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Data caps: How long can Verizon, Sprint offer unlimited plans?

Matt Hamblen, Computerworld | April 4, 2011
Data caps on nearly all wireless and wired networks in the U.S. seem likely to be in place soon, even though Verizon Wireless and Sprint continue to make unlimited data offers.

Data caps on nearly all wireless and wired networks in the U.S. seem likely to be in place soon, despite the latest unlimited data offers from Verizon Wireless and Sprint.

Verizon, the nation's largest carrier, began selling the ThunderBolt by HTC with faster LTE service March 17 and continued offering its $29.99 unlimited smartphone data plan. That move is widely seen as an inducement to early adopters who can virtually endlessly download media-rich files as long as they have a good power supply.

On March 1, however, Verizon's CFO Fran Shammo told an investors conference that smartphone data pricing tiers are likely to arrive at Verizon this summer.

At Sprint, the nation's third largest carrier, a recent TV ad featuring CEO Dan Hesse continued the familiar Sprint mantra about unlimited data plans. Sprint outlined its Simply Everything plan plus $10 monthly for unlimited smartphone data, comparing itself to other carriers.

But Hesse undercut that message somewhat when asked at CTIA on March 22 about whether Sprint would keep its unlimited data plans in place: "Maybe, and maybe not."

That comment came two days after AT&T, the No. 2 carrier in the U.S., revealed plans to buy No. 4 carrier T-Mobile USA for $39 billion, a move that Sprint strongly opposes for anti-competitive reasons.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the nation's two largest carriers, both set different tiers of data for tablets that don't include an unlimited option and require customers to purchase data as needed. But only AT&T, so far, has set smartphone data limits at $15 per month for 200 MB and $25 a month for 2GB (with $10 more for each additional 1GB of data).

T-Mobile still offers unlimited smartphone data, offering the lowest price -- $99.99 a month -- of the four biggest carriers for voice, data and texting on smartphones. (That offer could continue until T-Mobile is purchased, or not, by AT&T.)

However, both Verizon and T-Mobile have warned of some limits on smartphone data usage in the form of throttling, affecting 5% of the heaviest users at Verizon and those who use more than 5GB of data per month per device at T-Mobile.

Many smartphone users might respond to data caps (and threats of data throttling) by resorting to heavy media downloads over their fast Ethernet-based networks while at work or working at home over a connection with fiber optic, DSL or cable modem. A smartphone on a home Wi-Fi network connected to DSL or cable modem would only be governed by the data limits, if any, of those wired services.

 

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