Verizon and Sprint both hinted that the days of unlimited data are increasingly numbered. Following AT&T's lead, other major wireless carriers appear to be prepared to start nickel and diming for data as well, making mobile broadband hotspots even more appealing.
The wireless carriers--which in the case of Verizon and AT&T may very likely also be the home Internet provider--are heading in the wrong direction. What they should be doing is moving toward merging Internet service and allowing customers to pay a single flat rate for broadband--whether wired or wireless, whether tiered or unlimited--that is shared across all devices. For business and family plans, the data should be a shared pool, and in the case of AT&T it should extend the rollover program to data and allow unused bytes to transfer to the next month.
When AT&T pulled the plug on unlimited data plans and implemented its tiered structure, it justified the move by saying that 98 percent of its customers average less than 2Gb of data consumption per month, and that 65 percent use less than 200Mb. If that is true, and if there is no ulterior nickel and diming profit motive, why not let those 98 percent keep paying for unlimited data?
Right now, I pay AT&T for UVerse broadband for the Internet access for computers and game consoles on my home network. In addition, I pay $30 a month for unlimited data on my iPhone 4, $15 a month for 200Mb of data on my wife's iPhone 4, and $15 a month for 200Mb of data on my son's iPhone 3GS. If I want to tether my iPhone 4 to connect my laptop while on the go, that will cost an additional $20 per month, but doesn't come with any additional allocation of bandwidth. My iPad is Wi-Fi only, but if it were 3G and I wanted to connect over wireless that would be another $25 per month for 2Gb of data. Combined, I could end up paying $150 or more per month to AT&T for the privilege of accessing the Internet from all of my devices.
The concept of the no-contract, unlimited data access for multiple devices afforded by portable hotspots like the Virgin Mobile MiFi, or Clearwire Puck are more and more appealing--especially for IT departments and mobile business professionals. Rather than paying for individual data plans and tethering for each device, users on the go can connect a smartphone, tablet, and laptop simultaneously--and enable customers or partners to share the connection as well--for one low flat rate.
Granted, users may still be under contract requiring at least a minimum data plan. But, savings can still be realized by dropping to the bare minimum plan and adopting the mobile hotspot system. Moving forward, those subsidized smartphone and tablet prices might not seem like such a good deal when the total cost is added up over the life of the contract.