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Watch Sprint’s CEO try to carefully avoid saying ‘we throttle video’

Published Aug 19th, 2016 2:50PM EDT

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Yesterday, T-Mobile launched a brand-new set of unlimited* data plans. At right about the same time, Sprint also announced a set of very similar data plans, and claimed that T-Mobile had “basically copied” Sprint’s plans.

Because this is business in the era of Trump, both CEOs then went on a mission to trash-talk each other. This resulted in Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure doing a spot on CNBC where he addressed T-Mobile’s claims. But as part of the segment, Claure also answered questions about the limits on Sprint’s data plans. What you’re about to see is some of the most creative use of technical buzzwords to basically lie that I’ve seen in a while.

DON’T MISS: The only bad cell company is Sprint

The interview started well for Claure. Asked “are you in fact trying to ride John’s coat tails?” he responded decently:

What happened is pretty simple. We started testing a week ago, we were going to start tomorrow, so what John did unfortunately, he basically copied our rate plans, and called for an emergency press release, he’s not ready to launch until Sept 6th, we’re launching our unlimited rate plan tomorrow, it’s launching tomorrow at all of our stores, so we’ve been ready for this for a while. Obviously somebody who does an emergency press release, and is not ready to launch until September 6th, is blatantly lying. But what’s more important is the fact, it’s a value that the American consumers are getting, unlimited for a shared party of two for $100, is the best unlimited data plan on the planet.

(Just a small fact-check: I don’t know about the rest of the world, but UK provider Three offers a genuinely unlimited data plan with no cap and no throttling for about $30 per month. So, uh, strike one?)

Where things got really creative, though, was when the interviewer asked about Sprint’s video throttling. While video streaming is indeed unlimited on Sprint’s new plans, video quality is capped at 480p, and music quality is capped at 500kbps. But you wouldn’t know it from listening to Claure:

CNBC: So, it’s unlimited in the sense of the volume of data, but there are limits on the quality of data, particularly video and audio streaming. Does that go to show that it’s video primarily that’s loading the networks these days, and you’re confident that as long as the video that you have to push through the network isn’t that thick, you’ll be able to maintain quality?

Claure: No, when you’re sitting with Sprint, you’re sitting with over 200MHz of spectrum, which makes us the largest spectrum holder in the world. We have the capacity to offer unlimited 4G LTE for pretty much everything, and if some of our customers are streaming, we will never compromise their quality, we will mobile-optimize so that the quality is identical when they’re streaming video, streaming music. You can do this when you have a lot of spectrum. We build our network to be a high capacity network, and we’ve been waiting for this moment to basically move all of our customers to an unlimited data plan.

[Emphasis mine]

“We will mobile-optimize so that the quality is identical when they’re streaming video” is excellent double-speak that makes it sound like Sprint doesn’t really throttle anyone, even though the small print of the plans says exactly that. Claure also seems to talk about spectrum a lot, probably in an effort to fight against some surveys which have shown Sprint’s network coverage and speed to be far worse than competitors.

It’s true that Sprint does own a lot of spectrum, but owning spectrum just means that Sprint has the right to broadcast radio signals over that spectrum. It doesn’t mean Sprint is actually using all that spectrum to reach lots of customers. It’s the difference between having the planning permission to build the world’s largest skyscraper, and actually building it.

It’s important to note that Claure and Sprint aren’t alone in this game of small-print details and offering unlimited plans that aren’t actually unlimited. Both Sprint and T-Mobile’s “unlimited” plans could probably be better described as “plans with generous amounts of data, no overage charges, but limits on how exactly you can use that data.” Video streaming and tethering — the two things that use lots of data — are limited on both networks.

So, both companies could probably do with looking up the definition of “unlimited” in the dictionary. But Claure wins some kind of special medal for his efforts to avoid accurately describing the limits on his network’s unlimited plans.

Chris Mills
Chris Mills News Editor

Chris Mills has been a news editor and writer for over 15 years, starting at Future Publishing, Gawker Media, and then BGR. He studied at McGill University in Quebec, Canada.