Dear AT&T: Soon We'll All Be Data Hogs

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By now you've read all about the pros and cons of AT&T's new tiered data plans. The demise of the wireless carrier's all-you-can-eat unlimited offering is bad news for the small percentage of bandwidth hogs who, with their piggish downloading and streaming, are slowing Ma Bell's robust network to a crawl.

OK, laugh--but just a little. Because it's true, even on wired broadband networks, that a tiny portion of subscribers gobble up most of the bandwidth. But with the expected surge in video applications for wireless devices, we'll all be data hogs soon enough.

First, consider the 3G iPad, an entertainment device tailored for video-viewing (among other things). Then there's the likely addition of a video camera to the fourth-generation iPhone, a feature that opens the door to a new generation of smartphone video apps. And don't forget that Apple isn't the only player in this market. Additional tablets and dual-camera handsets will undoubtedly join the AT&T network too, making most subscribers pretty piggish in the carrier's eyes.

Netflix on 3G iPad

Take the Netflix app for the iPad, for instance. Before the demise of AT&T's unlimited data plan, this was a nifty idea for Netflix subscribers who own an iPad. They could download the app for free and watch streaming movies and TV shows on the tablet.

But with AT&T's new tiered data plans, the value proposition changes dramatically. Obviously, the new $15-a-month DataPlus plan won't cut it for Netflix fans. It offers a stingy 200 MB of data each month -- enough to watch 20 minutes of streaming video. (In addition to the 20 minutes of video, you can send/receive 1000 e-mail messages without attachments and 150 e-mails with attachments, view 400 Web pages, and post 50 photos on social media sites.)

Artwork: Chip Taylor
So let's upgrade to the $25 a month DataPro plan. Here you get 2 GB of data, enough for 200 minutes of streaming video. (It's also enough to send/receive 10,000 e-mails without attachments and 1,500 e-mails with attachments, view 4000 Web pages, and post 500 photos to social media sites.)

Even if you're not big on e-mail, Web browsing, and social media, the $25 plan doesn't appear to provide nearly enough bandwidth for Netflix streaming. (I asked Netflix how much data is used to stream one of its two-hour movies in either standard or high-definition. It declined to say.) Using AT&T's 200-minute estimate, the DataPro plan wouldn't let you watch even two two-hour Netflix movies a month.

And if you exceed the 2-gig limit? You'll pay an additional $10 for 1 GB of data. AT&T's tiered plans defeat the benefits of Netflix (via 3G) on the iPad.

Ah, but if you're using the iPad at home, wouldn't you access a Wi-Fi connection instead? Yes, but if you're at home, why stream Netflix movies to an iPad when your gargantuan HDTV is right there? (I'm assuming that someone who has dropped $500 to $900 on an iPad also has a gargantuan HDTV at home.)

Netflix on the iPad makes more sense when you're out of the house. Example: You're at a hotel and don't want to pay the ripoff Wi-Fi charge or equally outrageous movie-rental fee. Netflix via 3G would've been a great alternative--that is, before AT&T killed the unlimited plan.

More Gigs, Please

Yes, soon we'll all be data hogs. Dual-camera smartphones and 3G-enabled tablets, netbooks, and laptops demand faster wireless networks capable of handling video and gaming apps.

If AT&T is punishing bandwidth hogs by ditching the unlimited plan, it'll soon have a lot more unhappy porkers on its hands. In fact, the carrier may soon have to boost the 2G cap on its pricier plan or risk losing customers to other carriers.

It's clear that AT&T's 3G network, at least in its current state, can't handle a network full of videophiles. Question is, will the situation improve when 4G arrives?

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter ) or at .

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