T-Mobile UK has quietly removed the option for customers on its only unlimited data plan to tether to other devices, which could be a sign that operators are struggling to find a cost-effective way to deal with the impending mobile data crunch.
Previously, the Full Monty plans (the cheapest of which is £36 per month) let customers hook up their laptops, tablets or any other Wi-Fi enabled device to their phones. This allowed them to share the phone's data connection with other devices, avoiding the need for a separate contract.
However, on the 8 August the option for tethering was silently removed for new subscribers. While the plans still include unlimited data, this is restricted to use only by the handset.
This is frustrating for anyone considering The Full Monty plan for its tetherability. But more than that, it's a sign of what we already know to be true: with the explosion of data consumption on mobile devices far outstripping provision of additional capacity, the unlimited data contract as we know it will come to an end.
The only way to avoid this would be if the operators work out a way to handle the extra traffic (and therefore, increased costs to them) in a way that proves cost-efficient as part of an unlimited package.
I got in contact with T-Mobile to ask why it had chosen to remove the tethering option. What I got back was the brief and uninformative statement below, which fuels my suspicions that operators don't really want to talk about the data crunch.
"The Full Monty has been designed for using the internet on your smartphone. It includes an unlimited data allowance for using our internet service on your phone at a fantastic price," a T-Mobile spokeswoman said. "From 8th August, tethering is not permitted for new customers under the terms and conditions of the Full Monty."
It was a reader who alerted me to the change in terms. When he first enquired about the package, it included tethering; but a week later it did not. Being a curious individual, he called customer services and was told that the removal of tethering was because the network had been "getting hammered". Enough said.
T-Mobile's spokeswoman did helpfully point out that there are still contracts that offer the option to tether. As far as I'm aware, though, none of these include unlimited data. She also confirmed that people already on the Fully Monty plans prior to 8 August could still tether.
In the UK, there are now only two mobile providers with unlimited ('all-you-can-eat') data plans allowing customers to tether, and that's Three — the smallest of the UK's major players — and Virgin Media.