Mobile internet subscribers here in Nigeria have continued to call out for unlimited data bundles, as against the current bundle plans with caps on data usage.
At the moment, the various GSM networks offer data caps of 100mb, 500mb, 1GB, 3GB and 6GB on their plans. Until recently, the CDMA networks generally offered unlimited plans, but it is looking like those too will be placing caps on data usage over time.
In more developed economies, as subscribers have embraced mobility through the use of high-powered smartphones, mobile networks have seen a surge in data usage that is beyond available capacity.
For exmple, AT&T is worried about the fact that 40% of their data traffic came from just 3 percent of smartphone customers. an AT&T executive has been reported as saying:
“We’re going to try to focus on making sure we give incentives to those small percentages to either reduce or modify their usage, so they don’t crowd out the customers on those same cell sites,”
This is just an example of what mobile networks globally are facing as subscribers get iPhones, Windows Phones, and communicators. It looks like the unlimited internet concept is hitting a brick wall on mobile networks.
Here in Nigeria, MTN and Zain seem to be the worst hit on the GSM front in terms of internet congestion. On an average day, it is next to impossible to get 100kbps speed on an MTN 3.5G connection during peak periods. As a matter of fact, many times, it is difficult to clock 40 kbps (basic GPRS speeds) during those periods. This is inspite of the present caps on usage. Of course, the illegal free browsing crowds are not helping matters.
As for the CDMA networks, it is difficult to rank them in any order, as internet connections (even on EVDO networks) are often reported as so slow as to be unusable.
Of course, part of the problem is from the networks themselves who engage in over-selling, taking on more subscribers than they actually have capacity for. This practice needs to be checked by the regulatory body.
Limited bundle plans are just one option. There are some networks in Europe that take a different approach: they offer unlimited data, but once a data threshold (e.g. 3GB or 5GB) is crossed by a subscriber in a month, bandwidth is cut down for that line from HSDPA speeds to GPRS/EDGE speeds for the rest of that month. Sounds interesting. And practical. That way, the minority heavy users do not make life miserable for the majority average users.
Again, the networks, especially here In Nigeria, need to build capacity. Hopefully, with the deployment of fibre optics cables by Globacom and others, the problems of limited bandwidth will be significantly slashed.
One thing is certain: bandwidth is not unlimited on mobile networks, and something must be done to ensure that the user experience on mobile internet plans is good. At the end of the day, it is all about the user experience after all.