O2 announced the end of unlimited mobile data tariffs and left several breathless towards the end of last week. But it was foreseeable and understandable.
Smartphones and predominantly iPhones are the first devices which have properly sold mobile content to a mass audience. As a result, data traffic has scaled leading to congested pipes and considerable performance issues – although only a fraction of users are said to be responsible for this. Whenever any resources are limited, however limited they are, tight controls are needed and new measures occasionally need to be introduced. The upshot is often that prices rise.
As the UK network with original iPhone exclusivity, O2 has had the Apple device in its ranks and taken the strain of its data demands for longer than any other network. So it come as little surprise that they’re the first to do away with unlimited data.
In explaining the new tiered system, O2’s Chief Executive, Ronan Dunne, likened it to variable speed limits on motorways which are necessary to ease congestion.
Dunne said that 97 per cent of its five million smartphone customers use less than 500 megabits a month, but the remaining 3 per cent, or 150,000 users, take up 30 per cent of network capacity.
O2, and all mobile network operators, need to equally balance the customer experience of the heavy user, the occasional user and the moderate user, with the investment they’re able to plough into their networks and infrastructure.
The rise of riche, consumer-friendly mobile media, added to an audience fraction with an almost insatiable appetite for data, has led to the end of unlimited tariffs. Most O2 customers will pay between £25 and £35 a month when signing new contracts, but heavy users can expect their deals to double to £60 a month for their present mobile internet use.
This is also a move which indicates the success of mobile content on smartphones. That such steps are necessary, and are likely to be followed by other mobile network operators, reflects well on mobile content providers who are evidently providing a broad range of services consumers want.
For developers and consumers
In the wake of tiered pricing the data requirements of these services – mainly mobile applications found on smartphones – need to be scrutinised in greater depth by both the providers and the consumers.
– What sort of product and service uses most data?
– What elements do I need and what is dispensable?
– Is the video element vital to this app? Is it why our consumers like it or is it merely a nice-to-have add on which most don’t have the patience to use?
– Can my target audience afford to use that data on a regular basis?
– Should we introduce data ‘lite’ and rich versions?
For the networks
iPlayer and iPlayer-like applications used on mobile devices squeeze bandwidth to an extreme, using months of ordinary mobile data consumption in one video play, and hogging network space as they do so.
The mobile networks are not banning this behaviour, but making heavy consumers aware that they will have to pay for the privilege of such consumption, using what are commercially owned and ultimately finite resources.
After helping to nurture a consumer appetite for sophisticated data services, networks should also make efforts to educate less frequent users about data intensive services. A quickly comprehensible and discreet certification system could be employed, visible or flagged upon download, which helps to counter potential consumer paranoia and encourage use from a broader audience.
Networks don’t wish to breed paranoia and fear of using data on their networks. They make money from it. Nor is there anything to be gained by misleading consumers into using more data than necessary – if caps are exceeded, data will continue to be delivered but at a reduced speed.
A world of tiered pricing is a simple necessity due to significant data congestion, the high quality range of mobile content products, and the consumption habits of the hungriest ‘all you can eat’ers.
Tiered data pricing means a step back and a moment to appreciate that resources are often limited. We should breathe easy, decide how much we need, how much we want, how much we’re willing to pay, and eat accordingly. Is that so unreasonable?