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Study: unlimited 3G mixed blessing for carriers

updated 12:35 pm EDT, Fri April 11, 2008

ABI on 3G Cell Strain

Unlimited cellular plans, and particularly data plans, are liable to create severe pressure on the providers that host them even as the make new features available, says a new study from ABI Research. Analysts at the group warn that the promise to carriers of new subscribers through mostly or completely unlimited plans from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon may be offset by the need to support very likely spikes in network traffic. Providers are likely to spend extra to make sure their networks can handle the load, ABI says.

The researchers point to real-world examples KTF and SK Telecom in Korea, which are reportedly encountering "degraded" calling as two-way video calls and roaming agreements across much of the world choke the data available for voice. The Korean situation is not expected to be universal, however, as the country depends almost exclusively on 3G for both calls and data. Most European and North American carriers use a separate GSM band for calling and basic data.

ABI further notes that unlimited access allows Internet habits that haven't previously been realistic with cellphones, creating an advantage for customers but potential problems with the network. Full-feature web browsing, video streams, and media uploads will be useful to customers but are the most likely features to create problems. Customers may actually be more likely to leave a given service if the strain affects their calls or data use, according to the report, which also notes that messaging is likely to climb upwards if an unlimited term is part of the contract.

Spam is more likely to surface when bulk advertising companies no longer have to pay in batches for content or else worry about a hostile reaction from customers charged for incoming messages.

The news comes as AT&T is in the midst of a major expansion of 3G service across the US, which it hopes will cover all major areas by the end of 2008 and will usually supply much higher speeds to customers through the choice of an full HSPA network, which increases the usable speed both for downloads and upstream.

by MacNN Staff



  1. koolkid1976

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not a problem

    I don't really seeing it being a problem. The only carrier offering a TRUE unlimited $99 plan is Sprint. They are losing a ton of customers so they have room for the increased traffic. The carrier more likely to be bogged down with traffic--AT&T due to the iPhone--is only offering unlimited VOICE calls for $99. That's it.

  1. climacs

    Joined: Dec 1969


    so what

    about time the carriers expanded network capacity. They are, after all, operating on a business model which requires them to artificially limit access to the network in order to justify exorbitant rates. For instance, why can't I use my cell phone to make VoIP calls? There is nothing technologically-speaking getting in the way of that, except for the carriers' bullheadedness.

    Cry me a river, T-Mobile/AT+T/Verizon.

  1. Athens

    Joined: Dec 1969


    here is a idea

    Merge 3G with CDMA, use CDMA for voice and 3G for data. Phones might cost more in the short term but as with everything it would come down in price from volume later. Also make CDMA a sim card based system. Advantage, calls wont suffer from net use, and the 3G on the phone can stay off until you need to use internet on it, protential super long battery life for the phone. As some one that has used CDMA and GSM (stuck to GSM for the last few years because of SIM cards, the voice quality and signal for CDMA is much much better then GSM, just the limit of having a sim card for it is what keeps me with GSM networks. As much as I would hate internet drop outs and stuff, I cant have any problems with voice. Internet on a phone is secondary. Im sure the cell companies could share networks vs both sides creating totally new networks to support such a system. IE Voice goes over Telus and Bells networks, Data goes over Fido/Rogers network or in the US Verizon and AT&T. Just a thought where using the best features of both technologies together would provide us the best of both worlds.

  1. cmoney

    Joined: Dec 1969


    What the analysts

    really meant to say was:

    Analysts today said that unlimited 3G data plans will expose the holes, piss poor coverage and general lack of reliability that have existed in carriers' networks since they began operating years ago. This was not a problem before because nobody actually used these services. But now that prices approach the "kind of reasonable" point, usage is expected to rise.

    Further worsening matters is the fact that Apple's iPhone includes the first usable mobile web browser on a cell phone. Analysts expect the release of the 3G iPhone in combination with a reasonably priced unlimited 3G data plan may bring AT&T's feeble network to its knees within weeks of release.

  1. danviento

    Joined: Dec 1969


    well, there's 4G coming

    Plans like these could be merged into use of the new 4G spectrum, the bandwidths that will soon be vacated by TV stations in the US and open to the ongoing bidding process.

    True, people will probably need different hardware to be able to send/recieve, but for those who really need/want unlimited plans, they can afford the upgrade.

  1. cmoney

    Joined: Dec 1969


    re: here is a idea

    Riiight...corporations working together for the best customer experience! :)

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