Swedish Operators Go Against the Grain, Remove Data Caps

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Not all operators are afraid of the growing amounts of data on their mobile networks. Two Swedish operators have removed the data cap for their most expensive mobile broadband plans for dongle-equipped laptops.

On Wednesday, 3 Sweden said it had removed a 20GB data limit for users of its Max plan. The move came after competitor Tele2 on June 1 removed a 10GB data cap for new customers who pick its Large plan.

A third operator, Telenor, never had a data limit. Sweden's largest operator, TeliaSonera, still has a 20GB data cap on its most expensive 3G plan. TeliaSonera's LTE (Long-Term Evolution) plan has a 30GB cap, according to its Web site.

Tele2 and 3 Sweden offer mobile broadband via HSPA+ (High-Speed Packet Access) for 229 Swedish kronor (US$30) and 249 Swedish kronor per month, respectively.

The reason for having a cap is to keep excessive data usage in check. In the past, the cost of upgrading networks was so high that it made sense, according to Peder Ramel, CEO at 3 Scandinavia. However, as the price of upgrading networks is now coming down, data capacity isn't such a limited or expensive resource anymore, Ramel said.

Also, only a minority of users come close to using 20GB per month -- less than 1 percent, according to Ramel.

In 2009, the average amount of data per user was 2GB, and less than 3 percent of users consume more than 5GB, according to a report from Swedish telecommunications regulator PTS.

Internationally, operators, including AT&T in the U.S. and O2 in the U.K., are moving away from unlimited plans for smartphones and laptops. 3 Sweden still has a 10GB data cap for its most expensive smartphone package, which costs 149 Swedish kronor per month.

"You have to remember that the situation in Scandinavia, in general, and for us in particular is vastly different," said Ramel.

For example, 3 Sweden's 3G network has a shorter distance between base stations and more of them than AT&T's network, in relation to the number of users it serves and the area it covers, and that equals more capacity, according to Ramel.

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