Unlimited Data Plans on the way out?

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,”

Unlimited Data Plans on the way out? 1
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.

Solutions

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.

3 comments

  1. Each time the gsm operators claim that the reason we have barely useable internet (slooww) connectivity is because of network congestion (and people who should know better – agree with them), I am amazed!

    It is noteworthy that, during the periods when Zain (then CelTel) was testing their gprs service (for over a year), the service was VERY STABLE and eminently useable. Celtel was not charging for internet access during that test period, so I imagine the traffic @ that time must have been @ its peak. The speed was better than what we have now!

    How come that, even @ night when the network should be (and actually ARE) relatively free, we still have sloooww internet commexion?

    In my days of the night browsing belt on Starcomms/MultiLinks, there was still the very slooow (and hardly useable) internet connection!

    I want to believe that, while network congestion may be a reason for the ‘less-than-impressive’ speeds we are being offered, it is not the MAJOR reason.

    In Nigeria, there must be another, more significant reason why you have sporadic / intermittent bursts of speed on practically all the networks, followed by prolonged periods of epileptic internet service.

    There have even been periods – where a ‘paid-for’ data bundle fails to connect for days, whereas an alternative ‘free browsing’ connection method keeps working.. (** ducks **). How do we explain this

  2. I’m down with the idea of reducing download speed for heavy users after the 3GB data threshold is passed. Revisiting the free browsing thing, I think MTN just doesn’t want to spend the heavy amount needed to get 90 – 95 percent of the free browsers off their network.

    We that paid for night browsing are suffering. Thank God, I only paid 2,500 naira. My subscription expires soon and I’ve only used 1GB imagine. Each time you try to connect, the stupid remote computer is never available.

  3. frankly speaking the data bundle should be upped from 3 gigabyte to 5 gigabyte and all free browsers should be unplugged from the networks not 90%.How many of these gsm/cdma networks carry out network optimization regularly.One should get value for his or her money.Shouldn’t NCC do something about network overcrowding?.



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