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The Almighty Buck Businesses Cellphones Communications Wireless Networking News

Time For Universal Data Plans? 245

theodp writes "Between multiple cell phones and their add-ons, high-speed Internet connections, and digital TV subscriptions, most households are paying for data delivery at least three times over, often paying the same provider twice. It's time for a universal data plan, [CNET columnist Molly] Wood declares. 'I want to pay once for data, I want that data to be unlimited, and I want to be able to use it in any fashion I choose.' Still, she has hopes that the-times-they-will-be-a-changin'. 'It's only a matter of time before regulators catch wind of just how many times we're being charged for the exact same thing.'"
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Time For Universal Data Plans?

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  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:08AM (#32474760)

    'I want to pay once for data, I want that data to be unlimited, and I want to be able to use it in any fashion I choose.'

    Here's what such a plan would feature: A monthly cost of $240. How about that?

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:16AM (#32474798)

    Does it cost the telcos less to have all those radios and towers sitting around not doing anything

    Most gear has surprisingly variable power draw based on utilization. However the cost of power is so low, relative to the other fixed expenses, that its basically a rounding error. Its right up there with paying the landscaping crew to mow the weeds down, the outside plant maintenance (paint crew), and the snowplowing contract. Many people confuse the rather high power density and total draw of a "big data center" with the rather low power density and total draw of a POP.

    And yes it does cost them to have the gear sitting around doing nothing, because the interest on the bonds/loans accumulates no matter if they're selling or not.

    The expense is enough to discourage me from participating, so I don't. They have made a calculated business decision that they simply don't want/need me. I don't see any point in feeling insulted/vindictive/cranky about it. Some folks, however, respond to it angrily like they're being made fun of by a girl whom won't date them. Its just business and theres plenty of fish in the sea, so chill...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:24AM (#32474840)

    Here in Japan, there have been enough complaints that cell phone companies now DO notify you, and/or cut off your access until you've confirmed that you do want to keep using the service for a fee. However, in Japan, there are true unlimited data plans. The one provider that has said that "technically, it is not REALLY unlimited" made a statement that you will be throttled if you exceed 300GB per month. On 3G. I'm not sure how that's even possible, but they're honest at least. So here's what happens if you AREN'T on an unlimited plan, and exceed a threshold. You get a call, and they tell you you've exceeded the limit by xxMB or whatever it is, and the charge is XX yen. (Usually 5-digits-yen, equivalent to a couple hundred US$.) That usually scares the crap out of most people. But, they offer you the unlimited plan, a one-time offer, and if you sign up there, they will apply the unlimited plan to that month so you don't need to pay the 5-digit-yen extra. It certainly is a way to get cell companies to get more people onto higher cost unlimited plans, but it is indeed a very courteous way of doing so, since it usually saves the customer a lot of money. (Not to mention that with so many high-bandwidth usages of a mobile phone these days, the customer would probably join an unlimited plan eventually anyhow.)

    There are a lot of things that are backwards in Japan, awkward, and sometimes just down right infuriating, but it never ceases to amaze me how it is so far ahead of the U.S. as far as consumer telecommunications is concerned. That wasn't true 20 years ago, so they did something right. Most likely simultaneously as the U.S. continued to keep doing things wrong...

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:39AM (#32474942) Journal

    But usage doesn't cost BT any more than non-usage, so that doesn't change my argument. BT shouldn't charge their customers as if it did, and those ISPs shouldn't charge their customers based on capacity either.

  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @09:46AM (#32474978) Homepage

    ..."the exact same thing"?

    In any case I want no "universal data plan" optimized for people who watch movies on their cellphones, view six hours of tv a day, and download thousands of hours of music forced on me by government. If I want anything it's metered service (that's metered, not tiered).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:42AM (#32475266)

    Stop the presses. Those who buy goods and services want to pay as little as possible and constantly complain their costs are too high. Those who sell goods and services naturally want to maximize their profits. Whining about government and corporate managers greed is ludicrous. If you want to go after someone go after investors. Its entirely possible that Ms Wood has investments in say British Petroleum or AT&T either directly or indirectly via a pension or even life insurance. Would she and millions of others accept lower returns on their savings and investments in exchange for lower phone bills?

  • QOS? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cervo ( 626632 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:43AM (#32475280) Journal
    I don't know why they can't just use QOS on their own phone network. They could mark the first 2-5 GB of capacity as high priority, and then the rest low priority. With a fair queuing system, the average user who doesn't use that much data would not have the appearance of being slow, just the guy streaming netflix movies all the time. But with buffering, perhaps the play delay would compensate for the saturated network.

    Still they do need to upgrade their network somewhat. I mean if it is the age of video and everyone is streaming video (we aren't quite there yet), they are going to need to increase the initial data cap as well as upgrade their network. Also if they get 25% more subscribers, they will need more network capacity. QOS is not the magic answer to never upgrade your network until 2020.....
  • You are paying for bandwidth. "Unlimited" means as much as you can download in a month. A month has ~2592000 Seconds. At, let's say, 2 mbps, you can download ~632 GB per month.
    If you have 2 connections with the same characteristics, you can download up to ~1265 GB. I am not defending the ISPs, I am just saying the article is unreasonable. The internet is expensive. If the internet doesn't grow, or if it's not maintained, it dies. There is no central structure, just a lot of peers. Each spends money on laying fiber, buying routers, and administrating that infrastructure. ISPs spend money on the last mile. Then, they sell each other bandwidth. That's it. Real, pure bandwidth means a symmetrical and dedicated CIR connection. ISPs cut that bandwidth, and sell it in a different way. Buying a CIR link with a nice SLA is expensive. ISPs buy those links and sell them in different, cheaper ways. When you pay for an "unlimited" data plan, you are paying for an statistically calculated share of backbone bandwidth, plus the cost of the last mile, administration, etc. You will have to pay for all those costs eventually, one way or another. If you don't want to be metered, or don't want to pay for additional things like tethering, then buy your own real bandwidth and share it however you like.

    The real complain here is that ISPs are guilty of false advertising, and people have bought into that false advertising. They truly do believe you can get 10 mbps for 80 bucks a month. Guess what, there is no way you can actually get such a connection. You are paying for a 10mbps asymmetric MIR. A statistically calculated share of bandwidth. Of course, then they wonder why, oh why do they have to pay extra for a few MB on their mobile phone when they already have all the bandwidth in the world on their "unlimited" home broadband.

    The real complain here should be that ISPs are just charging way too much for extremely limited services, and that their prices don't scale up nicely. When you want to buy anything better than their usual plans (for example bigger upload bandwidth) they make you pay through the nose. Asking them to drop their prices and to scale up fairly when you want a little bit more is fair. But pretending that bandwidth is a free resource and that you already paid for it in your "unlimited" data plan is ridiculous.

  • by NotBornYesterday ( 1093817 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:09AM (#32475480) Journal
    I disagree If someone is willing to pay for it, a capitalist society will deliver it. Service providers would be willing to offer contracts similar to this. Look no further than the bundling plans that cable and telco providers have been shilling over the last several years. Including an unlimited mobile data plan in there would not be a problem for a company like Verizon. The question is, is the price they would ask for truly unlimited service on a truly limited network is what Woods would be willing to pay?
  • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @01:00PM (#32476246) Homepage Journal

    The thing is, if you are using both cellular and wired internet, you are paying for multiple pipes. The cost of wired infrastructure is almost completely unrelated to the cost of wireless infrastructure. There are very few shared resources for the last mile, towers don't help DSL or cable, and DSL or cable don't help towers, except maybe shared backhaul. Yet people want to pay one low fee to use either as you see fit. Not only that, the airwaves can only pass so much data as you're sharing more constrained bandwidth with more people than you would with wired internet, so the data doesn't necessarily have an equal cost.

  • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @01:44PM (#32476592)

    There is a lot of truth here. And it can even be self regulation. Just look at PA-DSS. I wonder how many people here know that if they are running an e-commerce site with any OSS shopping cart and directly accepting credit cards they have to stop as of July 1st. There is no FOSS shopping cart application that is PA-DSS certified by Visa et. al. The only thing that comes close is Magento Enterprise edition ($9000). The Community Edition is not nor ever will be.

    We forked an opensource point of sale application that has just passed compliance and now waiting for the paperwork to go through to be certified. Total cost, about USD 85,000. $20,000 for QSA, another $1250 for certification, and the rest to hire programmers because the documentation requirements on how an application is developed does not fit with the normal "community" development model opensource uses.

    I know a lot of companies complained about the PCI requirements because it is expensive. We're a small shop with a half people on staff total and it's us over a year to get PCI-Level I and PA-DSS certifications. With one of our products, we've seen three competitors drop out of the market. They were extremely small up starts with only a couple people and suddenly found they couldn't meet the requirements. We proved it can be done by a small shop, but we burned over $200,000 in cash doing it.

  • by jmactacular ( 1755734 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @02:42PM (#32477062)
    As more and more people ditch their landlines for cell phones for telephone service, eventually, we'll see people making the same calculation with data. Why pay for the same utility twice? I think the first company to consolidate their land-based broadband service into mobile data service where you pay one provider once, will position themselves best for the future.

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