Your TV Tech Fix: Are You Hitting AT&T’s New Data Cap?

In just the past few years, wireless hardware companies like Apple and HTC are pushing the mobile experience into new frontiers of versatility with amazing smartphones crammed full of nifty features. These devices, particularly the iPhone and Android variants, have become increasingly useful tools for surfing the Internet and staying connected with friends and family, but they’ve also become platforms for mobile audio and video streaming -some of them even make phone calls, too. Back then, regular mobile phones consumed “minutes.” Today, the modern smartphone gorges on data.

While the cellular providers like AT&T are pushing smartphones into the hands of every man, woman, and child, they’re taking away the valuable resource that makes these smartphones useful – data. Just a few months ago, AT&T took away their $30 “unlimited” (5GB glass ceiling) data plan and replaced it with a 200MB and 2GB plan priced at $15 and $25 respectively. Why? Because it’s easy to offer unlimited data when no one was using it. Today’s phones, with their access to Pandora, YouTube, Slingbox, Netflix, and Hulu can chew through data pretty quickly. So now that you can use it, they’re retracting the offer.


According to an independent study by Validas, the average iPhone user consumed 338MB per month. Which lines up well with AT&Ts claim that 65% of their smartphone customers use less than 200MB a month, and 98% use less than 2GB. So no big deal, right?

Maybe, but maybe not. Validas’ study looked at data usage from January to May of 2010, which was before Netflix and Hulu began streaming to the iPhone. Surely access to so much more video content on demand is bound to impact data usage across the board, and the expanded number of handsets hitting the market that support rich media, like Android phones with Froyo and Windows Phone 7, is increasing rapidly.

AT&T’s numbers may be a little skewed, too. Until just recently, the only “great” data-guzzling smartphone AT&T has offered is the iPhone, given their Android offerings have been historically weak. Of their total smartphone base, all the ones on Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and their lamer Android phones, probably aren’t sucking down data at the rate iPhoners are now. It’s them who are the most likely to hit the cap.  These phones won’t use less data going forward, if anything they’ll use more. Is AT&T’s plan to offer just enough data to hook people today, but position themselves to collect an extra $10 or $20 per month as people smartphone users constantly break the 2GB barrier tomorrow?

I can only assume a great number of you TV addicts out there are Netflix-loving, Hulu-streaming Slingers with an iPhone on AT&T’s network. How much data are you using per month on average? Are you happy with AT&T’s new data plans, or do you yearn for the olden days of unlimited web? For those of you not with AT&T, are you worried about your carrier following suit?

Satisfy your inner geek while fueling your TV addiction… TV Tech Fix is a column by Matt Whitlock, editor of the Consumer Electronics Community (plus several other gadget-focused community websites), and lover of both technology and TV. In this column, he’ll cover a wide variety of tech topics aimed squarely at the TV addicts of the world – from tips and tricks to help you better your TV experience, to gear recommendations, to the impact technology is having on the TV shows we love.

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