Using new iPad’s 4G connectivity burns through data plans, users find

Mar 21, 2012
Tech

Users who were able to snag the new iPad this weekend and enjoy its new and improved Retina display and blazing fast 4G LTE cellular capabilities might have had a rude awakening: that 4G LTE connection eats up data in a hurry. On the one hand, that’s probably pretty obvious. A faster connection moves more data […]

Users who were able to snag the new iPad this weekend and enjoy its new and improved Retina display and blazing fast 4G LTE cellular capabilities might have had a rude awakening: that 4G LTE connection eats up data in a hurry.

On the one hand, that’s probably pretty obvious. A faster connection moves more data in less time, causing users to hit their data plan caps much faster than they did over 3G. But according to a story from the Wall Street Journal, owners of the new iPad are still getting blindsided by just how fast they’re hitting the upper limits of their data plans, with some of them running out in mere hours of using the new device’s online capabilities.

The trouble is that the iPad’s capabilities are catching users off-guard, it seems. Streaming a couple hours of video will burn through a 2GB data plan pretty quickly, as the report points out, but doing so was probably not quite so easy in the past when users were struggling with a much slower 3G connection.

And when users run-out their data plans, they’re pretty much stuck without even the basic device capabilities that use less data (such as checking email), unless they want to pay overage fees. Verizon, users, for example, run a charge of $10 per gigabyte over their plans, but you’re still charged the full amount even if you don’t use the full extra gig.

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Of course, part of the point of devices like the iPad is to get people watching online videos, and as the WSJ story notes, providers such as Verizon and AT&T want users to stream that video. They’re hoping that the capabilities of devices such as the iPad get more people to switch to their higher-tech 4G LTE networks. The trouble comes from users finding they’ll need to pay more for their data allowances – that’ll likely result either in more users opting to use less data, or customers pushing telecom companies to compromise on price.

There’s also the trouble of users not realizing that upgrading to a faster kind of network doesn’t mean they’re upgrading the amount of data they can consume. Customers are much more likely to find that, after they start using their new iPad in earnest and are excited about the things it can do, they’ll be brought back down by the fact that it’s going to cost them more to enjoy all those new features.

Carriers are potentially already looking for ways to avoid customers hitting the usage wall without having to cut prices on data plans to keep the users happy. As the WSJ reports, one example is a plan AT&T is looking into that would allow developers and content providers the option to pay for their customers’ mobile data usage instead of passing that cost on to the customer. The WSJ likens it to a 1-800 number for apps – free to the user because the developer foots the bill.

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Regardless, for many customers, it’s very likely that firing up a new iPad is their first foray into 4G LTE technology, and how they perceive it may well shape their next phone-buying decision. From the sounds of things, most people are very satisfied with using 4G with their iPads. Now, cellular carriers have to find the balance between taking in revenue and making customers feel like they’re getting a good deal.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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