Talking tech since 2003

When it comes to the various sub-sections of the general technology industry, the single most interesting market that I’m following right now is hands-down the mobile industry.  Sometimes it really is a bit of a challenge to realize how far innovations in the mobile sector or any other subset of the tech industry for that matter has grown and adapted over the last few years.  I mean, it wasn’t long ago that text messaging and the dreadful mobile browsers that came on what we now mockingly refer to as “dumb-phones” were seen as the cutting edge.  Now mobile phones are practically scaled down desktop workstations that allow users to constantly stay connected to everything around them.  In fact, I personally find it comical that Apple calls its cellular offering the “iPhone,” because when it comes down to it the last thing that many people use the iPhone or other smart-phones for is as an actual…phone.

Of course, this is because most of what consumers do on their smart-phones now circulates directly around the Internet.  Email and instant messaging have become common-pace in terms of mobile communication, and I don’t know a single smart-phone user that doesn’t use their device for looking up information or browsing the Internet at least every now and then.  That said, while mobile handsets have evolved incredibly over the years and the affordability of these handsets has gotten to the point where just about anyone can afford a fancy new feature-rich phone, the cellular networks that users subscribe to have been much more stingy about data rates and how much mobile bandwidth a user gets for the money.

Look at “unlimited” data plans, for example.  Last year AT&T changed up their data plans, and in the process killed off the availability of the “unlimited” data plan, allowing only existing unlimited data users to become “grandfathered” and retain their right to unlimited data for the remainder of their business with AT&T.  Verizon followed suit this summer, tossing out their unlimited data offerings and like AT&T allowing existing users to keep their unlimited data.

But while this is fine and dandy for iPhone users who want to stick with their carrier’s, the reality here is that neither of the two iPhone-sporting networks in the United States offer an unlimited data plan to new customers.  So if a customer currently with AT&T were to ponder switching to Verizon’s network (or vise-versa) that user would not be able to purchase an unlimited data plan as they would be a “new” customer.  Instead, this theoretical customer would have no choice but to adopt the tier-based data plans, which for some could end up being pricier than their locked-in unlimited data offerings from their current provider.

Typically I’d say that this type of move is anti-competitive, as this move more or less forces users to stay with their current carrier to retain unlimited data, but as of right now both AT&T and Verizon obviously do not see the need for unlimited data plans.

This is all likely to change down the road though if Sprint gets their hands on the iPhone as reports speculate they will soon.  This is because Sprint is speculated to be offering unlimited data plans – something that the company has been advertising heavily about – for iPhone users.  What this means is that current and new iPhone users alike will be able to jump on the Sprint network and have the option to purchase unlimited data.  Needless to say, the addition of a new carrier option for iPhone users really is something consumers should be grateful for.

Now, I’ve already gone on the record and made it rather blunt that I didn’t think that the Sprint iPhone would compete with the current iPhone offerings by either AT&T or Verizon.  That said, though, I formed that opinion a week before Verizon announced the phase-out of unlimited data.  And, shame on me, I never felt a need to write a follow-up article on the subject.

But with everything in mind now I really do think that Sprint has the potential to compete with the existing iPhone carriers in the US, at least when it comes to unlimited data offerings, and that both AT&T and Verizon are going to feel the heat when current and prospective customers begin to look elsewhere for their high-bandwidth mobile needs.

Even if you’re an iPhone user that doesn’t want to switch over to the Sprint network, I think that in time Sprint’s rumored unlimited iPhone data could be of benefit to you as well.  You see, every consumer-driven market is built around competition and “one-upping” your competitors.  So if Sprint does get the iPhone (which I’m all but certain they will) and if they do offer unlimited data (again, I think the chances on this happening are pretty high) both AT&T and Verizon are going to end up sitting with their tails between their legs looking bad for not offering unlimited data.  So sooner or later, I really wouldn’t be surprised to see both networks bring unlimited data back to the table.

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