Is unlimited data a good idea for carriers?

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There’s been this pendulum swinging back and forth for some time now. Unlimited data, data limits, unlimited data, data limits, etc. Now, we are swinging back to unlimited data, and it’s a good feeling, unless you’re on AT&T like me. Then it sucks. But in principle, it’s a good feeling. As a consumer, it gives you a certain amount of confidence that no matter what you do, you won’t get some stupid taxes or fees. You can give in to your screaming child and let them watch Octonauts in the back seat while you drive, or whatever. It’s freeing.

But from a corporate standpoint, there might be some sense there too. I mean, it’s a no-brainer to think that consumers will universally love unlimited data – but what about the carriers? Will Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint love offering unlimited data? Will AT&T, even if it’s a stupid plan? Ok, I’m going to stop harping on AT&T now. Probably.

“UNLIMITED powerrrrrrr!”

Happy customer ambassadors

On the one hand, unlimited data is nice for carriers because it’s going to offer a much better experience to its customers. Of course, it would be better for one carrier to offer it if the others weren’t. But from a customer standpoint, if they no longer have to analyze their data usage every month and have angst over data pools and rollover data, and all that other rigmarole, it will lend itself to a better experience overall.

Happy customers are one of the best advocates you can find for your service. Unlimited data is one less thing for people to worry about, so it will allow them to enjoy just being connected in the first place. Happy customers can focus on other aspects of the service, like coverage and customer service to help them rate a carrier. As long as the carrier doesn’t drop the ball in those arenas, they’ll be in good shape.

Safety net

Plus, unlimited data is a much easier sell, at higher rates. Sure, you can really get someone good with a massive overage charge if they fall asleep with Spotify on and forget to turn it off for 28 days. But when you have plans starting in the 50, 60, or 70 dollar range, that’s going to be a much more consistent income per customer, which is always good for the bottom line and investors. Metered data plans are designed to take advantage of customer mistakes, which is not a good business plan in general. Higher fees for everyone will balance out the small percentage of people that are going to go hardcore against the ones who will occasionally stream Star Trek on their commute home.

Plus, much streaming content is available offline now, so there’s no guarantee that data will be chewed up to the Netflixes and Amazons of the world. Yes, offline streaming alleviates concerns against data usage, but it also alleviates coverage concerns just in case I want to start watching a show on the train before we get to Western Avenue and I actually have bars again.

And yet…

But network congestion and maintenance are real concerns for the carriers. I’m not so sure throwing open the floodgates is a great strategy. After all, now that data has been taken off the table for customer worries, right in line behind that will be congestion and reliability. If your network offers unlimited data, but you can never get to the well, then what’s the point? Couldn’t this potentially turn into a free-for-all of data streaming? Even social networks like Twitter and Facebook are streaming sports games and events now. Unlimited data is going to put a major toll on networks.

And shouldn’t those who are using the most data pay for the most upkeep? It doesn’t make sense to level the playing field when you have me streaming The 100 every day on the train while my aunt barely knows how to turn the phone on. Why are we both being charged $70 per month? That doesn’t make sense. If people are going to use their mobile networks all the time, they should pay accordingly.

But that’s what we’re here to debate! Now keep in mind, this is being asked from a carrier perspective. Of course, consumers are going to love this. But should carriers offer unlimited data to make everyone happy, or are they unfairly taxing the light users to keep up with the heavy users? I’m not sure this is an easy question to answer, which is why the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth. But since we’re here, let’s put some thoughts down below to argue for or against it one way or another, and let’s see if we can figure this out.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!