Bandwidth throttling occurs when an internet service provider (ISP), such as T-Mobile, intentionally slows down a customer’s internet connection, but does not terminate it entirely. An ISP could have several justifications for bandwidth throttling:
- Network congestion. Too many people in your area are using more bandwidth than what is available. This forces your ISP to place limits on individual users.
- Prioritization. An ISP might prioritize some types and sources of data over others. T-Mobile could speed up connections to video streaming services with which it has partnered, in turn slowing down traffic from other sources.
- Discrimination. An ISP might use bandwidth throttling to try to dissuade you from downloading or streaming certain types of data or from certain sources. Torrenting and video streaming are common examples.
- Tethering. T-Mobile prioritizes on-device traffic over traffic sent to and from devices connected to a mobile hotspot.
- Data cap. If you’ve exceeded your internet plan’s data cap, many ISPs will slow down your internet. Even so-called unlimited plans have soft caps that result in slower internet after you’ve passed the threshold. T-Mobile refers to mobile customers who have used more than 50GB of data in a single billing period as “heavy data users,” who are prioritized lower than other customers.
A VPN is a tool that encrypts your internet connection and routes it through a middleman server in a remote location. T-Mobile cannot see the contents of your internet connection due to the encryption. Further, routing data through a server in another location masks what websites, services, and streaming sources you use.
So a VPN prevents T-Mobile from discriminating against specific sources or types of data, such as certain streaming sites or BitTorrent downloads.
How to prevent T-Mobile from bandwidth throttling
Getting set up is simple: sign up, install the VPN app, and pick a server location. If you think T-Mobile is throttling your bandwidth, follow the steps below.
Here’s how to bypass T-Mobile bandwidth throttling:
- Sign up for a VPN. We recommend NordVPN, but Surfshark and ExpressVPN are both great alternatives. All of these services boast no-logs policies, superfast speeds, and excellent streaming abilities.
- Download and install the VPN app for your device.
- Run the VPN app.
- Select a location. Nearby servers tend to be faster.
- Hit the Connect button.
- After a few seconds, the VPN connection will be completed. You should get a notification saying as much. You can now bypass bandwidth throttling as discussed above.
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Can a VPN prevent T-Mobile bandwidth throttling?
A VPN is not guaranteed to stop bandwidth throttling, but it can work in many instances. Some VPNs, such as NordVPN, come with a money-back guarantee so you can try them out risk-free.
T-Mobile officially does not discriminate against specific types of internet traffic or sources of data. But customers in recent months have complained about T-Mobile slowing video streams and limiting their resolution, choking speeds on so-called “unlimited” plans, and throttling data to tethered devices.
Here’s what T-Mobile says on its website about throttling:
To provide the best possible experience for the most possible customers on T-Mobile-branded plans, we implement network management practices on a content-agnostic basis, such as caching less data, prioritizing data usage, and video optimization. These practices do not discriminate against offerings that might compete against those offered by T-Mobile or any T-Mobile affiliate on the basis of such competition.
If T-Mobile discriminates against specific types or sources of data, or if it restricts torrenting or streaming to alleviate network congestion, then a VPN can help.
But if you’ve exceeded your data cap, then a VPN won’t help. The total amount of data transferred will pretty much remain the same whether you’re connected to a VPN or not, and all that data is still sent through T-Mobile’s network.
How do I know if T-Mobile is data throttling?
To find out if you’re being throttled, you first need to know what speeds T-Mobile has promised you. Look through your T-Mobile plan’s details for data caps, bandwidth limits, and other fine print.
Once you know how much speed you’re supposed to get, test it out. Speedtest.net is our preferred testing site.
If your download speed is significantly less than what’s in your plan, then you might be being throttled. Note, however, that this could also indicate an issue with your or T-Mobile’s equipment. Check to see if speeds dip at certain times of day or during certain online activities.
If your speed test results are notably higher than what you get when torrenting, downloading, or streaming, then those specific activities could be throttled.
Try connecting to a VPN and testing your speed again. If your speeds are much higher while connected to the VPN, then it’s very likely that your ISP is bandwidth throttling.
Is it legal for T-Mobile to throttle my bandwidth?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Trump administration repealed the Open Internet Order, an Obama-era rule that stipulated ISPs treat all internet traffic the same. ISPs are now allowed to discriminate by application, device, content, or service.
But even though it is legal, T-Mobile says it does not discriminate against particular devices, content, or sources of traffic, and that it adheres to basic Open Internet principles.
Will a free VPN stop data throttling?
Unfortunately not! While free VPNs are understandably tempting, they’re best avoided for a number of reasons. In particular, the majority of free VPNs engage in bandwidth throttling. That’s because they have too many users and not enough servers to go around. In order to manage their network, they’ll resort to slowing your connection. This allows a free VPN to have more users per server and potentially make more money (be it through ads or by selling your browsing data!).
For this reason, you’re best off sticking with the best paid VPNs which offer unlimited bandwidth. Then you don’t have to worry about negative consequences during more bandwidth-intensive activities, be it streaming or torrenting.