Carriers clamp down on unlimited 4G

In launching LTE services, a number of operators have offered a range of promotional plans and service pricing discounts. As these discounts expire there are notable modifications in the more permanent LTE offers on the table.
In Singapore, changes to SingTel’s LTE service plans are among the more extreme in the Asia-Pacific region. On commercial launch of its 4G service, the operator introduced a data only plan with a data cap of 10GB, priced at S$69.90 (€44.54). The data overage associated with the plan was S$0.512 per MB.
With the introduction of handset offerings, from July 2012, SingTel’s caps were subsequently reduced to 2-GB, 3-GB and 4-GB, along with a new 12-GB plan, with service priced at S$39.90, S$59.90, S$99.90 and S$205 respectively. These 4G data cap and price changes also apply to the operator’s four existing 3G plans which were all previously capped at 12-GB.
In addition, overage charges will increase from S$5.35 per GB in July 2012 to S$10.70 per GB from January 2013. New tablet plans launched in August 2012 carry a data allowance of 10-GB and are priced at S$49.90 and S$64.90, with a cheaper tablet offer associated with the more expensive monthly plan.
This reversal to tiered pricing plans and significant plan price hikes relative to the changed data allowances are justified by SingTel along the following lines: “Today, 64% of mobile data on our network is consumed by 10% of our subscribers. This prevents the remaining 90% from enjoying the full benefits of the network.
With our tiered pricing model, subscribers will pay for what they use, and this ultimately allows us to keep prices for our plans the same over time despite rising network costs.” With its own LTE service launch imminent, rival operator StarHub has also announced plans to discontinue its 3G 12-GB data plan in favor of 3G plans with 1-GB, 2-GB and 5-GB data bundles. For its part, Singapore’s M1 has launched its LTE services initially only for business users, while the operator eliminated unlimited 3G data plans in late 2011.
The shift to tiered data usage based pricing models is not isolated to Singapore. There has been a progressive elimination of 3G unlimited plans around the globe, corresponding with exponential growth in data usage. Moreover, the majority of commercial 4G service plans are data capped from the outset, or will revert to capped services after a promotional unlimited offer expires. Of the hundreds of commercial LTE service plans now available, among the few unlimited offers that remain for 4G service are those offered by CSL in Hong Kong.
However, these plans are subject to CSL’s fair use policy which states that the operator will apply lower priority access when a user hits a 5-GB data usage cap within a given billing month. The application of fair or reasonable use policies, traffic prioritization techniques and throttling policies are common across ‘unlimited’ 4G plans that are available around the world. CSL has also indicated that it will eliminate unlimited plans with likely implementation in 2013. Similarly, T-HT in Croatia will end its promotional 4G unlimited plan in October 2012.
In monitoring the evolution of 4G service plans to the predominant mode of tiered data usage models or models based on speed tiers (or both), it is prudent to track changes to currently offered unlimited plans from operators including: Hutchison’s 3 in Austria, EMT in Estonia, DNA in Finland, Latvia’s LMT, Viva-Cell MTS in Armenia, IT&E in Guam, Azercell in Azerbaijan, Namibia’s MTC, Zain in Saudi Arabia, both CMHK and 3 in Hong Kong, MetroPCS in the US, Portugal Telecom, Vodafone and Optimus in Portugal, Telenor in Sweden, Yota in Russia, Ziggo in the Netherlands, and Orange in the Dominican Republic. Of note, of the 19 operators cited above, 11 operators only recently launched commercial LTE services in 2012. 
Dianne Northfield is vice president of research at Tolaga Research. For more information, visit