Smartphone data shake-up: The end of 'unlimited'
Unlimited data is only a memory for most smartphone users. What has the shift toward tiered plans really meant for our wallets?
Computerworld - Americans like living large. We have all-you-can-eat buffets and all-you-can-stream entertainment. And until recently, we had a virtually unlimited trough of mobile data to digest on our always-available smartphones.
At this point, though, all but one of the major U.S. carriers now limit smartphone data usage in one way or another. AT&T and Verizon charge if you go over your allotted number of bytes, while T-Mobile slows your speed down to a crawl once you've crossed its carefully measured line. Only Sprint continues to offer truly unlimited data plans to new subscribers. (Some lucky users on the other networks are still grandfathered in to unlimited plans; we'll see how long that lasts.)
"This trend is happening all over the world," says Thomas Husson, a mobile analyst at Forrester Research. "Carriers need to monetize their core assets and avoid the risk of a few users saturating their networks."
As the era of limits on data usage enters its second year here in the U.S., it's worth taking a look at how tiered plans are really affecting smartphone users. Can we make it through an entire month with only 2GB of smartphone snacking, or should we spring for that beefier 5GB plan? How much mobile data do we really need, anyway? And what can we do to avoid that dreaded "data overage" line on our next cell phone bill?
Here are some answers.
Smartphone data plans: What we're paying
Let's start with the state of the U.S. smartphone data market. The prices vary a bit, but when you round to the nearest whole number, you're basically paying about a penny per megabyte on the major carriers' current monthly data plans.
On AT&T, you can get 3GB for $30 or 5GB for $50; on Verizon, it's 2GB for $30, 5GB for $50 or 10GB for $80. T-Mobile bundles its data into voice packages and doesn't provide breakout costs, but if you subtract the amount of the stand-alone voice plans, the data price comes out to $20 for 2GB, $30 for 5GB and $60 for 10GB.
The lower-end options, meanwhile, are more expensive by the byte: AT&T offers 300MB for $20, which comes out to about 7 cents per megabyte, while T-Mobile offers 200MB for $10 -- or about 5 cents per megabyte. Verizon doesn't have a lower-end plan for smartphones.
The phased-out unlimited data plans, in comparison, were typically $30 a month. On Sprint, the one carrier that does still offer an unlimited plan, unlimited data usage costs $30 but also carries a $10 surcharge, so you're essentially paying $40 for the all-you-can-use option.
Smartphone data plans and pricing
|Carrier||Data allowance||Cost||Overage fees|
|AT&T||250MB (tablets only)||$14.99/mo||$14.99/250MB|
|300MB (smartphones only)||$20/mo.||$20/300MB|
|Sprint||Unlimited||$40/mo. ($30 + $10 surcharge)||N/A|
Beyond the basic numbers
So how much data are we actually using?
None of the major U.S. carriers was able to provide me with specifics about average usage on their networks or the percentage of customers subscribing to each data plan, but independent analyses can give us a pretty good picture of where things stand.
- Sprint to resell Google Apps for Business cloud service
- Samsung's S5 mini: Slimmer and slower than S5, but still scans fingerprints
- Privacy-focused Blackphone starts shipping to early adopters
- Why you shouldn't buy the Amazon Fire phone
- A closer look at the new technologies in Amazon's Fire smartphone
- Amazon's Fire phone is 'Prime' example of customer first
- Amazon's expected smartphone already faces skeptics
- Update: Tizen OS declared 'dead in the water'
- LG's new G3 smartphone: Simpler is better
- LG G3 sports quad-HD screen and laser autofocus
- Tips for Driving User Adoption in New Technology Deployment Read this checklist on tips for driving user adoption to see where you stand.
- Enable secure remote access to 3D data without sacrificing visual perfomance Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To speed time to market for...
- The Truth About Virtual Computing for CAD If you're a user of graphics-intensive software such as 3D modeling, simulation and analysis, and visualization, you might be skeptical about moving to...
- Virtually Delivered High Performance 3D Graphics "A picture is worth a thousand words." That old phrase is as true today as it ever was. Pictures (i.e., those with heavy...
- What should I look for in a Next Generation Firewall? SANS Provides Guidance With so many vendors claiming to have a Next Generation Firewall (NGFW), it can be difficult to tell what makes each one different....
- Why Are Customers Really Deploying an NGFW? It seems every IT Security expert is talking about the NGFW, but what are people really doing? This webcast covers 5 real-world customer... All Smartphones White Papers | Webcasts
Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!