The PhoneBoy Blog


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Why Limited Data Plans Are Doomed To Fail

I was reading a study from Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies about smartphones and mobile data plans (warning: PDF link). While people are really interested in smartphones, people aren’t really thinking about the data plans that go with them.

The operators (at least ones in North America) like to sell things in buckets. A certain number of text messages. A certain number of voice minutes. Mere mortal understand these things and can make rational decisions about how many of each they want.

Data is different. It used to be that most of the US operators sold it “unlimited” (or at least unmetered). Now they are making it more like the voice and text messages: a certain amount of megabytes (or gigabytes).

Many people likely to read this blog post have a vague idea of what a megabyte or gigabyte represents. The unwashed masses, however, have no clue what any of this means, nor do they want to. They just want to do their thing.

AT&T, to their credit, has a Data Calculator on their web site that will allow you to estimate how much data you need to purchase, given various activities on your mobile phone.

It’s still way too complex. To me, the correct answer is simple: tier it the way cable operators do. By the amount of speed you’re supposed to get. That’s not a perfect way, either, especially given how some complain about not getting their top speed. I’m sure there will be a lot more of those kind of complaints on mobile broadband.

It is, however, something non-technical people can wrap their head around and operators can easily differentiate. Without complicated “calculators.” Until data plans are based on something people can actually understand, the value is clearly understood, and the prices are more reasonable, people aren’t going to buy.


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