Report: Sprint offers best value on mobile data usage

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Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) deliver the best bang for the buck in terms of mobile data usage among Tier 1 carriers, according to a new report from Validas, the automated wireless billing company.

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The firm, which analyzes customers' mobile bills, said the "real world" data pricing breaks down to 12.5 MB of data for $1 at Sprint, or 8 cents per MB. The study found that AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) came in second with 5.6 MB per $1, or 18 cents per MB. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) came in third at 5 MB per $1 and 18 cents per MB, and T-Mobile USA came in fourth at 4.3 MB per $1 and 23 cents per MB.

The Validas study looked at how much a consumer spent on an average smartphone data plan and at how much data was consumed at each carrier. Validas said Sprint came out on top because its mobile WiMAX service which it resells from Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR)  leads to higher data consumption and because it has an unlimited data plan. In terms of absolute pricing value, however, T-Mobile offers the lowest prices.

"Sprint seems to emerge as the data bargain here, probably because of the carrier's fast 4G speeds that speed up data consumption, facilitating the use of more data," Valiads said in a blog post. "We think a usability issue like this may speak to a main reason why so many people are clearly not using nearly as much data as they're buying: it's not that people don't want to use the data--it's that they're hampered by slow network speeds. And the value added for a consumer is tremendous when more data is used (without overages) as opposed to paying for data and not using it. You're paying one set price for the plan, so the less of your allotted data you use, then the higher the effective price rises on the megabytes that you do use. Drive down the effective per-MB price you pay by using all of what you buy."

AT&T said starting Oct. 1 it may throttle the data speeds of smartphone users with unlimited data plans who are among the heaviest top 5 percent of data users in a given billing period. T-Mobile announced in May it would not charge customers for data overage fees but would instead throttle users' down to 2G EDGE speeds if they went over their data allotments. Verizon instituted usage-based smartphone data plans in early July and charges a $10/GB overage fee. However, Verizon said in February, ahead of the launch of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 4, that it would begin throttling the data speeds of its the top 5 percent of its heaviest unlimited data users.

Sprint does not charge overage fees or throttle its smartphone data users, but its Virgin Mobile brand will begin throttling the speeds of smartphone users who use more than 2.5 GB of data per month. The company said less than 3 percent of its customers currently use that much data monthly.

For more:
- see this Validas blog post
- see this CNET article

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