3G access pricing madness: The iPad example

Check out the different pricing structures in operation for 3G. Implement BYOD. Now go figure a global rollout strategy. It is much harder than you think.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Mobile World Congress will soon be here. Reports about the proliferation of mobile devices are everywhere. The ongoing debate about BYOD shows no signs of abating. Security, that evergreen topic for paranoid IT types is ever present. But what about the cost of access? If you're looking at mobile from a global perspective what can you expect to find in pricing plans? Chaos, obfuscation and huge differences in cost across territories.

For anyone other than a large enterprise able to exert its buying power muscle, establishing a coherent plan for access across all territories that does NOT give rise to bizarre anomalies is next to impossible. Nowhere is this more obvious than in iPad 3G access pricing.

Back story: I recently bought an iPad 2 with  3G . It was probably a mistake on my part as there is an iPad 3 due to be launched soon. Ho hum. As I trawled through the data plans it was pretty straightforward to make the right choice for the UK. But then I spend time in the US and Spain so what to do there? As Jamesy_boy pointed out, I can use one of the Android devices I carry to create a wifi hotspot and so overcome the need for a dedicated  3G  service but that's not always convenient and then there is the battery life problem. Maybe I should do as I have done on Android and go for PAYG access? It was a this point I became painfully aware of the pricing differences across territories, even among vendors in the same global group.

The following from pages a the UK online Apple Store:

1GB is hardly worth bothering with and especially if you watch any video. I can't imagine why the vendors offer this. Look at the price disparity. 3 offers 10GB/month at £15 ($24), Orange wants £25 ($39) while that same £25 will only get you 5GB at Vodafone. You have to check coverage and quality but in conversation with the Apple Genius, I was able to confirm the 3 does offer the best value.

But then flip to the Spanish Apple Store:

Vodafone is my Spanish provider so I clicked on there first:

Duh? 500MB at an introductory rate of €7.50/month for three months and then €15/month ($20) at a speed of 7.2Mbps and then throttled to 128Kbps? I could get through 500 MB in no time at all with use of tools like Hootsuite plus Facebook notifications. 10GB of data rises to an eye watering €49 ($64). You can argue there is the added inducement to acquire a device at lower cost by agreeing to a long term contract. Regardless of chosen plan, the saving is roughly the equivalent of five months full access over the 24 month period. In reality I don't see business people signing up for that type of contract. The pace of change at Apple is too fast to make a two year horizon seem feasible. Today, iPad is a crippled business tool but there is no reason to believe that at some point, its compute capabilities will reach a point where it can be viewed as a laptop substitute.

Just for giggles I hopped over to the German Apple store:

Prices seem to be somewhere between what I could find in Spain and the UK but again, there is complexity to be traversed. What about the US?

And there I was thinking that we have it tough in Europe? I can only surmise that the lack of robust competition in the  3G  access market keeps prices in nose bleed territory.

No wonder the telcos would love to see the consumerization of IT and BYOD proliferate. As things stand, it is a license to print money at everyone's expense.

One developer I spoke with recently said that if we were to start developing an ERP from scratch today then we'd go straight to mobile UIs. It's an interesting thought. But until there is equity in charging structures among the global telcos it is hard to see how any IT organisation can cobble a coherent mobile rollout strategy that doesn't lead to important questions around the cost of keeping those mobile workforces err...mobile.

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