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LTE option poses data dilemma for iPad, smartphone users

Costs of using fast cellular networks push users to Wi-Fi

March 23, 2012 05:54 AM ET

Computerworld - The new iPad's LTE option, which allows access to fast 4G networks, has also shocked some customers who found they can eat up an entire month's worth of data watching just a couple hours of streaming video.

For a long time, analysts and even carriers have urged customers to download videos and other large files over Wi-Fi to avoid the high price of using a cellular connection.

But that hasn't stopped owners of the new iPad and some recent LTE Android-based smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus from leveling renewed criticism at carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless for imposing high data fees.

In December, Computerworld illustrated the problem by downloading a single 128-minute HD movie over LTE to a Galaxy Nexus. The 3.7GB movie file took less than two hours to download .

The new iPad adds a whole new level of temptation, since it features a high-resolution 9.7-in. "Retina" display with 3.1 million pixels, making it a great way to view everything from movies to online games to televised sports. A fast LTE network offers a consistent connection for streaming video and faster download capabilities than 3G networks.

Data price plans for tablet users start at $30 a month for 3GB of data on AT&T or 2GB on Verizon. Using that pricing model, a single HD movie download would cost $50 over Verizon (the $30 plan for 2GB, with two $10-per-GB overage charges) or $40 on AT&T.

As a result, some customers are asking: Why have a great new smartphone or tablet running over LTE if you can only watch video for such a short amount of time?

"People aren't going to stand around forever and just deal with limitations on data usage, and it's not incumbent on the user to monitor his own bandwidth consumption," wrote Erik Fecher in a comment to a Computerworld story. "It's completely the responsibility of the service provider to accommodate it."

The Wall Street Journal this week also found new iPad customers who quickly zipped through their respective data plans, with the issue generating similar comments.

Neither Verizon or AT&T wanted to comment about data usage costs. However Verizon did offer up a number of "tips" via email for consumers seeking "to manage their data allow allowance on...any mobile device."

The Verizon tips, not surprisingly, include using "Wi-Fi to help extend the life of your data plan" at home or elsewhere. "Checking email is not a huge use of data, but streaming video is, so you may want to use Wi-Fi when streaming video," Verizon said.

The carrier also has a data calculator, and urges users to download a data widget for Verizon LTE tablets running Android. The widget is currently not available for the iPad.

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