June could soon become an unsavoury month for American mobile broadband users. Aiming to curb excessive data usage and encourage users to browse the internet ‘fairly,’ United States mobile phone carrier AT&T has ended their unlimited data broadband plans, cutting down on the activities of thousands of smartphone users and limiting the capabilities of today’s most able mobile phones.
Wireless broadband is ubiquitous and inexpensive throughout the United States, allowing many smartphone users to share their home connection with mobile devices while indoors. Yet the vast majority of broadband internet browsing is done outside of the home, most often through North America’s extensive mobile broadband network.
It’s a network that many technology buffs claim is stretched to its limits. AT&T is currently the sole carrier for Apple’s highly popular iPhone – a product that is reportedly causing problems for the company’s infrastructure. Thousands of AT&T users have voiced their disapproval online, claiming that the network frequently drops calls and throttles broadband speeds for certain users.
The claims have been acknowledged by Apple head Steve Jobs, who has stated that the cellphone industry could see change in the future. Broadband speed tests have shown a marked different in mobile data speeds, with many American regional centres stretched to the proverbial limit when it comes to mobile internet usage.
AT&T claim that their decision is based on the browsing habits of mobile phone users, specifically those of their largest groups of customers. A small portion of American mobile phone users continue to account for the largest share of data usage – a Pareto-style mobile broadband situation that’s put many network providers in a difficult position.
The new data plans will hurt iPhone and iPad users the most, with Apple’s new media-focused device potentially losing out on some of its functionality. AT&T’s new mobile data plans will start from as little as $15 monthly – a small fee for an equally small amount of network transfer, as the entry-level plan allows users to download only 200MB of data monthly. 2GB plans will also be available, alongside mobile broadband plans designed specifically for iPhone internet tethering.
Technology evangelists have called the move a step backwards, claiming that mobile networks will eventually end up pushing their customers away from monthly plans towards an entirely prepaid model. It’s certainly something within the realms of possibility; last year’s surge in mobile internet usage was met by enthusiastic response from networks, almost all of which are now changing their outlook.
American iPhone users can access their monthly data statistics through AT&T’s own application, which logs data usage and calling information. While other United States-based mobile phone carriers have yet to implement a pay-as-you-go mobile broadband pricing model, it appears that many others will follow in AT&T’s footsteps.
Rival carriers Verizon and Sprint Nextel have yet to publicly comment on whether they will implement similar data limits for customers.