T-Mobile giving free data for Pokemon Go, but is this a good thing?

pokemon go

US mobile network T-Mobile has also decided to jump on the Pokemon bandwagon. The network has announced that from tomorrow 19 July, it’ll be zero-rating Pokemon Go mobile data usage for a full year (until August 2017). This offer is available to both new and existing users, redeemable by downloading the T-Mobile Tuesdays app.

The promotion will also see T-Mobile subscribers getting US$15 in Lyft credit and free Wendy’s goodies to fuel their hunts.

However, as good as it sounds, the promotion might be seen by some experts as a slap in the face to net neutrality. That is, having all data being treated as equal.

Where will the next Pokemon Go come from?

Critics say that zero-rating certain services and apps makes it much harder for rival services/apps to gain a foothold in the market. After all, if Pokemon Go doesn’t use data, then it might be a tougher job for other developers’ games to sell as well.

Consumers might turn around and say “why would I want to play that online-enabled game when this one doesn’t use mobile data?”.

It’s not the first time that T-Mobile has zero-rated certain apps either, as the company famously zero-rated popular music and video streaming apps last year as part of its opt-out Binge-On promotion.

In fact, a study on the promotion declared that if every ISP gave special treatment to certain services, innovation/competition would be stifled.

“In such a world, the next Netflix, Hulu, or Pied Piper might never get off the ground because keeping up with ISPs and their policies would leave them chasing their tails,” said researcher David Choffnes at the time.

T-Mobile has introduced a request form, allowing subscribers to suggest other streaming apps to be added to the whitelist. It’s a step in the right direction, but more transparency over the approval process is necessary.

A question of transparency

Speaking of transparency, that same study found that while T-Mobile claimed to optimise video quality to 480p in its earlier promotion, it wasn’t actually tweaking the video quality at all.

The US network was merely throttling videos at 1.5Mbps, with many a stream topping out at 360p. Some providers, such as YouTube and Netflix, are able to detect the throttling and adapt accordingly. But, as TechCrunch noted, other providers (such as those using fixed quality HTML5 video) aren’t able to adapt to a throttled connection.

The throttling wasn’t reported by T-Mobile at all, but a question by the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) resulted in T-Mobile CEO John Legere actually asking “who the fuck” they are.

Then there was the controversy over the opt-out nature of it, opting in everyone by default. In other words, your average T-Mobile customer would only see poor quality video and would need to figure out how to opt out of the promotion.

Fortunately, the Pokemon Go promotion requires users to opt in via an app. A lesson learnt then?

The fact that T-Mobile is offering free data for the game is a rather welcome deal for many a mobile gamer. But judging by the history of the company and zero-rated data, you’d be wise to ask about the specifics of the promotion.

Will there be any throttling at play? What kind of fair-usage policy is in place (T-Mobile warns that “extremely high usage will result in deprioritsation”)? Does the fair-usage policy have a cap of sorts? Are they able to reliably track traffic?



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