4. Metered Data Becomes Reality
Wireless network operators will clamp down on mobile broadband usage more and more. The two largest network operators in the United States had already implemented some form of metered pricing by the close of 2010. Others will follow suit.
AT&T first hinted at the possibility of tiered data plans in the spring of 2010, and implemented them by the iPhone 4's launch in June. Verizon Wireless followed AT&T's lead later in the year, and also brought metered plans to its network. The rub here is that consumers have long been used to purchasing unlimited buckets of mobile data. Now, those data plans will have strict(er) upper limits. Not only do the network operators want to control how much data is consumed by customers each month, but Verizon is considering charging different fees based on speeds.
Sprint was sticking to its guns at the end of 2010, and noted that it had no immediate plans to introduce tiered data. T-Mobile has been mum on the subject. Sooner or later, these companies will take the same path as AT&T and Verizon and bring their own form of metered data to market. That will be a grim day.
5. Smartphone Use Shifts Toward Prepaid
One factor adding to the continued shift toward smartphone use is their availability from prepaid providers with cheaper data plans. Network operators such as Cricket, MetroPCS, U.S. Cellular, Virgin Mobile USA, and others are offering inexpensive smartphones (typically Android devices) and inexpensive data plans to go with them.
Virgin Mobile USA, for example, offers unlimited text/picture messaging, email access, and mobile Web for just $25 per month. That includes 300 voice minutes. Ramping up the voice minutes to unlimited raises the total cost to just $60 per month, which undercuts what Sprint (Virgin Mobile USA's parent) charges for unlimited everything.
Consumers are smart enough to know a bargain when they see one. With smartphone plans available in the $25 - $50 price range from prepaid providers, for many there's no reason to sign a contract with one of the big four.