Should tiered data users receive promotions in 2012?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: January 18, 2012

Data usage is on a very rapid rise. Carriers are doing all they can to keep tabs on all of the sent and received bits to both ensure everyone is (mostly) happy and that their network doesn't crumble through the never-ending pressure. The interesting yet unsurprising bit, though, is that despite a radical change in the way we use our phones (read: data now takes precedence over voice calling and text messaging for a large number of users), the structure of plans has not changed. Calling plans are still the primary basis of the wireless bill, while messaging and data plans are still add-ons. Calling and messaging plans have also maintained the same pricing scale, across the board, while data pricing gradually increases at different paces between providers.

Recently, we have also witnessed the transition from unlimited to capped data plans. And those unfriendly overage fees that used to only be associated with calling and texting plans can now become a part of your data consumption, if you aren't careful.

With both AT&T and Verizon Wireless, when you go over your allotment, you are charged $10 per gigabyte until the end of the billing cycle. The difference between overages with data consumption as opposed to text messages and calling minutes is how difficult it is for each end user to monitor or "plan" their usage. With text messages and minutes, you have a definite, finite number that never changes – one minute or one text is one knocked off the allotment each use. With data consumption, however, things become a little more cloudy. No two Web pages pull the same amount of data, every song streamed is a different size and so on and so forth.

You can imagine that quite a few people are more-than-irate when the monthly bill comes and surprises them with steep overage charges they never expected to pay.

A report coming from Reuters from last Thursday reveals that Verizon Wireless is looking into more efficient ways for customers to use their network, which could help avert unsightly overages. The term mentioned is "drip-casting," which would allow users who plan ahead to use data without getting charged. For example, instead of just spontaneously streaming a movie on Netflix and getting charged for however many bits you consume (I've used up to a half-gigabyte watching a 45-minute show), you could order a video on your mobile device a day or so before you plan to watch it and you would not be billed for the download.

Why, exactly? Sinead Carew of Reuters explains, "The service provider would then gradually send the video to the consumer in a way that does not put too much strain on the network. This would involve sending the data in off-peak times or choosing network routes with little traffic." Shadman Zafar, a technology executive at Verizon Wireless, expects to see such offerings in the near future, stating, "All these technologies are real and ready to go." Zafar also stated that we will see "a lot of innovation" this year.

This is all good and well. But drip-casting effectively kills the "on demand" way we've grown used to with the Web, and it will ultimately lead to more confusion in average consumers. People are using more and more data on average. Tiered data plans, alone, are not going to cut it, and drip-casting is not going to work for most people. I, for one, never know when I will want to watch something on my phone beforehand; thus, this deal would not affect or appeal to me at all.

What data users need are perks or promotional deals, much like we've been seeing with calling plans over the years.

For instance, something similar to free data on nights and weekends. As good as free nights and weekends may sound, though, it may not be viable on the carrier's part. I understand that. Back in the day, I used to wait until after 9 PM to make any calls to non-Verizon customers. If a similar promotion was implemented, the network would bottleneck every night around the same time. However, what they could do is offer free data in "off-peak hours."

Another possibility is rollover bytes. I know plenty of people who never even come close to their cap on a given month. But there are those cases where you could always use more data in a pinch. I was always a fan of rollover minutes – in my six months with AT&T on a 2,000 minute plan, I think I made three or four phone calls total. Needless to say, I had no worries of going over. A similar promotion for tiered data users would be incredible for consumers, at virtually no loss to the carrier. It does little for those who come close to their cap each month while benefiting those who are light on their usage.

While the two examples I've already given are highly unlikely, an even more unlikely option would be partnerships between wireless carriers and other content providers. For example, say, Netflix came to an agreement with Verizon in that no streamed TV shows or movies would be billed. It could also be broken down to where TV shows aren't billed but movies are (unless the user utilized drip-casting). That, or you could pay a few more dollars per month with Netflix for "unlimited mobile access" with your wireless provider.

Again, promotions like these are very unlikely, but great food for thought. There is little being done – that we've seen, at least – in this space that could help carriers compromise with customers. Data is on high demand right now, and it's only going up from here. With carriers weighing users down with outrageous data pricing and absurdly low caps, something has to give. While none of these promotions or deals would be immediately apparent to or simplify things for the average consumer, it would offer a means for those who really care about getting more bang for their buck to use more data than their allotment each month without paying overages.

What say you, tiered data customers? Do you think you all deserve a nice promotion like free data on nights and weekends, rollover bytes or unlimited mobile access through partnered services? Do you like the idea of drop-casting? Share your thoughts and any other possible data deals you can think of below!