I'm pretty sure unlimited data doesn't have to go awayAnna Scantlin - Contributing Editor
The data portion of our cell phone plans has definitely grown in importance over the past couple of years. I remember a time where I was constantly watching the amount of minutes left on my plan for the month, and on the occasion would actually run out. Nowadays I don't even pay attention to how many minutes I've used or how many I have left. I always have way more than I know what to do with, because I hardly ever actually use my phone for phone calls. For me, phone use is typically texting or data.
Texting has always been a relatively versatile option, and recently it seems that as long as you have a data plan, you're likely going to have an unlimited texting plan that accompanies it. As for data, it seemed like it was almost as flexible as texting was. You either used a little, some, more or a lot of it. Once upon a time, if you used a lot of data you typically just went for the "Unlimited" option. Heck, even if you didn't use a lot of data you might have gone with the "Unlimited" plan, simply because you just didn't know when you would need more. These days, if you're looking for unlimited data plans your options are going to be limited when it comes the four major carriers in the U.S. You have Sprint, where unlimited amounts of data is your only option, and T-Mobile, where unlimited is one of three data plan options to choose from. As for AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the Unlimited option is nowhere to be found.
According to Wireless Week, Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam recently made a claim that "Eventually, unlimited has to go away." While I suppose at a glance it might seem that the two larger carriers are in the right on this one, I beg to differ. I don't think unlimited has to go away. I think that it's important, at least for some carriers, to keep unlimited around.
I do understand that most people aren't going to need unlimited data plans and that they're just around for peace of mind. But I have to admit that having that peace of mind is nice. I'd rather pay for unlimited data knowing that I'm not going to be charged outrageous amounts for overages than pay a lesser amount every month for a data cap that I might end up surpassing. Having an unlimited data plan doesn't necessarily mean that people actually use vast amounts of data; it's just good to have for people whose usages fluctuate from month to month... which is most people.
You're going to have the occasional user that abuses the fact that their data is "technically" unlimited. There is no cap. Unlimited means unlimited. But they're the minority, most people aren't going to do that. There's no need to punish everybody because of a select few that use way more than anybody ever intended somebody to use from a smartphone. While people can argue that carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile use the term "unlimited" when their data is either A.) slow or B.) not available in as many places, for some people the trade-off is worth it.
For example, while I have to admit that the signal strength I get from Verizon is quite good, it's still nerve-wracking to get that "You're getting close to your data limit" toast notification from the Data Sense application. It's like when you only have one heart left in the Zelda games and all it does is incessantly beep at you to remind you that you're at low health. You're just thinking to yourself, "Knock it off, I don't do well under pressure!" But I digress. The point is, it's nice not to have to worry about getting to that point.
And plus, most people don't even use more than 2GB of data per month anyway.
Another argument could be about the limited amount of spectrum allowed, which is a real limit at this point in time. However, as networks change, and as technology changes and expands, I'm almost certain that limited spectrum won't be an issue in the future. I think people would be more willing to go back to 3G speeds before giving up unlimited data altogether.
Or maybe not, but in my honest opinion unlimited data isn't going anywhere regardless. As I said, just because unlimited data is an option doesn't mean that everybody actually uses that much data. It just makes a good safety net, and I think people would like to keep that rather than paying outrageous overage charges.
Image via Unlimited Data Plan Finder