Wanted: One Data Plan to Rule Them All

February 13, 2011

The big Mobile World Congress show hasn’t even really started yet and already we are swamped with news of new superphones, tablets and pads, all vying to become the next big thing in wireless. The problem is, no matter how cool, fast or fun each one is, no single device can perfectly answer the needs of all our mobile Three Cs: Communicating, Creating and Consuming. But if we had one data plan to use across all types of devices? That would be something to write home about.

No pad or tablet will ever handle calls as well as a phone, and few phone-size devices can match tablets or pads for making content consumption so pleasurable; and there’s still nothing that really tops a full-feature laptop with its full-sized keyboard for being able to create content on the go. That’s why I subscribe to the theory that says most mobile professionals will soon own a “stack” of mobile devices, each with a singular purpose. Device manufacturers and service providers alike are out there now, nodding their heads, saying Yes! Please let it be so!

But what’s needed to make that happen quickly is a brave mobile carrier to be a trailblazer and provide a single data plan that covers multiple devices, allowing a user to spend their “bucket of bits” via the device, the time and the manner of their choosing. Otherwise, the device stack option is going to remain something that only the budget-rich can afford, and many cool devices will fall by the wayside simply because there isn’t enough reason for folks to sign up for yet another expensive 2-year contract with big early termination fees.

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Verizon: 65,000 LTE Subscribers in 1 Month

January 25, 2011

Before we get into the whole will-there-or-won’t-there be an unlimited data plan for the Verizon iPhone (we stand by our analysis that seems to back up the view that if there is one it won’t be around for long) it’s worthwhile to break out a couple numbers about Verizon’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G network launch from its earnings reports today: the numbers are 65,000 and $1.3 billion.

The former is the number of subscribers Verizon signed up to its nascent 4G LTE service, even though the only devices available are bulky USB modems for Windows-only laptops, and the service has only been available since December. That seems like a pretty impressive debut for what is essentially a beta-type rollout for Verizon, with services still available in only 38 select metro markets as well as 60 airport locations. Looks like Verizon may be tapping right into that sweet spot the launch targeted, which is business professionals. It will be interesting to watch the LTE dongle and portable hotspot subscriber numbers vs. the LTE smartphone subscriber numbers when all Verizon’s announced LTE devices are launched later this year.

The second number, $1.3 billion, is a bit of a window into how much Verizon had to spend in addition to its normal wireless capital expenditures to help launch LTE and get its network ready for the expected surge coming from having the iPhone available. According to Larry Dignan over at ZDNet, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said that wireless capex for 2010 was up to $8.4 billion, an increase of $1.3 billion over 2009 spending.

“Our capital spending was higher than 2009, driven by 4G LTE deployment and increased 3G network capacity requirements, which included preparing for the launch of the iPhone,” ZDNet quotes Shammo as saying. This is a little different than the answer former CTO Dick Lynch gave us when we asked a couple years ago how much an LTE network might cost — at that time Lynch said that an LTE network could be done “inside our regular [capex] budget.” I guess it helps to be able to throw in an extra billion or so should that “regular” budget need to expand.

Pricing, Usage Challenge Ahead for 4G Customers

January 24, 2011

With big 4G wireless network promotions coming later this year from leading cellular providers AT&T and Verizon, it still looks like the hardest job is going to fall to the potential next-generation wireless customer — who will be forced to pick and choose from a dizzying array of devices and prices, without much help or guidance from the carriers providing the services.

Two things I read over the weekend reinforced my belief that potential 4G customers are going to need a lot more measurement tools if they are going to make sense of what is coming from the biggest providers. The first was a report on the Boy Genius Report site that purportedly was a precursor of some of AT&T’s forthcoming 4G LTE pricing plans that would include sort of an ad-hoc ability to purchase bandwidth on demand. At the very least, such thinking seems to mean that the days of real unlimited data plans are truly at an end.

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