Verizon 3G, AT&T femtocells latest services pulled into mobile cap equation

att-microcellThe mobile cap hits keep on coming, with Verizon’s CFO telling Business Week that the operator will probably move to eliminating unlimited plans this year. Meanwhile, AT&T drew attention this week over word that users sending data over its in-home femtocell product would see those bits count against their mobile data caps.

Connected Planet emphasized this reality in its coverage of the AT&T Microcell from the CTIA show earlier this year:

AT&T radio access domain director Gordon Mansfield said that while data is an important component of the femtocell, AT&T isn’t necessarily looking to offload traffic as much as its trying to enhance its customers mobile data experience. The indoor signal produces a much more powerful and consistent data connection, increasing browsing and download speeds, he said. As a result AT&T has seen a sizable shift in mobile data traffic from the macro to femto network among its Microcell customers.

AT&T, however, isn’t yet passing the benefits along to its customers. Its data policies remain in place even when customers are on the femto network so data caps on mobile broadband access plans stay in place and smartphone applications that AT&T allows only over WiFisuch as iPhone video appsare still restricted on the femtocell.

And of course, if you’re in your home, why not just use your broadband or Wi-Fi connection anyway?

fitchardicon copyConnected Planet’s take,
Kevin Fitchard:

Verizon also revealed how much data its customers were consuming with their smartphones, 600 MB to 800 MB, which is probably what AT&T is seeing, if not more, on its iPhone accounts once the high-end users are factored in. Right now Verizon technically already has tiered data, though the distinction is between smartphone and feature phone users. Right now a feature phone or V Cast data user pays $10 a month for access but faces a cap of 25 MB, which is pretty miniscule. What will be interesting to see is if VZW divorces the plan from the device, offering tiers of per-MB plans across its selection of phones regardless of whether the device is an Android or BREW-based device. Its LTE network would throw a further wrench into the works, as it will be much cheaper for it ship data to a 4G handset than it would be to a 3G handset. Will customers understand why they have to pay twice as much per byte for a 4G Droid vs. a 3G Droid? Luckily Verizon has plenty of time — at least a year before the first LTE handsets are available — before it has to figure that out.

As for AT&T’s Microcell plans, it’s now a much bigger deal because AT&T has started metering usage. It’s hard to imagine anyone savvy enough to have femtocell connected to a home DSL or cable line not having Wi-Fi and not setting their iPhone to automatically log into that Wi-Fi network, but there will be a few customers who don’t, and they’ll make a big stink about it. And there will be snarky blog posts and maybe a handful of news stories — all with the potential of embarrassing AT&T. I don’t understand why AT&T doesn’t just change the policy. It doesn’t cost it anything — that traffic just gets dumped directly onto the Internet anyway — and would save it headaches later on. Either that or just sell femtocells with Wi-Fi routers embedded. Then customers don’t have excuses for running up $2000 data bills.

That’s our take on this. Let us know what you think in the comments section below:

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