If you didn’t spot it, O2’s new iPhone tariffs will bring an end to the unlimited 3G data plans current users enjoy. The network claims “97% of O2 smartphone customers would not need to buy additional data allowances, as the lowest bundle (500MB) provides at least 2.5 times the average O2 customer’s current use.”
Interestingly the figure is virtually the same as the 98% US iPhone carrier AT&T cited when it too announced the end of unlimited plans. That move attracted a lot of complaints, especially from iPad users.
It’s a sure bet that other networks will follow suit and with good reason. Indefinite unlimited data bundles were always an unrealistic offering and very often subject to a hidden away cap which made a mockery of the unlimited claim.
Now, while I know a lot of people with iPhones pretty much all of them pre-load their handheld via WiFi at home but, thanks to aggressive marketing by carriers, these ‘unlimited’ bundles have created a small group of users who – having been sold unlimited access – understandably see no reason not to use as much as they can.
The fault for this behaviour rests firmly with the mobile phone companies – educating customers that a finite resource like bandwidth could be sold and enjoyed unmetred was a mistake which was always going to bite them one day.
Like fixed-line ISPs, network operators raked in the cash off the back of so-called unlimited plans while at the same time allowing their network capacity to fall behind demand.
Likewise mobile carriers found ‘unlimited’ mobile data tariffs useful in the days when smartphones were a niche concern and there was little content to be consumed on them – they even managed to convince the ASA that unlimited could mean a product which was actually limited so long as the limit was explained – but with ‘web on the move’ phones now standard issue the lack of capacity has started to shine through.
O2 in particular suffered when last year’s introduction of tethering on the iPhone saw users demand – unsuccessfully – the ability to use their unlimited data bundles to power their laptop’s web connection.
Suddenly the network found itself having to explain that although the iPhone data plan was unlimited it was only for use on the device’s internal browser and download functions, not the new built-in tethering function. Fair to say not everyone was convinced and many users then ‘jailbroke’ their phones to get what they considered they’d paid for.
The result has been well deserved bad headlines about networks unable to cope with demand, poor user experiences and the odd canceled contract.
I don’t dispute that O2’s move to sell limited bundles in future will affect only a subset of their user base and I happen to think it’s a sensible and long overdue decision. But then I was one of those awkward people who never understood the ASA allowing firms to sell as ‘unlimited’ products which were subject to a usage limit.
The entire industry should brace itself for more negative headlines and unhappy customers because the inevitable consequence of spending millions on flashy adverts championing unlimited plans means the customer perception of the new tariffs will be that of a vastly inferior product.
It may be that you, like me but unlike the ASA as recently as last December, thought someone subject to a 500MB limit should be sold a 500MB data plan not an ‘unlimited’ one with a 500MB cap, in which case I invite you to sit back and savour the row which is about to break out…