.  You may experience this for the remainder of your then current bill cycle and immediately following bill cycle.  This can help ensure high quality network performance for our entire customer base.  For more information, please see   www.verizonwireless.com/networkoptimization

I’m a small business customer, will this affect me?
Anyone on an unlimited data plan, with a 3G device and in the top 5% of data users is subject to Network Optimization practices when connected to congested 3G cell sites.  If you think this will impact your business, contact your sales representative or go into your local Verizon Wireless Communications Store to discuss other service plans to meet your needs.

Does Network Optimization apply to customers using 4G services?
No.  We reserve the right to include 4G LTE users later, but right now this only applies to the top 5% of users with unlimited data plans using 3G devices. If you have a 4G LTE device you will not be affected at this time.

Does this affect my calling? Texting? Email? Video? Web browsing? Music streaming?
This will not affect your texting or voice calls.  Music and video streaming, Web browsing and email are subject to Network Optimization, however this will mainly impact streaming as that requires the most data.

Will I receive a notice now if my data speed is going to be reduced?
If you are a high data user, on an unlimited data plan, have a 3G device and you were on a contract prior to February 3, 2011, you will be alerted on your monthly bill or My Verizon home screen that you may fall into the top 5% of data users.  If you meet these criteria, you will be impacted only when connected to congested cell sites. If you are on an unlimited data plan and have a 3G device but use less than 2 GB of data, you may be notified of the new policy via you monthly bill or My Verizon home screen. This is to ensure you are fully aware of this policy should your data use increase in the future.

Once my data speed is reduced, am I going to be under Network Optimization forever?
No.  You will be subject to Network Optimization for that billing cycle and the following cycle. When subject to Network Optimization you will only be affected when connected to a congested cell site. Otherwise, your data will operate as normal.

Can my data speed be reduced more than once? Can it be done consecutively?
Yes, if you are consistently in the top 5%, on an unlimited data plan and have a 3G device you will continue to be subject to Network Optimization when connected to congested 3G cell sites.

Is there a way for me to avoid the possibility of having my data speed reduced?
If you’re on an unlimited data plan with a 3G device and are concerned that you are in the top 5% of data users, you can switch to a usage-based data plan as customers on usage-based plans are not impacted.  Information on our usage-based data plans can be found at http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/explore/?page=data.

You may also switch to a 4G LTE device, as only 3G deviced on unlimited data plans can be affected.

How slow should I expect my phone to function?
Because this process is in place to ensure the best service to our customers, the speed will vary at any given time.  It will depend on how many users are on the same site at that time and what data applications are being used on that site at that time.

What can I do to manage my own wireless experience?
We offer many tools to help you keep track of your wireless use.

  • My Verizon and My Verizon Mobile – Monitor data usage in real-time by logging on to My Verizon from a computer or My Verizon Mobile from your mobile handset.
  • Data Usage Calculator –The data calculator breaks down common features and activities that use data so you can quickly and easily estimate how much data you use each month.
  • Data Usage Widget – Download our Data Usage Widget, available on most Android™ smartphones, for a quick way to track wireless use during your billing cycle with just a glance at the phone screen.  Similar widgets are available for most BlackBerry® phones as well.
  • #DATA – Check data use by dialing #DATA and pressing send from your Verizon Wireless phone to receive a free text message with data information.  While this tool will not show up-to-the-minute data use, it is a great way to quickly check your general wireless use while on the go.

If I have an unlimited data plan is there a way for me to set alerts so I know when I’ve reached certain data thresholds, such as 1 GB, 1.5 GB, etc.?
Currently we do not have that option, but we are looking into a variety of potential new tools to help customers manage their own wireless data use.

Is there a way I can tell which cell sites are congested?
There is no way for you to easily determine that today.  There are many variables that can contribute to a cell site being congested including, but not limited to, the number of active users and the type of applications being used on that site.  While we work to ensure we have the most reliable network for every location, these variables combined with other environmental factors determine whether or not a particular cell site reaches the limits of its capacity and becomes congested at any particular time.

If my data speed is reduced will there be compensation or a credit to my bill?
No. You will still receive unlimited data use, so there is no compensation for reduced data speeds.

Does the data used when tethering count toward my total data use?
No. Tethering requires you to have a usage-based data plan specifically for tethering, to reflect higher expected usage levels when you use your phone as a modem to connect laptops and other devices to the network. Therefore, data used when tethering will not count toward your other device’s data plan.

For additional questions, please visit your local Verizon Wireless Communications Store or call customer service at 1-800-922-0204.

Explanation of Optimization Deployment

Verizon Wireless is deploying optimization technology in parts of its 3G mobile broadband network. This network management technology is designed to transmit data more efficiently, ease capacity burdens on the network, primarily from video files, and improve the user experience with faster downloads and decreased Internet latency.

Given the increasing web traffic for downloading video files, video optimization in particular benefits both the user as well as the network by facilitating sustainable online video browsing using only the required amount of data while enhancing the video experience and making room for other users to enjoy higher browsing speeds. Although much effort is invested to avoid changing the file during optimization, and while any change to the file is likely to be indiscernable, the process may minimally impact the appearance of the file as displayed on a device.

The optimization techniques are applied to all content files coming from the Internet Port 80 that use the most common compression formats. The form and extent of optimization depends on the compression format of the content file, but does not depend on the content of the file, the originating web site, or the user’s device. No distinction in the application of these techniques is made based on the source website or originator of the content. The system optimizes files based strictly on the type of file and the relevant file formats (recognizing that some file types are not modified).  Accordingly, all content, including Verizon Wireless branded content, of the same type will be subject to the same process.

Why Optimization? Delivering content files requested by an end user over the Internet always imposes some burden on the delivery network in terms of size of the file as well as the distance the file components must travel between the source and end user. These factors also directly affect the user experience in downloading the file.

The burden on the network can be mitigated and the speed and efficiency of delivery to the end user can be improved if the network deploys techniques to “optimize” or streamline content files. For example, the size of the file can be compressed by removing pieces of information that are not usable by the end user’s mobile device, or that are not noticeable to the user. Caching the file for subsequent requests can also reduce the time needed for delivery to end users. Such network management techniques improve the user experience without noticeable impact on the content itself.

How Opitmization Works.  All HTTP (Port 80, i.e., World Wide Web) traffic is directed to the optimization process. The direction of traffic to the optimization process is established when the user starts an HTTP data session before any requests for content from a specific web site have been made. Accordingly, content files are not selected for optimization based on the nature of the web content itself or the source or provider of the web content file. All web content files delivered over Port 80, regardless of source, are directed to the optimization process. The system thus captures all Verizon Wireless branded web content delivered from its web servers, and treats such content in the same way as content of the same type requested from non-Verizon Wireless sites on the Internet.

Content files made available on the World Wide Web come in a variety of types (web pages, text, image, video) and formats. The process incorporates several optimization techniques that depend upon the specific type of content file. Specifically, text files are compressed without any loss of information (“lossless”) and cached for subsequent end user requests. Image files (PNG, JPEG, GIF formats, for example) are streamlined to remove colors or other data bits that would not be visible to the human eye, or to end users on a mobile device with limited display resolutions, thereby decreasing the size of the file, and also cached. The output image file reflects “lossy” optimization because some data bits from the original file are lost in the optimization process.

Video Optimization. Video files represent a substantial and growing segment of web traffic, and also come in a variety of formats.  Optimization only captures recorded video files and does not affect live streaming video, e.g., a video conference call. Several optimization techniques are applied to video files: transcoding, caching, and buffer tuning. All are agnostic as to the source or content of the video.

Transcoding. When preparing a video file for posting on a web site, the video originator must select a codec (compression/decompression format) for the file. All codecs are “lossy” to some degree in the compression process in that they reduce the quality of the original video.  But, some codecs are more efficient than others. The Optimization transcodes video files from their source codecs to a more efficient codec, H.264.   If the requesting device cannot decode an H.264 file, the file is delivered in the input codec. Also, if the input file codec is H.264, there will be little or no effect on the file from the processes described below.

The goal of this optimization process is to reduce the content file size while maintaining very similar video quality. Re-quantization levels, that is, the size of the output file, are defined by the output video bit rate settings (based on a percentage from the original). The loss of information from the input file may result in reduced color accuracy and sharpness of the output video. These effects are offset with optimized de-blocking and smoothing algorithms to retain good perceptual visual quality (as measured by objective video quality tools discussed below). In addition, videos are sent with variable bit rate (VBR), which provides more consistent quality at the same bit rate.

Optimization processes can range in how aggressively they pursue content file savings. Verizon Wireless is using the Video Quality Measurement (VQM) tool to set the amount of reduction in a video file size. VQM is a standardized method of objectively measuring video quality that closely predicts the subjective quality ratings that would be obtained from a panel of human viewers. Although the tool is free, the technology is covered by four U.S. patents owned by NTIA/ITS. The compression settings utilized equate to a .4-.6 score on the VQM scale, which is considered an “unnoticeable” change.

Caching. When a video file is detected from the Internet stream, the system decodes the first few frames (8 KB) of the video.  Based on those frames, the system attempts to locate the video file in its video cache, and, if the file is not in the cache, it copies the video file, catalogs, optimizes and places it into the video cache. (The system needs to look at the first few frames for the cataloging process because the same video may come to the network from different sources and would have different URLs and headers; so, the header information is insufficient to identify multiple copies of the same video.) The caching process is the same regardless of the source or content os the video.

When a requested video is not in cache initially, the input video file is sent on to the requesting device. When the system finds the video in its cache, then the flow from the Internet stops, and the video is replaced with file from the cache. The video cache will retain the video, until the staleness filter flushes it from cache. The video cache has a finite volume so it will regularly flush unused videos.

Buffer Tuning. The third video optimization technique is used in delivery to end users. Whenever the video is requested, it is delivered on a “just in time” basis. That is, rather than the entire file being downloaded when requested, the video is downloaded on an as needed basis. A sufficient amount of video would be delivered to fill the user’s buffer to start viewing, and the remainder would be delivered as needed in time for the viewer to see it without interrupting the flow, calculating the video bit-rate and the actual bandwidth available. This progressive download achieves significant network savings if the viewer chooses not to view the entire video, and it conserves data usage that would count toward the end users’ data allowance, and may result in savings if the end user is on a pay-for-usage plan. As with caching, the buffer process is the same regardless of the source or content of the video.

These video optimization techniques generally reduce the time for a video to start and eliminate external network fluctuations that sometimes cause videos to stall. They also speed up the time for the video to pick up when jumping forward in the video.  The cache responds to the video request much faster than a remote location. Because each video player needs to accumulate a certain amount of video seconds, the “buffer”, before the video actually starts playing, a smaller video will use the same amount of seconds to transmit less data as the original video, and, when delivered at the same speed, will result in faster buffer accumulation and therefore a faster start. The end result is a much smoother video that starts faster.

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