The Pros and Cons of Smartphone Data Caps

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Verizon Wireless has confirmed that it will soon put an end to unlimited smartphone data, but it's not all bad news.

While smartphone data caps can seem like a greedy attempt to keep customers in line, tiered data plans bring some benefits to the consumer as well. I took the plunge on AT&T's tiered data plans a month ago, finally surrendering my rights to unlimited data for life. Here's what to like and dislike about the whole idea of data caps:

Pro: Cheaper, probably

AT&T charges $25 per month for 2 GB, which is $5 cheaper than the unlimited plan AT&T used to offer. That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up to $120 over a two-year contract. I assume Verizon will offer similar pricing, but either way, the carrier will let families buy a big bucket of data. If it works out the same way as family voice plans, it could translate to big savings.

Con: Self-regulation isn't easy

If you've got a limited voice plan, minimizing usage is pretty simple. Just keep conversations short or try to catch up with loved ones on nights and weekends. Regulating data use is a lot more complicated, because most users have no idea how much data they're using by streaming a video or getting turn-by-turn directions. Some applications may even consume data in the background, slowly eating away at your monthly allotment. With high overage fees -- AT&T charges $10 per gigabyte -- power users could be in for big headaches.

Pro: You probably won't notice ...

When AT&T pulled the plug on unlimited data, it pointed out that only 2 percent of customers exceed 2 GB per month. I use my smartphone a lot for streaming music and tethering to a laptop, and I'm still nowhere near my monthly allotment. Wireless carriers claim that they need to cut off data hogs, but even as a power user, I'm not one of them.

Con: ... but some day, you might

Demand for data is only going to grow, especially as wireless carriers move to faster 4G networks. A high-definition Netflix movie is enough to blow through 5 GB of data. Consumers will eventually demand that kind of usage on their smartphones and tablets, but nowhere do AT&T or Verizon promise that they'll raise data caps as they build out their networks. That worries me.

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