Survey: Consumers eschew tiered data pricing

Mobile subscribers in the United States prefer unlimited data plans, according to a newly released survey conducted by analyst firm Sanford C. Bernstein and Co. The survey, which was conducted in July, comes as a number of Tier 1 wireless carriers unveil usage-based mobile data plans.

According to the survey, 58 percent of light data users said they would change carriers to get an unlimited data plan. Among the highest data users, that figure rose to 67 percent. "Customers generally have strongly negative perceptions about UBP, and these are often not correlated with self-interest," Bernstein analyst Craig Moffet said in a research note, referring to usage-based pricing.

The survey was conducted shortly after AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) decided to do away with unlimited data plans for smartphone customers. AT&T currently offers two tiers of data for smartphones: $15 for 200 MB and $25 for 2 GB. AT&T has contended that the new tiers have actually had a positive effect, attracting more customers to data plans who did not have a smartphone before. Bernstein's survey showed that 22.6 percent of respondents who did not have a smartphone or plan to get one said they would switch to a smartphone when told of AT&T's lower pricing tier.

Since the survey was conducted, both Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and T-Mobile USA launched promotional tiered data offerings. Verizon is offering 150 MB of data for $15 per month, in addition to its existing $30 per month for unlimited data. T-Mobile now offers a 200 MB data plan in addition to its existing $30 plan for unlimited data; the 200 MB plan costs $10 per month with a two-year contract or $15 per month without a contract. Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has not offered any kind of tiered plan, and contends that its current plans are simpler for customers. However, Sprint executives have said the carrier may introduce tiered, usage-based plans in the future.

The survey from Bernstein contrasts sharply with a different one released earlier this year that questioned wireless industry executives' views on usage-based pricing.

That survey, conducted for the London law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP by the Economist Intelligence Unit, found that 48 percent of executives surveyed predicted that carriers will focus on developing new mobile data pricing models over the next three years. Additionally, the survey showed that 55 percent of respondents agreed that usage-based models are coming to mature markets, and 47 percent said flat-rate data plans are crimping their ability to increase revenue. The survey was conducted in June and included 391 representatives from the mobile industry, spanning 55 countries.

For more:
- see this Reuters article

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