TOS on Cingular's wireless data service sucks as much as Verizon's

Following up on yesterday's Boing Boing post about a terms-of-service for Verizon's wireless EVDO service that prohibits all but a handful of uses (and is, even then, quite possibly technically unenforceable) reader Jon Webb says,

Here is Cingular's use policy for UMTS/HSPDA data service. It reads pretty much the same as Verizon's EVDO terms of service. Ironically, Cingular's small business page on EDGE service is less forthcoming about the details of that particular service's terms.

Glenn Fleishman says,

I had to dig -- that link didn't give me terms -- but I found this when you go to Plans & Phones, Area Code, Data Plans, Plan Terms...

Data Service sessions may only be conducted for the following purposes: (i) Internet browsing; (ii) e-mail; and (iii) corporate intranet access (including access to corporate e-mail, customer relationship management, sales force automation, and field service automation applications). The Services cannot be used with server devices or host computer applications. Prohibited uses include, but are not limited to, telemetry applications, automated data feeds, continuous jpeg file transfers, Web camera posts or broadcasts, other machine-to-machine applications, and voice over IP. These Services are not intended to provide full-time connections, and the Service may be discontinued after a significant period of inactivity or after sessions of excessive usage.

It's a little less restrictve in some ways, but it uses the phrase "Internet browsing" which is meaningless except, obviously, to phone company lawyers.

I just spent 15 minutes on T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel's sites trying to find the equivalent information. I can't. In both cases, I attempted to add items to the shopping cart and reach the penultimate checkout stage to see if terms of service appeared.


Awful. So as bad as Cingular and Verizon's limitations are on their supposed alternative to the "hard-to-find" Wi-Fi technology--and I am a fan of 3G cellular, no mistake, for its ubiquity--I have no idea of the limits on unlimited T-Mobile EDGE and Sprint Nextel EVDO.

And wireless tech wiz Mike Outmesguine adds,

For years I've used cellular data cards from CDPD to CDMA and now EVDO. I recall the agreements have always been draconian, especially for the "unlimited" monthly plans. The carrier wants to keep people from using the unlimited plans for continuous operation like, say, monitoring a vending machine or installing a wireless security camera. Almost anything besides actually reading (better not watch those video clips!) is against the TOS.

However, there appears to be no enforcement (at least for mobile power
users.) In my recent experiments with cellular gateway devices (like
Junxion) I spoke at length with the cell company tech support. They assured me that there is no port blocking, or other network interference/control. In fact, one staffmember admitted to me that their tech support staff plays World of Warcraft over EVDO.

The TOS appears to be overkill to give the carrier leverage against the likes of UPS and other companies that require in-the-field realtime data services. Cell carriers want the big guys to pay for a metered connection instead of a flat rate. Of course, that leaves a gigantic question mark for people pushing the envelope of "average user".


Verizon's EVDO service: hilariously restrictive use policy

Reader comment: Gary says,

About Glenn Fleishman's comment how he was looking for Sprint's TOS: I found Sprint's PCS WiFi Terms of Use here: Doesn't seem as draconian as Verizon or Cingular's. You'd think Verizon and Cingular would be more enterprise-friendly. A lot of us have a true business need for this type of connectivity.

And Glenn replies:

So interesting point here: we don't know Sprint's EVDO terms still, but this highlights why Wi-Fi terms are enormously less restrictive at hotspots. Sprint is an aggregator/reseller of Wi-Fi; they operate a small number of locations themselves and resell over 25,000 hotspots worldwide. Verizon resells, too, while SBC (Cingular's 60-percent owner) operates several thousands resells thousands more. (Cingular operates a handful of airports and train stations, holdovers from AT&T Wireless.)

Wi-Fi is "free" spectrum from a cell operator's perspective, and if they're an aggregator/reseller, then they are bound to pass along only the most restrictive terms of their hotspot operator partners -- they don't really care very much about what you do with the service within those parameters, and bandwidth limitation isn't key for them.

The server/host restrictions make sense to me for all of these services, of course. For Wi-Fi hotspots and for 3G cellular, an end user operating a publicly advertised server or some kind of BitTorrent node goes against the grain of shared public Internet access of most kinds. But the restrictions we're seeing against any kind of "server" or VoIP are ridiculous.

VoIP, by the way, is now almost universally encouraged at Wi-Fi hotspots as a reason to go there. Cingular has committed to a Wi-Fi/cell converged handset for 2006; Sprint Nextel will almost certainly offer such an animal due to its cable company deal last week.