Verizon and AT&T think you want to share a pool of data with your friends and family. Sprint and T-Mobile think that’s a silly notion. We all want our own data pool, right? While the latter two might be correct for the moment, market forces might be moving against them. After all, Verizon and AT&T call the shots with their 200 million-plus combined subscribers.
Late last week Sprint announced a plan that, on the surface, might seem innocent. They’re offering businesses a chance to share data pools, the size of which depend on how many lines the account contains. FOr 10-line accounts busnesses can share 20GB; for 20 devices they can share 40GB, and for 30 devices they get 60GB combined.The system works in essentially the same was as Verizon and AT&T. Customers pay for each device connected to the account, plus the data pool.
According to Sprint, this is merely a trial. It runs through June 13th, and is an option, not a requirement, for business lines. In that way it might seem innocent enough. After all, business accounts are handeled differently than consumer ones. If the trial is a success Sprint might migrate its business customers there. But why would that affect consumers?
The answer is LTE. As Sprint expands its LTE network, it is likely coming to the realization that unlimited data isn’t feasible. Yes, LTE networks transfer data more efficiently than 3G networks, but LTE users consume more data, a lot more data, than 3G users. That will continue to be the case as mobile data gets faster and more efficient. People will start to treat them more like cable lines, consuming huge gulps of data where they used to consume sips.
All of this is highly speculative. Sprint might have nothing of the sort in mind for consumers. After all, unlimited data remains one of their strongest selling points in the face of crushing competition from AT&T and Verizon. If they give that up they’ll be just another player in an increasingly duopolistic industry.
What happens when reality crushes the possibilies for that differentiation? We could soon find out. Sprint continues to build out its LTE network — even offering it up to its prepaid brands Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile — and so could be feeling the crunch already. If it’s begun for business, chances are it will extend to consumers eventually.
Via All Things D.