According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, it appears that Verizon – like AT&T – may be getting ready to implement a tiered data plan of their own, eliminating their popular prix fixe unlimited data option in the process. If this ends up being the case, it would mean the two largest wireless providers in the US will both be working to discourage bandwidth consumption on their networks, something that could end up being a big drag on the development of mobile services and other non-phone mobile technologies.
The irony here is that both of these carriers were willing to sell unlimited data plans when they knew that the devices they were offering them on couldn’t really make use of it. Now that mobile devices have finally started to catch up, those plans are being eliminated. On top of that, as carriers continue their rollout of 4G/LTE networks (which theoretically can offer significantly higher speeds), folks will simply find themselves running over their usage limits more quickly and racking up whatever overage charges their carriers’ may assess (which can sometimes be frighteningly expensive).
What’s desperately needed in the wireless space is innovation. The structural monopolies enjoyed by incumbent carriers make it easier for them to cut out any meaningful competition that could impact their businesses. The status quo favors them, so any change in the fundamental structure of the market isn’t welcome. They understand that their businesses depend in large part on preserving these advantages, making them less then ideal agents of change in this space.
Ultimately, the real innovation needed here will, by it’s very nature, be disruptive. It will upsets the marketplace and redefine today’s accepted terms of business. Given the nature of how wireless spectrum is managed, innovation will also involve more than just new technologies and algorithms. It will require a reconsideration of the regulatory and licensing frameworks that currently govern the deployment of wireless infrastructure, and demand a fresh look at the way access to the airwaves is allocated. It may also require that a larger chunk of spectrum be allocated specifically in support of the development and deployment of more creative wireless data solutions. There is some incredible research being done in this area, but it needs a path to commercialization if it’s going to get the funding it needs to become viable.
We will never see the promised wireless revolution take hold if the only options available to consumers are congested networks or capped and overpriced plans.
Change urgently needs to happen.