Almost half of the mobile operators that were surveyed in a recent report that offer unlimited mobile data plans also throttle the speeds. In a new report from mobile service optimization company Allot, only 13.5 percent of operators surveyed are currently offering "truly unlimited" mobile data plans and 48 percent that say they offer unlimited data plans are throttling the speeds after consumers consume a certain amount of data.
The Allot MobileTrends Charging Report also found that 35 percent of operators surveyed are already offering value-based billing, or charging a flat-fee for accessing a service such as Facebook. In general, the plans allow operators to charge subscribers based on the variable value of a used service, rather than on time, the amount of data usage or speed.
In an interview with FierceWireless, Jonathan Gordon, Allot's director of marketing, said the company was surprised to find so many carriers using value-based pricing. However, he cautioned that the mobile industry is still in a transition. "Some of this data overlaps," he said. "Some of the people that are doing these application and value-based plans may have one foot back in volume-based and unlimited. What it shows is that there is a lot of innovation that is already going on."
The statistics presented in the report are based on data collected from over 100 mobile operators worldwide, serving around 1.1 billion subscribers. The regional breakdown is as follows: 22 percent from Asia Pacific, 21 percent from North America, 15 percent from Latin America, 23 percent from Europe and 19 percent Middle East & Africa. The data was collected during the third quarter of 2011 from publically available sources.
In the U.S., some operators, including AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and T-Mobile USA, have moved to usage-based data pricing. Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) still offers unlimited EV-DO and WIMAX data to smartphone customers without overage charges, but recently decided to drop unlimited WiMAX data for mobile broadband devices such as USB modems. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have all hinted at moving to multi-device data plans, where subscribers could share a bucket of data among multiple devices.
Allot found that 23 percent of operators surveyed offer a multiple-device plan to their customers. For example, Mobistar Belgium offers 1.5 GB or 2 GB plans to be shared between devices for €15 (around $20) or €30 (around $41), respectively. Gordon said that it has been a big leap for North American operators to leave the unlimited data market, let alone launch more complex charging schemes.
"My prediction is that within the next 12 months we'll see one of the top 5 [U.S.] operators put out something like this," he said, referring to multi-device plans. "Of course, once that starts to happen, it changes the whole ball game. It takes one brave operator to put their foot forward."
"I think the key takeaway is that we are already into value-based charging," Gordon added. "They have got one foot in there and they are starting to roll it out. It gives a great competitive advantage for the first movers."
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Correction, Nov. 10, 2011: This article originally incorrectly stated that almost half, or 48 percent, of all operators worldwide that offer unlimited data plans also throttle data speeds. The assertion refers to 48 percent of those operators surveyed by Allot.