Choke Point

The inevitable is here and quite frankly I’m glad. Quite a few new iPad owners are experiencing the faster speeds provided by Verizon or AT&T’s LTE network and enjoying streaming HD video on that new Retina display. Some of those are realizing that the faster speeds combined that video streaming means they can burn through their data plan pretty quickly. The inevitability of this choke point was as apparent as the news that Tim Tebow would be traded once the Denver Broncos acquired Peyton Manning.

We all know how this happens. You get a new device and you treat it like a new love interest, spending as much time trying to keep that new interest in your life as possible. Call it the honeymoon phase. Things eventually settle into a routine and the lust begins to fade. In this honeymoon phase though, some users are finding that the flame of passion is being extinguished prematurely. Take for example those spending the honeymoon phase streaming the NCAA tournament.  According to the Wall St. Journal two hours of streaming a game or two will eat up a 2GB plan quicker than a fast break. Heaven help you if your team tries to do a four corners stall at the end of the contest. Say hello to WiFi, or an upgrade, or one heck of a bill. Gizmodo reports that users need to look at their data consuming habits because things are different than they were on 3G. Apparently streaming video will use 650MB an hour on 4G, which Gizmodo reports is double that used on 3G.

To a large extent this is a user problem not a technology problem. You can always choose not to use 4G connectivity.  But for those who are reporting speeds faster than their home WiFi, I can understand the temptation.

This choke point has been coming for awhile. While we’ve seen 4G phones on the market, the new iPad looks to be the first mass adoption consumer device that is going to push the dream of always on, always streaming whatever we want, when we want it, smack up against little things like monthly budgets. Just wait until we see the first stories about someone who now has thousands of dollars in data costs that they didn’t know they were incurring. That’s a sure bet.

So is a larger discussion on the issue. At least I hope so. Here in the US we’ve got a real mess on our hands when it comes to over the air networks. The two major carriers, AT&T and Verizon, play games all the time, both to try and squeeze very penny out of consumers they can, and also because they have some real issues rolling out networks that can handle the traffic in the ways their deceptive advertising makes you think it can.

As consumers we’re pretty pliable. We complain quite a bit, but accept what we’re forced to take, because, well, there aren’t really any other choices if you want to play in this brave new 4G world. I don’t think it is realistic to expect carriers to roll over and change their pricing plans and greedy habits. I do think we’ll see consumers bumping up against this now in greater numbers. The best hope, in my view, of any change is that enough consumers get riled enough that there will be enough pressure on the carriers to shift their marketing strategies. Of course they will hesitate to do this. But that would involve a level of truth telling that would make Mike Daisey look like a saint.

The discussion needs to happen. Here’s hoping the new iPad brings it on in full force.