Mandatory Unlimited Data Plans For Smartphones Is Awesome

Last week, it was revealed that, as of September 6th, AT&T will be requiring all smartphones to have an unlimited data package. There will not be an option to disable data, or opt for the pay-per-use. If you have a smartphone, you have to have unlimited data. While there’s been a bit of backlash against this, I think it’s a fantastically good move, one of few that AT&T has made, honestly.

For starters, let’s clear the financial aspect from the situation. Yes, this ‘unlimited data’ plan will be $30/month for smartphones, and yes, that’s entirely too expensive. We’re agreed there. However, that’s on par with the prices from T-Mobile and other carriers, and honestly, is likely to drop over time. Also, keep in mind that’s only for smartphones purchased through AT&T – if you’re using an unbranded phone, you can obviously sign up for whatever data package you would like.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the bottom of it – smartphones are better with unlimited data. Period. When the iPhone launched, it required (and still does) that unlimited data plan. The G1 and MyTouch 3G, both from T-Mobile, are bundled with unlimited data, as is the Palm Pre, from Sprint. The always-on ability of smartphones allows them to be infinitely more useful, than in situations when they’re not connected to the web.

So, why unlimited, and why not offer more affordable bucket limits, like 500MB? Because, with unlimited data, you eliminate the fear of overages from consumers’ minds, and you introduce the freedom to explore. With a bucket account – even a large one like 500MB, you still allow consumers to worry about the amount of data that they’re going to use. Couple that with the current inability, on most phones, to keep track of how much data has been used, and you end up with a consumer who is scared of the mobile web, which is the last thing you really want.

AT&T used to offer bucket data plans – with limits like 5MB or 10MB. Aside from the obvious absurdity of such small limits, can you imagine explaining that to customers? Most consumers don’t know what a ‘MB’ or ‘Meg’ is. Even when you explain that 1MB is 1024KB, that doesn’t make any more sense to them. And how many KB are used when you open a web page? An email? Stream radio for 10 minutes? Can you see how absurd hard limits are in relation to the mobile web?

Smartphones with unlimited data plans benefit consumers in many ways – for me, they reduce the amount of time that I need to spend on my computer. Since I can get my email on my phone, chat over IM, and use social networking sites like Facebook, all from my phone, I’m less tied down to my computer, which means I’m out enjoying myself more. That may sound like a marketing line, but it’s really true – how many people do you know who could legitimately not use a computer for a week and still be ‘connected’?

The only downside to unlimited data plans is the potential they have of crippling even a strong network. Take AT&T for example. After the iPhone 3G came out, its 3G network was literally trashed, and the company is still recovering. A smarter way to manage this is to implement bandwidth throttles for high users. Most consumers have a tough time using more than 500MB. Why not, after 500MB, reduce a specific user to only EDGE speeds, until their billing cycle renews (or they pay an additional fee)? That way, you don’t cut them off from the internet, but only prevent them from damaging the network for other users.

What do you think? Do you have an unlimited data plan? Have you seen the direct benefits of that?

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