The iPhone’s Role in Limited Data Plans

As a Verizon Wireless subscriber for over five years, I’ve had essentially no problems with their wireless service. My experience with customer service, on the other hand, has had its share of bad moments, but I’m happy overall. I would consider myself a satisfied customer except for one thing. I wanted the iPhone. Like many other Verizon and dissatisfied AT&T customers, I was holding my breath in the hopes that Steve Jobs would be announcing something that I would actually consider to be magical, a Verizon iPhone. Unfortunately, that announcement never came and Verizon users are left yet again without the Apple option.

This is where most people say, “Why don’t you just switch to AT&T if you want the iPhone so bad?” Well, that sure sounds easy, but it simply isn’t an option. The biggest reason I stay with Verizon is their excellent service in my region and the fact that nearly all of my family members are also Verizon Wireless subscribers. The lack of Verizon-to-Verizon if I were to switch to AT&T would send my talk minutes through the roof and certainly require that I upgrade to an even more expensive plan. No matter how badly I want an iPhone, it just can’t happen.

Ben of Notebooks.com has done an excellent job summarizing why Verizon doesn’t offer the iPhone on its network. It basically comes down to two limitations. The iPhone’s hardware isn’t compatible with Verizon’s wireless network, and AT&T maintains contract exclusivity. No one is sure when AT&T will lose exclusivity, but it’s safe to assume that there won’t be a Verizon iPhone any time in the immediate future.

Another reason I won’t be switching to AT&T for the new iPhone is due to the explosion of the Android OS. I was somewhat pessimistic about how successful Android would become, but it’s clear that Android is developing a strong following, has great features, and thousands of great apps in the Android Market. Yeah, the iPhone 4 looks cool, but it doesn’t really offer anything different from the top-end Android smartphones. The lack of an iPhone on Verizon’s network isn’t really a big deal.

The biggest reason I will not be switching to AT&T for the new iPhone 4 is alarming and should also concern you. I’ve been reading a lot of tech pundits as they share their opinions on the issue of limited smartphone data plans. Many articles proclaim that the revised AT&T plans will actually save the majority of folks money. New York Times writer, David Pogue, says by way of twitter, “‘BOO!’, right? But seems like 98% of us will SAVE money. I sure will.“While this may be true in the short term, people are missing the point that two major features of the new iPhone 4 are the data intensive Netflix streaming app, and the FaceTime video conferencing app. Granted, FaceTime is currently only available via Wi-Fi, but it’s only a matter of time before the Skype-like feature is provided via cellular network.

Unlike Mr. Pogue, I don’t believe it is far-fetched to consider how this new precedent, capped data plans, will impact our mobile futures. One can only expect data to become the dominate player on our smartphones, trumping text messaging and voice communication. Future wireless subscribers will demand and require always-on, data-intensive smartphones. Once customers are forced to accept limited data as a reality, you can be assured there will never again be a buffet option.

To be completely honest, I doubt that I would go over 2GB a month with my own smartphone plan. The issue at hand is a matter of principle, not whether I will save $360 per year with a limited plan. Thirty dollars a month is an outrageous price to pay per smartphone for data regardless of whether it is limited or not. And yes, Verizon may promptly follow suit, but if they force me to accept a limited plan, I’ll bite the bullet and jump to a carrier that has no limit. The moral of the story can be summed up with these two statements: 1) No phone is worth all the termination fees and hassle to switch networks, and 2) You can market limited data plans to be beneficial for consumers, but it’s simply another way to keep the network less cluttered and money in the pockets of AT&T. What the new iPhone really brings to consumers is the death of unlimited data.

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You were a champion for the little guy with your “Take Back the Beep” campaign, but where are you now, Mr. Pogue? Limited data plans are just the beginning. Sounds like we need a “Take Back the Data” campaign. Is anyone else concerned about the new limited data precedent?

Additional Reading:

Xavier Lanier has a great FAQ at Notebooks.com that will help determine if the iPhone 4 is right for you.

Comments

  1. ECON101 says

    Network bandwidth is a finite, shared resource. With usage growing faster than capacity, giving users a financial incentive to limit their usage is the fairest way to ensure network integrity. What’s with the superlative sense of entitlement? Never heard of the Tragedy of the Commons?

  2. Sumocat says

    Agreed. A 2GB cap does not hinder my current usage, but I expect it to be a factor with my iPhone 4. It wouldn’t be Netflix (which I would rarely use) or FaceTime (once it opens to mobile network) that does me in, but Pandora.

    Right now, my Pandora usage is hindered by the inability to play in the background. For example, I used it for most of my trip to Philly since it’s a straight shot up 95, but once in Philly, I switched to the iPod app so I could access the map. The new multitasking functionality will lift that obstacle. Between that and other usage, like uploading video, I expect to approach the cap.

    As for data becoming dominant, it already is for me. I use a fraction of my minutes (lowest plan) and don’t text. I would gladly slash my talk plan (like 200 minutes for $20 with rollover) instead of trimming my data plan.

    All that said, a lot of people seem to be treating the data cap like a hard limit even though it’s not. Jump the limit and you pay more, but there’s no block against it. I fully expect to jump the limit a couple of times, but not enough to offset the cost-savings of the new plan.

    • Sumocat says

      Oh, I keep forgetting I have the option to keep my existing unlimited data plan. Sorry, I have a whole different set of parameters to consider.

  3. MsJoanne says

    Dude, you’re writing for a tech site. Have you never heard of jailbreaking an iPhone? My friends kid can do it. I mean, if you want one that bad and all….

  4. Virtuous says

    AT&T seems intent on extracting more profit from the iPhone and iPad before they lose exclusivity. Why else would they change the 3G iPad data plan so soon after the device’s April 30th ship date? AT&T now charges a little less for a lot less data. If they’re so concerned about their customers why didn’t they include more bandwidth with tethering and allow the iPad to tether off the iPhone? Greed is the answer to these questions.

  5. Stuart says

    I like limited data. It seems like a restriction to many, but i see it as a freedom. With data properly priced it can then be sold to prepaid users also. When people are not locked into contracts they have much more mobility and choice. Granted it only possible to switch between GSM providers (T-Mobile and AT&T) by switching sim cards, but at least there is some level of device being independent of network. With 4G (LTE) being sim-card based hopefully we will see more and more devices that can work on more carriers.

  6. CommSoft says

    Clue: AT&T did not make this change so that they could make less money from iPhone and iPad subscribers, they made it so they could make MORE money.

    This will no doubt save some folks money, but for many, that first month they hit an overage, they will have lost much of the savings they thought they had and also now be restricting their usage to avoid later overages. And for those of us who actually use more than the meager amount of data they now offer on a regular basis and would run over more than rarely, this is a showstopper.

    Frankly, it was a shockingly bad negotiator at Apple that allowed AT&T the freedom to do this but maintain exclusivity – AT&T effectively has the ability to price Apple out of the market.

  7. Techni says

    No the fairest way is to take all the money the govt gave them and upgrade their damned networks

    they make enough money as it is
    they dont need more

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