US operator AT&T’s announcement this week that it will replace unlimited data plans, including those for iPhone users, with two plans that limit consumption is a significant move for the US.
Operators in the US have long held out on efforts to replace unlimited flat-rate pricing.
But unprecedented iPhone data use has meant continual congestion problems for AT&T, giving rise to more and more consumer complaints over quality.
AT&T simply had to bite the bullet.
Starting June 7, it will replace its $29.99 unlimited plan with two new plans; the $15 per month DataPlus plans includes 200MB of data, whilst the DataPro plan includes 2GB of data for $25 per month.
In addition, AT&T will separately charge DataPro customers for tethering - another data-hungry trend that is also becoming pervasive throughout Asia.
AT&T rival Verizon Wireless is also on the case, with chief executive Lowell McAdam telling the FT last week that unlimited bandwidth packages won’t be available for LTE, which is due to launch later this year.
The US moves were not unexpected - operators have been warming up the local market to the prospect of canning unlimited plans for some time.
On this side of the Pacific, operators in developed markets have been implementing smarter ways of managing traffic on their networks through new billing schemes.
Take Hong Kong’s CSL, for example. The Telstra-backed firm introduced speed-based data plans when it debuted its all-IP 900 network in March 2009.
The firm says most Next G subscribers take either its 3.6Mbps or 7.2Mbps plans, with business customers skewed towards the 21Mbps service.
“We have set a new structure in Hong Kong with speed-based pricing which our competitors have copied,” a CSL spokesperson told telecomasia.net.
And so finally, US operators are about to join their counterparts all around the world which are backing away from unlimited data plans as networks are strained under the heavy pressures that iPhones and other smartphones are putting on them.
“Unlimited plans went through a brief heyday until the problems with the i-Phone and people gobbling up huge volumes of data downloading video to their mobiles and clogging up the networks led to the imposition of more restrictive capped plans,” says Nick Ingelbrecht, research director consumer services, at Gartner.
But he says that “unlimited plans (conditions apply) are back again with the i-Pad and will remain a feature for high usage customers.”
Now that’s worrisome.
Has the industry not learned anything from the iPhone data explosion?