Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

Summary: Was unlimited mobile data access a bad idea from the start? Or should it have been held back until the infrastructure could cope with it?

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I think we can safely say that, though the iPhone 4 has brought the media much joy in the past month with the 'Antennagate' reaching its peak on Friday, the iPhone has killed unlimited mobile data access.

O2 UK, my mobile network - and broadband provider also - started the Mexican wave of capping mobile data usage to 500MB, 750MB or 1GB per month, depending how much you pay for your contract. AT&T called it a day on its own unlimited tariffs, and Verizon appears to be following suit also.

A Mexican wave, you say? Yes, because unlimited mobile data will be back. It'll just take a while.

The "exponential demand" for data on smartphones was kickstarted by the initial release of the iPhone. Since then, over three years ago, mobile devices have been increasingly getting better, faster, capable of much more - but the demand for social networking and sharing photos especially has increased too.

So don't for a minute think I'm blaming the iPhone: I'm not. I'm not even blaming the devices manufacturers, or the end-user. In fact, I don't really blame anybody, but if I had to personally point a finger - it would be at the mobile operators themselves.

They should never have allowed unlimited mobile data access until they were in a position where they could offer it. We're talking a full roll-out of 3G, supported and bolstered infrastructures and the stability to provide a surge of data on-demand when it's needed, particularly during events like the New Year.

The networks can't cope with the data traffic, thus it needs to cut people down by incurring extra charges: charges of which will hit the younger person most.

I noticed in New York the high speeds of data I could access on my BlackBerry, yet the calling quality (mostly through AT&T) was atrocious. Dropped calls and crackling on the line: I finally realised first-hand what my colleagues have been going on for all this time.

I return to the UK and a little difference, but not by much. During the subsequent few weeks, I realised how poor my cell reception was and the quality of the line had significantly decreased. A few days later, I suffered my first dropped call on this network which I have been with for eight years.

I knew at this point how dire the mobile network operators were in.

The mobile operators allowed unlimited mobile data plans because they thought they could, by offering incentives to prospective customers. Now, it's the reverse in that existing O2 customers can hold on to the unlimited data usage whereas new subscribers cannot.

The mobile network operators now need to work on one simple thing. Beef up your infrastructure and get it up to a capability where users can swamp the system with data happily and freely, and allow unlimited data access back.

Unlimited mobile data: Was it a bad idea from the start? Or should it have been held back until the infrastructure could cope with it? Your comments are most welcome.

Topics: iPhone, Mobility, Smartphones, Social Enterprise

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49 comments
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  • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

    Can you please explain the physics behind dropped voice calls and too much data on the networks (i.e. are you saying that the routers and other connecting equipment, when moving data, are dropping calls ?).
    Are there no other reasons for dropped calls (i.e. I seem to remember dropped calls 10 years ago when data use was extremely minimal).
    Is it possible that the dropped calls have another source to them (bad phone designs, too much texting (which is not counted as "data" by most phone vendors in that it is a separate plan item).
    I would like to see more info and proof. Theoretically with these new plans, users should start throttling back on their usage, and the problem will go away ?
    How much would you like to bet that doesn't happen?
    jkohut
    • The biggest causes of dropped calls ...

      @jkohut ... are a weak signal and the hand-off between cell towers. GSM is much worse at handing calls off as the caller moved from tower to tower. This is the reason CDMA has continued to be a player - fewer dropped calls.

      All 4G technologies are derived form CDMA so this will be a thing of the past at some point.

      As for network traffic ... no computer system can reliably exceed 85% saturation. It's just a reality. When you exceed 85% saturation, the overhead of network management starts to overwhelm the system. This is true for networks, it's true for RAM, it's true for CPU performance, and it's true for hard drives.

      New plans will not cause users to throttle back usage but it will give vendors more revenue to spend on upgrading their infrastructure to meet the growing demand.
      M Wagner
      • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

        @mwagner@...
        "All 4G technologies are derived form CDMA so this will be a thing of the past at some point."

        "4G" is a pretty generic statement. It could mean WiMax, GSM-based LTE, or the defunct CDMA-based UMB.
        georgeou
      • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

        @mwagner@... Well said. I'd like to add another 'law of physics' that Adam Smith discovered: Supply and Demand. When demand exceeds supply cost rises, acting as a throttle on demand. When network providers' capacity exceeds use prices will drop. The last three years have been a bit of an anomaly to that law in that all concerned were rather blindly venturing into an unknown market. AT&T, Apple, and all the other providers and manufacturers had little idea that the iPhone would create a tsunami of demand and planning for infrastructure and capital investment and deployment was not nimble enough to respond to the nascent marketplace for data carriers. That time has now arrived when the plans and executions have allowed for adjusting the supply, i.e., cost of data transmission. I fully expect adjustments every couple of years as networks mature and competition brings discounts and reductions in charges. Anyone remember when 'long distance' charges were outrageous? What happened to all of those? Between VOIP and cell phones the term 'long distance' has all but dropped from our lexicon.
        dheady@...
    • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

      @jkohut Its because there are too many users on the networks using too many resources at the same time. The routers and switches are overwhelmed with packets from everything, causing issues with dropped calls.
      Jimster480
      • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

        @Jimster480 It's the "9/11 effect", basically. Too many cars on the freeway cause everybody to run slowly. Making the freeway bigger may well free up some space to allow better moving traffic.
        zwhittaker
  • I once got to 17 GB in a month

    At the office at my previous employer, some of us would hook up our laptops to an ad-hoc WLAN running through my 3G modem. Got to 17 GB in a month that way.

    I have unlimited data on a USB modem, as well as on my phone (Nokia E72) - both are $30-40 per month. Wouldn't want to live without it. I doubt I ever exceed 1 GB, but what I like about it is just the fact that I can sleep with a clean mind, without having to worry about maybe having exceeded my monthly limit and getting a huge bill next week.

    In fact, this is why I chose my provider (Cellcom, in Israel) over the other 3G providers (Orange and Pelephone): Orange and Pelephone only provided limited packages (though Orange also has unlimited data now).

    Just to praise my provider a little more - this is a recent result: http://www.speedtest.net/result/877011341.png (4.25 Mb/s down, 1.06 Mb/s up, 86 ms ping) obtained by tethering my Nokia E72 to my laptop via USB. (And this was inside an office with no windows.)
    Daniel Breslauer
    • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

      @Daniel575

      lol, my dsl line from Qwest isn't that fast. i hope the US broadband initative pushes the providers to ramp up their speed to other countries base speeds soon.
      brentgee
      • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

        @brentgee It seems to me that most of the push in the US broadband initiative is in getting the rural areas hooked up first. The least expensive versus upgrading already installed infrastructure. Thus the lowest hanging fruit.<br><br>For instance, I live within a few miles of downtown Minneapolis and the fastest Qwest DSL service I can get qualified for is 256 Kbps. No, that's not a typo. I don't see Qwest upgrading these lines anytime soon, either. It's a shame. When I lived in south Minneapolis, I was able to get faster DSL service. <br><br>I'm with Comcast at this point.
        joetron2030
    • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

      @Daniel575

      I must say I am a little surprised you say 1G is enough, immediately after giving your own example of going to 17G.

      With all the crap people put on websites, with all the incorrect use of caching directives forcing us to download the same crap over and over, I cannot believe 1G is realistic.
      mejohnsn
  • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

    I'd like to agree with your assumption Zack but I would have to put the blame solely on the fact that the carrier is trying to streatch its infrastructure as far as possible. They definately need to beef up the network ability and then we'll see a lot of these "dropped calls" and poor quality/low data rates increase. Once any of the big networks over here in the States realize this it will kick them all in gear. Sure they all tout how they invest in their network, but do they really? More towers, more availability.
    JT82
    • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

      @JT82 It's easy to say "add more towers" - hell I say it quite a bit myself - but part of the issue is the whole NIMBY issue... People want better reception, faster data speeds, and just better service overall but are unwilling to sacrifice their view or whatever is the issue. I'm not saying that is the entire issue - I'm sure the carriers are dragging their feet due to the expenses involved in putting up new towers but the NIMBY effect does play a role.
      athynz
      • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

        @athynz Well yes - thats the problem. I'd be more than happy to put up a tower in MY backyard..OR why not take another view and give out those boxes that make peoples HSI turn into a cell tower. All those are doing is at LEAST carrying the voice so it would make that more reliable and keep that side of the house reliable. The "mini-tower" could be configured to stop accepting clients once a threashold is reached.
        JT82
    • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

      This change needs another change to go along with it: you need to be cut off once you reach your limit, and I mean hard. The mobile phone companies will likely not take this step though, since they can charge fat per-mb rates on data outside your plan.
      tarscrap
    • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

      @JT82 Very good point, and agree with what you're saying. Perhaps it's not the companies directly stretching their resources to the max, more so trying to accommodate as many people as they can with the infrastructure they have? Well, it's all academic really - they're pretty much the same thing :)
      zwhittaker
  • Unlimited: good idea

    Ironically, unlimited was a good idea when people weren't consuming it as quickly (Slow EDGE smartphones). Now that 3G is really taking off as are the number of phones, the networks have not increased their capacity appropriately.

    Data is still too expensive. Data should get cheaper as you use more, not more expensive!

    Phone company greed is clearly stifling what our devices can truly do because they don't want everyone consuming data all the time for everything.
    Eriamjh
    • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

      @Eriamjh
      "Data is still too expensive. Data should get cheaper as you use more, not more expensive!"
      Using more reduces the cost? In what world do you live in. Try that with your car and see how that works. You use more you pay more. You use less, you pay less. Otherwise you're using the free rider affect to subsidize your usage.

      Phone companies are out to make a profit pure and simple. That's the way our free market system works.
      midcapwarrior@...
      • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

        @midcapwarrior@...

        Eriamjh is correct.
        A company sees an increase in demand and expands its' infrastructure to allow added growth ([i]this is called ROI[/i]) and attract new customers to the current in demand model.

        This is called free market and smart management.
        rhonin
    • RE: Unlimited mobile data: Bad idea, but good while it lasted

      @Eriamjh Why is it that someone always has to blame "greed" of rich people, greed of companies, etc? What about the "greed" of users who want unlimited data to play games, download apps, etc? Greed is a two way street. Yes, these companies did not properly plan ahead to cover the massive explosion in demand, but I would bet that not many people 3 or 4 years ago predicted the near ubiquity that smart phones with fat data plans enjoy these days.
      darylsonnier
  • Carriers Fattening their wallets

    due to the ease of web browsers and other applications, I'm rather shocked at what the carriers are doing. Sure, they want to maintain their system as the most reliable preventing server from high data use. But that in-turn is the problem. Carriers are relying on older existing transmission lines to house their network. For the moment, there are only 2 companies frantically laying Fiber data lines throughout the US. They are Google and Sprint. Google is beginning the ISP push in the West anticipating a huge Internet surge with tablet PCs and faster smart phones. Sprint is pushing to gain ground with their 4G system, which Verizon & AT&T are still spinning on their heels about their non-existant LTE system. Both Verizon and AT&T thinking that their FIOS and U-Verse Fiber connections will improve their network will soon realize that those connections are still too few and not powerful enough for the future.

    What should done is a push towards an increase of these fiber connections and be done quicker, or there will be a surge of people leaving the mobile data market, or a move that Sprint is anticipating.

    My whole point is that these upgrades should have their kickbacks like the ones offered for green energy. The result would be cheaper, true, unlimited mobile data.
    Maarek