July 11, 2012 - 17:15

It would be natural to assume an unlimited mobile data plan would allow you to surf the web and download as much content as you like.

In the US, AT&T and Verizon no longer offer new customers an unlimited option. For those with grandfathered unlimited plans they dramatically limit speeds when monthly caps are exceeded, a practice known as throttling. T-Mobile still offers an unlimited plan, but they also limit bandwidth when the monthly cap is broken.

Most of the mobile industry knows by now that unlimited data plans simply aren’t feasible anymore. The growth of smartphones and the increase in mobile data demand is putting a strain on networks. Increasing data traffic caused by bandwidth consumption due to video streaming. Network congestion lets the operator’s capital infrastructure costs continue to grow and there is no end in sight. That burden will provide a real challenge in the next few years as demand is expected to grow substantially. According to Ericsson there are close to 1 billion mobile broadband subscriptions right now and by 2015 there will be 3.8 billion.

As people purchase more and more smartphones and demand for web pages, music and video continues to rise, carriers are going to have to find a better long-term solution than throttling. Thus individualized service plans are a solution for mobile operators who want to satisfy their subscriber’s bandwidth hunger and offer them consistent quality of experience. Tailoring plans for social media addicts or people who like to watch a lot of video content might appeal to consumers.

In the long term, carriers will need to invest more in network management and smart policy control and charging solutions. They need to find ways to manage their traffic efficiently in order to cater for demand and keep those plans attractive and affordable. Whatever path they choose, it seems likely that truly unlimited mobile data plans are a thing of the past.

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