Are you ready for the end of unlimited mobile phone data packages?
The New York Times did a story recently, As Networks Speed up, Data Hits a Wall, talking about how all of the wireless companies are ceasing to offer unlimited data packages and are moving to tiered plans. The tiered plans may make broadband and mobile phone more affordable for some, but may not be easily accepted by those who use their mobile devices to upload, download, stream radio, watch movies and do other things that require massive amounts of bandwidth. It reports:
AT&T and Verizon have both phased out their unlimited data plans in favor of tiered plans. Verizon offers 75-megabyte plans for basic phones, as well as two-, five- and 10-gigabyte plans for smartphones, topping out at $80 a month. Those in the more expensive plans who go over their limit are charged $10 for another gigabyte, as are AT&T customers who exceed the limit on that company’s two-gigabyte plan, which costs $25.
T-Mobile, which AT&T is hoping to acquire, offers tiers from 200 megabytes up to 10 gigabytes. Those on the 200-megabyte plan are charged 10 cents for an extra megabyte. And if those with the upper-tier plans exceed their limits, the company slows their data connections until the next billing period.
Sprint is the last carrier to hold onto its unlimited data plan, but analysts and industry experts say it is
unlikely to last.
All of the carriers let customers track their data use through their Web sites and on their phones, and they send alerts when customers are in danger of going over.
Of course, those who want to avoid paying more can simply wait until they are connected to a Wi-Fi network to, say, download high-definition videos, since this will not count against the monthly limit. But that doesn’t help someone who wants to stream movies or music on a long evening commute.
DEVELOPERS BEWARE. The article went on to address the concerns of the application developers community and what these new tiered packages will mean to them.
The data caps are very much on the minds of developers of mobile apps and services, who need to think
about how they will affect the way people use their phones.
Malthe Sigurdsson, vice president for product design at the Internet music service Rdio, said the company was adapting to the data limits. Rdio includes several features intended to help prevent users from unwittingly churning through their data allowance.
“You can set Rdio to play at a lower quality when using a cellular network, and then decide to use a higher quality when on Wi-Fi,” he said. “We try to help people out so they don’t use up their cap in a few hours of using our service.”
Most people, he said, have adjusted their behavior to stream only when they are on a Wi-Fi network, or
make use of a feature that lets them store songs on their phones to play when they are away from Wi-Fi.
Kevin Systrom, one of the founders of Instagram, a popular photo-sharing application for iPhones, said he was concerned that data caps would constrain developers from creating innovative and possibly
data-intensive features and services.
“Any low data limits imposed would curb usage of all services,” he said. He called the introduction of data caps “a step backwards for mobile technology.”
Yet AT&T and other carriers, along with some developers, argue that the caps make data use more
affordable and improve the performance of the carriers’ networks for all.
The main issue, developers say, is that most people have no idea how much data they are using when
watching a YouTube video or sending an e-mail.
“They don’t have an intuitive feel for how much data they’re using,” said Rick Osterloh, vice president for development at Skype. “You can so easily blow through a data plan if you’re watching videos, browsing the Web and making Skype calls.”
Mr. Osterloh said he sympathized with the challenge the carriers face in managing demands. But he is
concerned that mobile Skype users who accidentally go over their limits may get upset with the company rather than their carrier.
Notwithstanding these concerns, it looks like the era of unlimited data packages will be a thing of the past and developers will have to adjust and the public will have to be informed and educated about how to avoid overages and to maximize and better manage their viewing, browsing and downloading habits
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