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December 17, 2009
3 Min Read
AT&T recently indicated that it does not plan to introduce tiered or usage-based smartphone plans, but it knows it needs to do something to relieve the pressure on its network. It's tossing around a few ideas, none of which sound all that great.AT&T has been more public of late with respect to some of the issues facing its wireless network. Several weeks ago, AT&T loosely implied that it was considering ways to reduce strain and the idea of tiered smartphone data plans was tossed about by the media.
When asked directly, however, AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega said this week, "We have not made any decision to implement tiered pricing." That doesn't entirely close the door on the subject, but it is the closest we've come to a clarification from AT&T. Instead, de la Vega noted that AT&T has some other ideas on the table. First, making more Wi-Fi hotspots available to AT&T customers for free. AT&T already lets iPhone and BlackBerry customers access its network of Wi-Fi hotspots at places such as Starbucks for free. This way, those customers take any data traffic they might be generating off of the marco cellular network and pass it through the wired Internet instead. The problem is, AT&T has millions upon millions of customers using cell phones that don't have Wi-Fi. Sure, if AT&T could convince iPhone users alone to use Wi-Fi whenever possible, it would be a great help, but it's no surefire solution. The biggest roadblock in my mind is security. Hotspots at Starbucks aren't exactly the Fort Knox equivalent of wireless. Many of the applications that iPhone users are taking advantage of pass sensitive data back and forth. That data is more securely protected when it transits the cellular network when compared to an open Wi-Fi access point. We can't forget about battery life, either. Leaving the Wi-Fi radio on at all times will curtail the battery life of a device that is already somewhat limited when it comes to battery life. The other solution? Femto cells. Femto cells are miniature cellular base stations that reside in your office or home and provide enhanced coverage when indoors. Rather than use the larger cellular network, these devices pass phone calls and data through an Internet connection (that you are paying for separately). One of the issues here is that femto cells cost money. Not only does the device cost money, so does using the device. Sprint and Verizon are offering their own flavors of these devices and are charging monthly premiums for them. Is it fair to ask a customer who's paying $30 for unlimited data to have to buy another device, tack on an extra fee, and then use their own Internet? Not as far as I am concerned. Be that as it may, these are what AT&T is looking at. Nothing firm has been decided. [Via WallStreet Journal]
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