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By: MarkJ - 12 January, 2012 (9:25 AM)
uk lte 3g 4g ofcom mobile broadbandBudget mobile provider GiffGaff, which is one of O2 UK's Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), has spent some time examining the usage patterns of internet traffic on its network and discovered that just 1% of users are eating over 33% of its total data capacity. The results are similar to those predicted in a recent study by Arieso (here) and have apparently caused GiffGaff to break out the big user disconnection stick.

GiffGaff has of course offered "unlimited" mobile internet on its Goodybags service for awhile and therefore must share some of the blame, although as usual its all the customers fault. A common tactic that isn't helped when providers, be they fixed ISPs or mobile operators, fail to specify exactly what constitutes heavy usage.

GiffGaff Statement

As we don't want either customers or our long term business health to be affected, we're put into place a new set of checks on people's patterns of data usage. Without going into levels of detail that would help potential abusers, this will involve checking more frequently for patterns of use of our mobile internet services that are likely to affect other service users and the business, and for behaviour that is not genuine mobile internet use.

According to a related article on The Register, GiffGaff updated its terms in December 2011 to allow for disconnection of excessive users. It's understood that some customers have already been affected, although others escaped with just a warning not to do it again (hard when you don't know what level of use to avoid).

Giffgaff claims that they have no choice but to take a tougher line because the activity is not "economically sustainable" and that not detailing the limits is apparently preferable to writing "a huge list of terms and conditions, or introduce any fair use policy" (better for marketing purposes too?).

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) warned in September 2011 (here) that, effective from 1st April 2012, "the term "unlimited" can only be used if the customer incurs no additional charge or suspension of service as a consequence of exceeding a usage threshold associated with a Fair Usage Policy (FUP), a traffic management policy or similar." Any limits that are imposed must also be "moderate only and clearly explained".

In fairness excessive usage can indeed be a problem but it's wrong to blame customers for using a service as it was advertised. Providers need to take responsibility for the way they promote such services and any restrictions must be clearly explained so that users know what to avoid. These days it's incredibly easy to consume a huge amount of data, just spend some time on iPlayer or YouTube.
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