One of the nicest things about AT&T's replan of their mobile data rates is that it has brought a lot of new clarity to the discussion about mobile broadband consumption. So far, based on the all the online dialogue I have been reading, two key things have been uncovered:
- The lowest consumption tier is too low for most people, pushing them into the higher rate category or leaving them with significant overages
- The highest rate category is fine for almost everyone and for those on the $30 unlimited plan, switching will save $5/month
But, based on the latest report from Nielsen, that may not always be true. According to a new report from Nielsen (link) the top 1% of smartphone users are consuming about 1,800 MB per month today, just under AT&T's bandwidth cap.
More importantly (see chart below), those same users are consuming twice what they did a year ago. In fact, at just about every level of consumption, the difference between 2009 and 2010 is about 100%. A year from now, users in the top 5% of so will be bumping up against their bandwidth caps and another year on as many 20% of all users will be bumping up against those caps.
It's likely that AT&T will have to adjust these caps going forward. The deployment of LTE in the next two years makes this feasible, but even without that, competition will demand it. With T-Mobile and Sprint both offering unlimited consumption on their 3.5G and 4G networks, it will be hard for AT&T and Verizon to avoid that competitive position.