Phones

Will Verizon 4G Mean the End of "All You Can Eat" Data?

Verizon Wireless expects to have its first 4G smartphone out by the middle of next year, but the subtext is you may end up paying more for your wireless data.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the mid-2011 date is about six months earlier than what the company had previously announced, and will be about six months after Verizon brings its 4G network online later this year.

The Journal quotes Verizon Wireless CTO Anthony Melone saying that plans offering "as much data as you can consume is the big issue that has to change... It's one thing to say all you can eat is gone. It's another to have consumers worrying, 'Can I stream this radio?' That's what we don't want."

The Journal accurately notes two things: First, they we've already heard similar remarks on pricing from AT&T and, second, that smartphone users will need some easy way to know how much data they are using, especially as it compares to whatever data plan they purchase.

My hope is that preset data plans will go away, and we'll just buy data on a pay-as-you-go basis, perhaps with the first gigabytes being less expensive (to encourage use) than what high volume users pay. This might discourage a few users from using huge amounts of data, a complaint AT&T has voiced.

Verizon's 4G will use a technology called LTE, for "long-term evolution," that will reportedly offer speeds up to 12mbps. AT&T plans an LTE network of its own, but appears to be lagging behind Verizon. T-Mobile, meanwhile, appears to be lagging behind both competitors.

Sprint already offers a 4G network based on a technology called WiMAX that appears to offer less bandwidth than Verizon's LTE. Sprint's network appears to top out at about 6mbps. However, I am skeptical of these claims until we can see how a fully-loaded network will actually perform. Your bandwidth may vary.

Sprint expects to have its first 4G smartphone out in a few months and plans to expand its network to quadruple the number of people it covers later this year and in early 2011.

With the current focus on Internet video--which some have predicted may soon make up 90 percent of Internet traffic--how carriers charge for wireless data will have a huge impact on how much video we consume and where we consume it.

Businesses thinking about investing in Internet video for training, conferencing, or other applications will want to pay close attention to how much wireless bandwidth is required and how much it will end up costing in the coming world of 4G wireless.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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