After AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega mentioned at a Dec. 9 UBS Global Media and Communications conference that 3 percent of AT&T's smartphone users are generating about 40 percent of its data traffic, it seems likely that AT&T and other mobile operators are going to have to put some limitations on these super-data users. And though de la Vega stopped short of saying that AT&T would implement usage-based pricing, we think that at least one operator in 2010 will start experimenting with it.
We see usage-based pricing as a necessary evil. Wireless networks have limitations that make it impossible for carriers to continue to provide unlimited data services. Usage-based pricing is risky because consumers don't understand (or care) that wireless networks are different from wired networks--and mobile operators are going to have to tread lightly to make sure they don't alienate consumers with this business model.