Talking tech since 2003

It seems as if unlimited data on mobile devices is simply becoming a way of the past.  With major carriers like AT&T and Verizon having both discontinued the practice over the last year or so, consumers in the U.S. looking to subscribe to an unlimited data plan on a new contract have been forced to either look at geographic-specific carriers or one of the smaller national carriers that have continued to offer unlimited data service to customers willing to pay for it.  Off the top of my head, the only moderately large carriers that have held onto this unlimited data practice have been T-Mobile and Sprint, and both companies have engaged in furious advertising campaigns flaunting unlimited data offerings as one of the primary reasons to use its service.

In particular, I’ve been somewhat impressed with Sprint’s unlimited data offering for some time now.  So much so, in fact, that with Sprint being a likely candidate for being the next carrier to sell the iPhone I have personally contemplated if the carrier’s continued sale of unlimited data would come back to haunt carriers, namely AT&T and Verizon, that abandoned unlimited data.  But now with news coming out that Sprint is possibly going to discontinue its sales of unlimited data plans, it’s being to seem as if the competition in the mobile industry to give users a bigger bang for their buck has simply gone out the window.

While nothing is official yet a recent article from Forbes has cited Sprint CTO Stephen Frye as saying that even though unlimited data plans had its benefits for both Sprint and its end-users, the company would be “open to different business models”, hinting that unlimited data might not be a long-time offering from the company.

Admittedly I’m pretty understanding about the whole situation with Sprint.  As much as I would be disappointed to see Sprint drop unlimited data plans I realize that the “different business models” would allow Sprint to offer lower tiered-based pricing in a move that could ultimately be better for the majority of Sprint’s bandwidth-conservative users.  And when considering that just about every other player in the mobile market has elected to stick solely to the tier-based system, the business-minded person in me is able to realize that Sprint’s success weighs heavily on the company being able to play on a level field with its competition; something that holding onto unlimited data plans doesn’t quite offer.

But as much as I can understand this concept, I feel it important to point out that Sprint isn’t on a level playing field with its competition right now.  Compared to the national coverage that other leading carriers offer, Sprint is still somewhat sub-par for individuals on the move; at least from my personal experiences.  To me, Sprint’s continued offering of unlimited data plans has been the one thing that helped to even the company out with its competition in the last year or so.  So with that single feature out the window, I really do think that Sprint will lose its edge if it follows the ways of AT&T and Verizon in eradicating their all-you-can-eat data service.

That’s not even the worst of it, though.  Sprint has more or less built its entire image around being the only major carrier in the United States to offer “true” unlimited service.  The company’s CEO, Dan Hesse, has even been the sole speaker in a Sprint commercial [YouTube video] that specifically talked about Sprint’s standing as the only carrier that offered “true unlimited calling, texting, surfing, TV, and navigation” without “metering, overage[s], or throttling.”

So if Sprint does indeed end up axing their unlimited data offerings the company will be doing nothing more than slaughtering the somewhat personal-feeling words that came out of its CEO’s mouth, and will nullify the value that their other ads that smeared their competition [YouTube video].  And if there’s one thing that I can’t stand, it’s when businesses and individuals go back on their word.

Like I said, I can understand why unlimited data might not be the best thing for Sprint (or any other carrier) right now.  But when you build your image around a single feature and then make it blatantly obvious that you’re “open to different business models” everything you’ve built and all the respect that you’ve earned goes down the drain.  So for both the sake of Sprint and its users, I sure hope that Sprint’s unlimited data plans are truly here to stay.

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