AT&T showing how data caps stifle services

AT&T is making news for announcing the end of its unlimited 3G wireless data plan. While those who are currently on such a plan can keep it, no one getting a new plan will have "unlimited" even as an option. The reason this is such big news, of course, is because Apple has an exclusive contract with AT&T to provide service for all iPhones and iPads.

I'm not going to debate the popularity of Apple's products, mainly because I don't understand it. I've owned a Tablet PC, and the iPad does less, by design. The iPhone doesn't do any more than a lot of other phones out there. Both devices are locked into Apple's closed and tightly-controlled environment and its single, exclusive service provider. Despite all that, the fact is, the devices are very popular and very hyped. And because of that, people take notice.

Because of the iPad's popularity, media companies are actively looking at streaming more data to these devices. Major media companies have apps for the devices, Netflix can stream movies to them, and more are coming.

And now, AT&T has essentially put a limit on these new services, saying you can only use 200MB or 2GB (depending on your plan) a month.

That number seems extremely low, but how much is it really? There's an article on Clicker.com, titled How Much Video Can You Actually Stream With AT&T’s New Data Plans? that calculates the numbers with real-world data.

Unfortunately, I can't tell if it's high or low. I don't have a data plan personally, as I find them too expensive to deal with and am usually close enough to a PC with a "real" internet connection throughout most of my day. There have been times, though, that I've wished I've had it, but for the most part, it's been a convenience I've been happy enough to live without. (As an aside, I have a Zune with me often, and it can use Wi-Fi when available. However, I have almost never found a convenient open Wi-Fi access point when I need one. So, I find the claims that these new limits won't affect anyone because "open Wi-Fi is everywhere" to be laughable at best, and downright insulting at worst.)

If I were in a position where I had more roaming downtime, such as when I worked downtown and took the bus or train in to work every morning, I could see making a lot of use of 3G services. However, because I drive myself to work, and I work on a computer all day, I think I might end up being one of the "unaffected" lot, finding that my actual usage was well below the cap.

Interestingly enough, though, the measurements only take into account active usage. Sometime soon, the next iPhone OS will be released, and it will allow for multitasking, so that services can be running in the background. What happens when people suddenly have the ability to stream music over 3G in the background while they're doing other things? Data usage will no longer be active, but it'll be racking up passively in the background. Will 200MB be enough then?

1 comment:

Yakko Warner said...

As an addendum, Ars Technica just ran an article about how the new iPhone OS could push that bandwidth cap, including things like background streaming, new services to upload/download, and more data transferred on existing services (higher resolution cameras = bigger picture files). Check it out here.