How mobile data plans should be set up

Why current data plans suck, and how I'd fix them.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor


Carriers continue to insist on dishing out bandwidth with an eye dropper and charging the earth for it.

Almost everyone who owns a smartphone or tablet is tied to some kind of data plan, and no matter how good the device is, it's likely that the data plan it uses to connect with the world sucks whole lemons. Carriers continue to insist on dishing out bandwidth with an eye dropper and charging the earth for it.

AT&T has just revamped it's data plans, and it's not really pretty. Currently you get 200MB for $15, 2GB for $25, or 4GB with tethering for $45 while under the new plan you'll get 300MB for $20, 3GB for $30, or 5GB with tethering for $50.

Sorry, but this sucks. Here's just a few things wrong with this scheme.

  • First, 300MB for $20 ... seriously? That works out at a whopping $66 for 1GB. That's insane, especially when you consider that at the next stop you're only paying $10 for 1GB.
  • We make the jump from 300MB for $20 to 3GB for $30. That's an insane jump.
  • Tethering only available with the top rate plan.

OK, here's what I know about how people use data plans. Most people seem to use somewhere between 500MB and 1GB of data monthly, with very few people (less than 5% or thereabout based on what carriers say) going over 2GB. The carriers know this, which is why AT&T is offering a ridiculously small starting point and them jumping to beyond what most people ever use. It's basically pay $20 for something that doesn't fulfill your needs, or $30 for something that you're never going to manage to use fully.

Then what's this tethering nonsense? Seriously, I don't see why tethering is considered a premium product on capped data plans. I understand that people might use more data, but on a capped plan the carriers win if that happens. The only time I see the need to charge a premium for data plans is when the plan is unlimited (and I mean truly unlimited, not limited to some silly 'fair use' policy), then charging extra for the option is justified.

Here's the sort of data plan I'd come up with:

  • Up to 750MB for $15, this would cover those with low data usage
  • Up to 2GB for $25
  • Up to 5GB for $40
  • Unlimited for $50, but with a $5 per month tethering fee
  • Tethering on all plans
  • Going over the data allowance bumps to the next plan

What do you think? fairer?

Image creditmechnine

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