What’s the Difference between Mobile Throttling and Deprioritization?

Tyler Abbott
Staff Writer, Mobile & Wireless
Read More
February 18, 2022
2 min read

Mobile throttling occurs when you pass a certain threshold of data usage in a month (data cap) and your speeds start to slow down. Deprioritization, on the other hand, occurs when the wireless network you're on gives priority to other users and slows down your data speeds. Both phenomena slow down your data speeds, but for completely different reasons.

Mobile throttling is more predictable and less random
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At least with mobile throttling, you should know when it’s coming. Deprioritization, on the other hand, could strike anytime you’re in a crowded place.

When would I experience mobile throttling?

It all depends on what cell phone plan you choose. Generally, the more expensive the plan, the higher your data cap threshold will be. Let's take a look at some unlimited cell phone plans and see where the mobile throttling occurs:

Whenever you pass your data threshold, your data will start to slow down. That's why it's important to know your data caps before you sign up for a new plan. Think of it like gasoline in your car—once you use up all of your gas, your car will start to slow down. Once you use up your data, your phone will slow down. Thankfully, unlike your car, your phone won't altogether stop working on the side of the highway.

How much will my data slow down?
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Typically, when you pass your data cap, your data speeds will shift down to somewhere between 0.1–8 Mbps. To put those numbers in context, average 4G speeds hover between 23–30 Mbps. So, it'll take you at least four times longer to pull up Instagram stories, YouTube videos, and Twitter feeds with throttled data.

When would I experience deprioritization?

Deprioritization can happen on basic unlimited plans with major providers but is a more common issue with mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) wireless plans. "What are MVNOs?" you're probably wondering. MVNOs are like any other carrier, except they don't have their own network—instead, they just use other networks. For example, Visible Wireless uses Verizon's network, and Metro by T-Mobile uses (you guessed it!) T-Mobile's network.

MVNOs are kind of like the renters of the wireless network space. The big four carriers own the networks, and the MVNOs rent space on those networks. The plus side to the arrangement is that MVNOs typically offer cheaper cell phone plans. On the negative side, MVNOs suffer from deprioritization.

While using an MVNO, your signal can suddenly disappear in congested areas. This happens because whatever network you're using gives priority to its own customers.

For example, let's say you, a Visible Wireless user, attend an MLB baseball game with your friend, who is a Verizon user. You struggle to get a single text out during the game, while your friend has no problem posting updates to Twitter. Since you're both on Verizon's network, shouldn't you have the same signal? Nope! Since Visible Wireless is an MVNO, its data speeds can be deprioritized.

Where can I find data throttling and deprioritization information?

Though it can sometimes be harder to find on a carrier's website, there are some common places you should be able to find information about a companies data throttling and data deprioritization policies. 

This information is most commonly found on the bottom section of a plan feature list, towards the bottom of a plans comparison section, or sometimes it can be hidden in plain sight, but in smaller, less noticeable print. 

Here are some of our favorite MVNOs:

Deprioritization is more annoying than throttling.

Throttling and deprioritization will both slow down your data speeds, but at least you can see it coming with throttling—you'll have already used up all of your data. Deprioritization can strike at any time, most commonly in crowded areas when you probably need your signal most. Few things are more annoying than trying to call an Uber to pick you up from an event but you can't get the call out.

If you want to avoid deprioritization, you'll have to get a cell phone plan from one of the Big Three networks: Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T.

Tyler Abbott
Written by
Tyler Abbott
Tyler has been obsessed with watching sports as efficiently as possible since the creation of the DVR. He is always on the lookout for the best tech in TV and wireless so he can watch all the sports and still have enough time to hang out with his baby. He has written about streaming, wireless, and TV for over three years. He hopes the Lakers will eventually get better.

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