T-Mobile’s “high-speed” mobile hotspot add-on isn’t

By | October 18, 2018

T-Mobile recently started offering a cell phone plan they call “Essentials”. This, their cheapest plan, does not come with any of the frills of their more expensive plans. Furthermore, mobile data for customers on the Essentials plan is (supposedly) prioritized lower than data for customers on other plans, causing it to be slowed down in times and locations where their data network is congested.

Most of the time, mobile data speeds for Essentials users are fine despite their lower priority. However, mobile hotspot tethering, i.e., connecting another device to the internet through one’s cell phone, is always throttled, at approximately 600Kbps regardless of whether there is congestion.

For customers who need higher speed tethering, T-Mobile offers a “10GB Smartphone Mobile Hotspot” add-on to the Essentials plan. Supposedly, for $10 per month, you get 10GB of tethering mobile data at a much faster speed than the 600Kbps throttling.

Except you don’t. T-Mobile is lying.

I added the mobile hotspot add-on to my Essentials plan and my tethering speed didn’t increase. Not at all. It was exactly the same speed as before I paid for the add-on.

I tested my tethering speed at many different times and locations — even in different states! — over a six-day period, and not once did I get a download speed of even 1Mbps.

I complained to T-Mobile about this. For six days, they had me try many different troubleshooting steps, none of which helped. At one point I went to a T-Mobile store and tried tethering with my SIM card in a T-Mobile employee’s phone and her SIM card (on T-Mobile’s “ONE Plus” plan, which comes with 20GB of high-speed tethering as part of the plan) in my phone. My phone got high tethering speed with her SIM in it; her phone got low tethering speed with my SIM in it. This proves that the problem was not my phone, but rather throttling of the tethering connection on my account.

At this point it is clear that one of two things is true. Either:

  1. T-Mobile isn’t managing this add-on properly for Essentials customers, such that their default throttling of tethering speeds simply isn’t being removed even for customers who pay for the $10 per month add-on; or
  2. their network is so “congested” that it’s virtually impossible to ever actually get high tethering speeds with this add-on, regardless of time or location.

I don’t know which of these is the correct explanation, but it doesn’t really matter. In either case, T-Mobile is charging customers for something they aren’t actually providing. It’s fraud.

After six days of working with T-Mobile to try to resolve this issue, they finally informed me that there was nothing more they could do and my only option was to upgrade to a higher-priced plan if I wanted high-speed mobile data. I switched my phone line from T-Mobile to Project Fi immediately upon being told that, though I am still paying for four other phone lines on T-Mobile for other family members who don’t need high-speed tethering.

I’m not the only person who has experienced this issue. See, e.g., this extremely similar complaint from another T-Mobile customer. If you search for “T-Mobile slow tethering” you will find that many other people have similar complaints.

I believe that what T-Mobile is doing here is unfair, deceptive, and fraudulent. I have filed formal complaints about it with the FCC, the FTC, the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable, and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.

Please comment below if you’ve run into this issue.


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