End of unlimited mobile data plans

Late September, GigaOM held its Mobilize conference in San Francisco.  Over the next couple of posts, I will talk about the trends that were discussed during the conference.

Cable companies like Comcast are starting to limit internet bandwidth.  Mobile is following the trend.   AT&T got rid of its unlimited data plans.  People are moving from mobile content consumption to mobile content creation and participation.  By 2014, 66% of mobile data will be video alone.  Are the days of unlimited mobile data plans gone?

At Mobilize, the wireless heavyweights T-Mobile, Sprint,  and Alcatel-Lucent talked about the latest in mobile data trends.

Let’s look at numbers for T-Mobile:

  •  over 200M American subscribers
  • 4G is the largest than any other carrier in the US
  • this year 2Q, 75% of devices sold by T-Mobile are smart phones
    • 90% of smart phones are Androids
  • data traffic doubling every six months
  • 10M 3G & 4G phones make up 15% of total T-Mobile phones
  • Smart phones make up 1/2 of data traffic
  • T-Mobile has stepwise pricing for data plans, usually next level is $10-15 more
  • Many consumers want monthly plan, not annual contracts

If the other wireless carriers resemble T-Mobile, we are looking at a rapidly growing trend of smart phones and mobile traffic that will exceed network infrastructure capacity.  Sprint says they have to drop operating network costs 90% per year.  Before, the network infrastructure was built for voice, now they are optimizing it for data.

To help cut costs, wireless carriers are constantly monitoring data usage and looking at ways to charge customers.   Some are looking at charging differently based on data transmission speeds, “Not every bit is created equal”.

Another way to combat costs is to go higher up the stack.  Wireless carriers think app developers and them need to work together to ensure a good user experience.  Imagine apps bundled with the pricing of bandwidth so that users do not need to figure out what data plan they need in order to use an app.  There are opportunities for middleware solutions that will help apps manage the network usage.  Squeezing more bits is going to be a profitable space.

May the best apps that manage data well, optimize battery life, and have fast performance win!

Sophia Perl

Sophia Perl is a product manager for a database tool at IBM. She has over 10 years of software development and management experience. Sophia holds a BS in Computer Science from University of Southern California and an MBA from University of California at Davis. She is the creator of iPhone apps PicPredict and Eventabulous.

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