The Lure of Unlimited Wireless Data – Is It Necessary?

By Jack Gold on April 10, 2015

Many believe that unlimited data is about the ability to do whatever you want on a mobile device while enjoying the freedom of not being required to pay extra charges. Nobody likes to think that they are restricted when they access the Internet, and we have grown accustomed to wired Internet access from home or work that doesn’t impose limits.

However, wireless connectivity is different than wired connections and more susceptible to “traffic jams” that slow down the networks for everyone. This is usually the result of too many people trying to do too much over their connections at the same time.

The quality of connection is important to wireless users, and when connections become slow or disconnections occur due to overcrowding, users become disappointed. Let’s face it, if everyone had unlimited data and used it fully, the performance of the networks would suffer because of bandwidth restrictions and the “shared resource” nature of wireless. The bottom line is: users agree that degrading the networks is something that they don’t want to happen.

Invariably, degraded networks would cause the carriers to seek upgrades to their networks to increase capacity. Much like highways that need to be widened for peak rush-hour traffic, this would require major investments that someone would have to pay for – that someone being the subscribers. In the case of highways, we often see this as tolls implemented to pay for the upkeep of roads. Wireless would follow a similar model.  Carriers are continuously investing to improve their networks, but concentrating on overall quality improvements is ultimately in the best interest of all users, unlike simply adding capacity to accommodate those who use the most data. The additional expense required for the latter would be passed on to normal users, who would have to pay for something they don’t need.

With the increased use of their devices at home and work, there is a greater likelihood that consumers will access and use WiFi to offload their high-bandwidth and data hungry apps, such as video streaming. Seated on your couch, you may well consume a 30-60 minute video, which you are less likely to do while on the road or moving about. In fact, a Mobidia Technology study conducted in November of last year found that users on Android phones consumed 6.8GB of Wi-Fi data and those with iPhones consumed 8.9GB of Wi-Fi data per month. This shows a strong correlation with users accessing WiFi for high data uses. Nevertheless, even if we combined mobile and WiFi data usage, we’d find that the vast majority of users would still be within the allotments of data plans available from the carriers at a reasonable cost, particularly if it’s a multi-device shared family plan. In most cases, users are very well served by current wireless data plans, and really don’t require more.

So, while unlimited data may sound attractive, there is no practical effect of data limits on the majority of users. Understanding this should bring rationality to a discussion that is often held on a “gut feeling” level. Keeping adequate speed and performance while allowing all users to share the limited commodity we call wireless data is the fair way to deal with wireless connectivity. And ultimately, that is what is beneficial for wireless consumers.

Jack E. Gold is Founder and President at J.Gold Associates, LLC., a technology industry analyst firm.

The thoughts, opinions and suggestions of the author may not necessarily reflect those of Verizon Wireless.

Tags: Network, Unlimited Data, wifi, android, iPhone, video streaming