Last updated: August 15, 2011 - 8:43am
The newest smartphones are intended to run on speedy 4G networks that allow people to effortlessly stream music, watch Netflix movies and tune in live to a baseball game, wherever they are. But there’s a catch, of course. Cellphone plans that let people gobble up data as if they were at an all-you-can eat buffet are disappearing, just as a new crop of data-gobbling Internet services from Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, Apple and the like are hitting the market or catching on with wide audiences. These services use far more data than simply checking e-mail or browsing the Web, so their heaviest users may find themselves running over their plan’s monthly allotment and paying extra. The wireless carriers say their tighter limits will affect only a small percentage of customers. And they say they are simply trying to get ahead of an exploding appetite for data and avoid problems with overburdened networks. But analysts say that inevitably more people will find themselves in the “heavy user” category, particularly as more of them trade in their lower-end phones for smartphones and move to 4G networks.
For most people who use their phones to check e-mail, surf the Web and watch an occasional video, the move toward tiered pricing will not immediately raise their phone bills. Verizon’s monthly plan offering two gigabytes of data for $30, announced last month, costs the same as its old unlimited plan, for example. But even now it doesn't take much for a media-hungry smartphone user to chew through two gigabytes; watching Netflix video for more than roughly 20 minutes a day will do the trick. And an extra gigabyte will cost Verizon customers an additional $10. The data caps are very much on the minds of developers of mobile apps and services, who need to think about how they will affect the way people use their phones.
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