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Once All Data Plans Are Capped, Where Will You Turn?

Mobile device users want unlimited access to data, but most are unwilling to pay a premium according to a survey of professionals and students. The full survey results are expected tomorrow, when Devicescape, a provider of Wi-Fi software solutions, publishes its quarterly Wi-Fi report. Respondents to the survey are adamant about their data needs, with 61.2 percent indicating they wouldn’t pay for an unlimited data plan. If plans are capped, loyalty to a provider plummets, as 77.9 percent of those polled would consider switching mobile operators.

A few other key highlights from the survey, which showcase usage activities and needs for data networks:

  • A little more than 86 percent of respondents want to share user-created content — such as photos and videos –within one week, and 55.9 percent wish to share such media immediately after creation. Thank the improved camera sensors and software in mobile phones, plus the rise of social networks for this use case.
  • On a related note, Wi-Fi integration is becoming an increasingly important factor when deciding which digital camera to buy: 57.5 percent of the survey participants say this is driving their decision-making. Cameras that don’t include Wi-Fi for photo transfers can use a solution like the Eye-Fi storage card; Eye-Fi expanded hotpsot access with a Devicescape partnership earlier this year.
  • Laptops and cell phones are the obvious leaders when it comes to devices that consumers expect to offer connectivity, but web-enabled gaming devices are gaining favor; 43.2 percent of those surveyed want such functionality.
  • Traveling consumers don’t want to leave their connectivity behind, and 88.2 percent of those surveyed expect hotels to offer Wi-Fi access, although it isn’t clear if expectation is for free wireless service.

Although Devicescape only surveyed 160 people, I suspect many consumers crave unlimited data plans because of the growth of media sharing, digital content creation and social networking, just to name a few activities. Although cell phone overage penalties can be as scary as unexpected hospital bills, few folks are willing to pay a premium for unfettered mobile broadband; the survey shows that only 38.8 percent will do so. But many expect unlimited data plans to be cheaper than current offers. Sixty percent would pay less than $25 a month for unlimited plans, while 33.1 percent are willing to pay up to $50.

Unfortunately, most carriers are headed in the complete opposite direction with tiered data plans being just one way to combat the growing demand for wireless data. AT&T (s t) reduced plan sizes and costs back in June, and Verizon (s vz) is poised to follow shortly, for example. If all carriers eliminate unlimited data plans, it would present an interesting situation because customers who say they’d switch providers to avoid such data caps would have no place to defect to. With all of those photos, emails, tweets and videos people enjoy sharing or watching, I doubt consumers would turn their backs on the wireless web.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

7 Responses to “Once All Data Plans Are Capped, Where Will You Turn?”

  1. on phones people are examining exactly how they will be used. i think a variety of plans make sense. some people only need a small amount of data for email, messaging, and light apps. offer cheap plans with only a small amount for those users. other people want to play around with media streaming and uploading. for those users we need either large caps or unlimited. i would like to see the current norm of separate options based on phone type(basic, feature or smart) disappear for different size data buckets that can go with any phone type. also for users with WIFI capable smart phones there should be an option to have no cellular data at all, plenty people could be quite happy with data only in WIFI areas yet still feel they get a great experience from their phones.

    mobile broadband service for laptops and/or tablets via USB stick or MIFIs on the other hand needs to be offered on an unlimited basis since that is how everyone is used to using those devices. they do not count data consumption on cable, DSL or WIFI. 3G/4G for laptops needs to be the same way.

  2. Starbucks!

    Do you really need to do much more than check your email or make a call with your smartphone? 3G’s just never been a big part of my life, and when you get right down to it, those big data hog downloads can wait for that next cup of coffee.

    I really don’t need Netflix HD or even Youtube streaming to my phone, no matter how cool I think it is. Maybe we should go back to…oh, I don’t know…making phone calls! Unfortunately, for many, just like quitting smoking…it will be hard to kick the habit. Hello Wi-Fi, my old and reliable good buddy.

  3. Let’s be totally honest here; when were data plans truly unlimited?

    Anyone taking the time to read a TOS would quickly realize that “unlimited” was carrier newspeak for “whatever we want it to mean and anything but unlimited.” Unlimited means unlimited Internet, e-mail, and whatever premium services the carrier’s care to tack on. Until recently, there wasn’t much motivation to enforce their own rules. The original iPhone changed all that when customers started demanding what they thought they paid for.

    With the current infrastructure, i.e., the number of cell towers, there’s only a finite amount of wireless bandwidth available. Without expensive infrastructure improvements, the situation isn’t going to improve soon. The alternative is to balance demand with price increases. In the end, there will be no place to hide from the hikes.

  4. The problem is that they are not assisting in getting late adopters onto data plans. This is what is driving data costs up. Take our service for example, we help fill the gap for consumers that need a little extra MB and also offer the late adopters a free access point to data. So the reality is there are options out there to cover the cost of data for carriers while still keeping good consumer retention. The question is: Are carriers willing to conform?

  5. Probably Sprint. :/ They’re the only carrier that I’m aware of that’s recently stated a commitment to “unlimited” data plans:

    So far, 4G Mobile Broadband plans don’t have a cap for on-network usage. With the $10 Premium Data fee on 4G phones, Sprint takes the cap off of 3G transfer too.

    Of course, I work for Sprint, not sure how well the public at large tracks this stuff. Seeing as how your article doesn’t even mention Sprint it’s easy to see why.