Are You Being Overcharged For Data?

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Posted 5 years ago

How often do you check your phone bill in detail looking for any data charges? Okay, those of us that have unlimited data will not need to, but the millions of people that have data packages with carriers that charge for overuse, may want think about researching their bills more thoroughly. According to a new study by UCLA professor Chunyi Peng published by Extreme Tech there is a chance that smartphone users may be getting overcharged for data. To make things worse, it is not the data that is being used that people are being charged for, but data that is not being used.

Professor Peng looked at data charges on Android smartphones from two different carriers and concluded that while some carriers charged correctly for data, some users were overcharged for data they didn’t even receive. According to Peng and the Extreme Tech article, a device is charged for data when the network sends data packets to it. However, if the device is being used in a weak service area, the chances are that the data may never be received by the user. As some carriers do not have any system in place to decide whether a data packet has been received or not, they do not stop charges, leaving customers out of pocket.

In one instance, Peng found that 450MB of data was charged when in actual fact none of it was received. In a second case, researchers were able to develop an app that fooled carriers and allowed them to receive 200MB of data free of charge by concealing the data transfer as a DNS request.

In Peng’s words, “The root causes lie in lack of both coordination between the charging system and the end device, and prudent policy enforcement by certain operators.” Peng didn’t reveal the names of the carriers involved, but did say that they serve half of the US wireless population. This makes two AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile the chief suspects.

How much do overcharges come to?

Peng’s study put the cost of the overcharges at between 5% and 7%. Not a drastic amount, but still significant, especially for heavy data users. The professor suggests that the ideal solution to the problem is the creation of a receipt system for data packets that have been received. Until this comes in, smartphone users are well advised to cut down on data usage in areas with poor signal, and save any music and video streaming until you are using a Wi-Fi connection – it works better that way anyway.

– Anthony Carter

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