Wireless Data Plans - will ending unlimited plans improve reliability?

Alan Percy : The SIP Invite
Alan Percy
| Observations by Alan D. Percy on VoIP enabling technology, industry and our personal reach for success.

Wireless Data Plans - will ending unlimited plans improve reliability?

After giving some thought about the recent announcements from AT&T and Verizon about their restructured pricing for 3G data plans, I wondered: "will ending the all-you-can-eat data plan pricing make things better or worse?"

As a heavy user of the data features of my Motorola Droid, I know I'm in the small group that uses the majority of the data bandwidth available on the Verizon network.  You'll frequently find me using the Google turn-by-turn directions, Pandora Radio and Weatherbug all at the same time while driving down the highway - surely pushing the limits of the cell towers along the way.  Trust me when I say that it's pretty easy to tell when a cell site is congested - everything slows down to a crawl.

During a conference a couple weeks ago, I spend some time with Michael Finneran, a Principal Consultant at dBrn Associates that specializes in wireless carriers and their networks, discussing the issues of wireless data congestion and the root causes.  I had always assumed it was a spectrum issue, meaning that all the radio channels (the last-mile) were saturated on your nearby cell site, causing the data throughput limitations.  Michael noted that while this may be the case sometimes, the carriers frequently find that their network that passes data between the cell sites and their hop-off-point (the middle-mile) was the real problem.  Unfortunately, the middle-mile improvements require new facilities to the troubled cell sites, many times over expensive microwave links or difficult long-distance cable pulls.

But how will the carriers pay for these improvements?  It looks like the carrier's plans are to get more subscribers to pay for data plans, creating revenue to pay for the infrastructure improvements.  But wait - won't more subscribers create more congestion?  In the sort term - yes.

So it seems that for the near-term, the congestion is only going to get worse before it gets better.

What's the solution? 4G and LTE  (more on this later)

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