Talking tech since 2003

Regardless of what handset or carrier, any smartphone user will tell you that modern mobile handhelds can easily become the focal points of our social and collaborative lifestyles.  Before smartphones such as the BlackBerry, Android, or iPhone were fixtures embedded into the hands of consumers we were never able to keep in touch with the same level of mobility that we see today.  That said smartphones aren’t just for business folk anymore, and the mass production and sale of these handy little devices has helped to stir up the “smartphone revolution”, as some call it, to the extent that people of all fields and demographics now own and use feature-packed mobile devices on a daily basis.

With users being able to do so much on their phones it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that we are able to consume great amounts as well.  Look at email, constant instant messaging, video calling, web browsing, mobile videos, and the works and you can quickly see just how easy it can be for a smartphone user to eat up previously unthought-of amounts of mobile data; better known as “bandwidth” resources.  For years now, the mist data-intensive users have been able to subscribe to “unlimited” data plans that didn’t put forth any sort of cap or restriction as to the amount of data transfer an end-user could consume each month.  However in the most recent year or so we’ve seen a new trend – what many would consider a step back in the mobile industry – where carries have taken their “unlimited” data offerings off the table and have begun implementing tiered data packages.

Just this time last year AT&T axed their “unlimited” data packages when they announced their revised data plans.  More recently mobile carrier T-Mobile, coincidentally currently working at a deal that would ultimately lead to a merger with AT&T, followed suit by phasing-out their “unlimited” data plans; again in favor of the dated tiered systems based on usage.  And just this week we’re now seeing news develop that Verizon, one of the largest mobile networks in the US and very well known for a media campaign against rival AT&T, has announced that they too have decided to drop unlimited data services as one of their offerings as well.

Now, if you’re a current subscriber to Verizon Wireless service it is important to realize that this change will not affect your plan or bill at the end of the month.  Better yet, current customers will even be able to retain their “unlimited” plans down the road if they opt to renew their contracts or upgrade their handsets.  But come July 7th, the unlimited data service will no longer be made available to new subscribers.

Personally, I get a pretty good chuckle out of the whole thing.  You see, when AT&T was the exclusive carrier of the highly sought-after Apple iPhone consumers seemed to attack the mobile company from every direction, unhappy with the service and business practices implemented by the company.  And everywhere you looked, people saw Verizon as the savior to their problems.

But when Verizon actually got their hands on the iPhone and made the device available on their mobile network it soon became apparent that the Verizon network wasn’t any better than the on operated by AT&T.  In fact, it was even found to be slower.  There went one of the network’s biggest perceived advantages.

Similarly, we all witnessed a bit of disappointment when AT&T took the axe to their unlimited data last year.  Just like with the network issues people saw Verizon, a company that still offered unlimited data service, as the solution to their problems.  Now that they too are tossing out “unlimited”, what advantage does the company really have?

All humor aside, I personally can’t make sense of the fact that mobile carriers are moving away from unlimited data.  With smartphones becoming more and more popular with each and every passing day, wouldn’t you think that unlimited data would be something that carriers wanted to hold on to in order to gain and hold an edge against their competition?

Personally, I’m beginning to question the stability and scalability of the United States’ wireless carriers more and more.  Have these companies bitten off more they can chew?  Is the traffic generated by unlimited data plans starting to cause stress on their mobile networks?  We’re already seeing mobile carriers (albeit not in the United States, yet) attacking companies like Apple and Google that arguably facilitate in generating a great deal of mobile traffic, saying that they should ultimately help flip the bill for the outdated mobile networks.

On top of this, part of me honestly thinks that this is just a simple ploy to nickel and dime end-users.  With the economy the way it is, it’s easy to understand the fact that people shop around for better deals on things like mobile phone service.  This said, my experience in retail has taught me that consumers often times shop based on base price instead of overall costs.  What I’m getting at is that mobile networks might just be trying to lower their prices enough to catch the eyes of consumers, only to jump up and hit them with overage fees down the road.  This is really somewhat of a cruel and unethical way to do things, and I honestly hope that this isn’t what is going on, but these days it really wouldn’t surprise me if it was.

Perhaps the most pressing question on my mind right now is whether or not Sprint will opt to keep their unlimited plans afloat through all this.  In the Bay Area I’ve seen quite a bit of TV advertisement from Sprint recently that pertains particularly to unlimited data.  So I would be legitimately surprised if they were to take such plans off the table anytime soon.  Where this will get interesting is down the road when Sprint, if rumors are correct, gets ahold of the Apple iPhone.  While I didn’t think they would be much competition to either AT&T or Verizon before, their golden ticket might just be unlimited data.

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