By limiting mobile data usage you limit the future

Tiered data pricing and innovations like Salesforce just don't mix

The big question for operators today is not what monthly fee should they charge for the latest smartphone? But it is, how much data does a smartphone user use? The networks are all adopting smartphones as their defacto device, but nobody knows quite what a strain this will put on their network. Many are worried that they just won’t be able to cope so they’re adopting tiered data plans. Which is no good for the networks, or the end users, and ultimately it will have an knock-on effect for our future.

We’ve said many times in the past that bill-shock and customers constantly self-monitoring their data use – if they know how to. Is not going to be the way to move the industry on. If you look at the future the networks are all looking towards 4G, it’ll be faster than today and it’ll mean we use data faster. There’s no point in switching to 4G if our data use is limited. And if they get their data usage wrong then the network might not even be there to build a 4G network.

So how much data does a smartphone user use? Is it 250Mb, 500Mb, 750Mb, 1Gb or more a month. The answer seems to be “it depends.” It depends on the network used, and the device used.

An ongoing study of mobile use in the US by Validas, shows that Verizon Wireless Smartphones are consuming more wireless data than AT&T iPhones by a ratio of roughly 1.25:1. Average monthly mobile data consumption for Verizon Wireless Smartphones is 421Mb per month, versus 338Mb per month for iPhones. However if you dig a little deeper, you find that there’s a little more to it. One of the reasons that Verizon has a significantly higher data usage than AT&T per person is Verizon has a significant number of very heavy data users. Verizon has 11% of it’s smartphone users consuming 500Mb to 1 Gb per month, where as AT&T has just 5.6% of it’s iPhone users using the same amount. With more than 4% of Verizon smartphones consume more than 2 gigabytes per month, as opposed to just 1.6% of iPhones. Only 0.2% of both operators use more than 5Gbs per month.

The data for this analysis was derived from more than 20,000 consumer wireless bills dated between January and May of 2010. “Smartphones” deliberately excludes BlackBerry devices which, due to data compression techniques, do not follow similar data consumption patterns to those of iPhones and other Smartphones.

From this data it seems that we’re getting upset about nothing by complaining about tiered pricing for data. However all this proves to us is that there’s no such thing as an average user. More importantly by employing tiered pricing the networks are creating barriers to use and by doing that they’re putting the brakes on the entrepreneurs of the future.

Back in 2000 when I edited future-looking magazine Business 2.0 there were a few entrepreneurs who were building businesses on what they called web applications. Unfortunately the lack of fast broadband and a pricing system based on data usage prevented them from really growing and many of them folded. Fast forward to 2010 and businesses like Salesforce, and Google with it’s Google apps are exploiting Broadbands always-on, fast speeds and most importantly the as-much-as-you-can-eat pricing and they’re changing the way we work.

We’re at the same place with mobile now as we were with Internet service providers (ISPs) in 2000. If we limit data usage now we’re not only limiting users we’re also limiting the future.

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