T-Mobile is having a really bad month. First it’s Free Tuesday pizza offer collapsed when Domino’s was overwhelmed by orders and dropped out of the program. And more seriously, researchers at Northeastern University have found that the carrier’s popular Binge On program doesn’t work as advertised.
Binge On allows subscribers to download video to mobile devices without it counting against their monthly data allotment. However, the content is delivered at a relatively slow speed to conserve network resources and it lowers the quality of the video. That’s a stated part of the program, but after extensive testing, the researchers found that Binge On slows all of a user’s video streams, whether or not the content is covered by Binge On.
"Together, our results show that the current Binge On implementation can negatively impact both users and T-Mobile," the researchers wrote in a working paper released late last week. "If a user enrolls in Binge On, all video traffic is currently rate-limited (even non-partners), and this can cause poor video quality for certain videos."
The “negative impact” on T-Mobile refers to a finding by the researchers that Binge On “allows users to ‘steal’ arbitrary amounts of data from T-Mobile.” In other words, data that should be paid for is mistakenly classified as free. That issue, the researchers said, will be difficult to remedy.
T-Mobile has not responded to requests for comment. When it does, I’ll update this post.
The carrier, now the third largest in the U.S., is in a bare-knuckled fight for subscribers with its rivals. Binge On is T-Mobile’s most noteworthy recent promotion, but it’s been criticized by some consumer groups for allegedly violating Net Neutrality, which holds that all web traffic much be treated equally. The FCC is looking at that charge, but statements by its chairman, Tom Wheeler, appear to favor T-Mobile’s side of the argument.
In any case, Binge On should not slow other video. Users noticed the problem shortly after the program debuted, and after quite a bit of hemming and hawing, T-Mobile admitted it. A few months later, T-Mobile made some adjustments to its technology.
But it appears that not much, if anything, has really changed. T-Mobile styles itself the "Uncarrier" but in this case it's selling the untruth.
The research paper was written by Arash Molavi Kakhki, Fangfan Li, David Choffnes and Alan Mislove of Northeastern University, and Ethan Katz-Bassett of the University of Southern California. And a tip of the hat to news site Bostinno which first wrote about the paper.