T-Mobile UK calls time on unlimited data deals

UK operator T-Mobile, now part of Everything Everywhere, generated a flurry of interest from the consumer press on Tuesday with a new mandate to curb multimedia downloads and save its network from congestion. But for many operators the all-you-can-eat data party has been over for some time already, with no adverse effects to users.

In T-Mobile’s own words: “Browsing means looking at websites and checking email, but not watching videos, downloading files or playing games.” The carrier confirmed that its fair use policy means that users will always be able to browse the internet but will not be able to download multimedia files if the limit is exceeded.

From February 1, 2011, T-Mobile UK will introduce a fair use policy of 500MB, “Which means looking at your favourite websites like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, BBC News and more…If you want to download, stream and watch video clips, save that stuff for your home broadband,” the carrier said.

Informa analyst Thomas Wehmeier said that 500MB would likely be sufficient for mot users: “There’s a lot of talk about the hunger for data of iPhone users, but our analysis shows that the majority of users will be comfortably served by 500MB of data per month.

“What’s been galling for these operators is that a small group of bandwidth hogs have been the cause of lots of the problems” he said. “These new tariffs are designed to profitably manage this small percentage of users, while also offering attractive pricing for the overwhelming majority of users whose usage is much lower,” Wehmeier said.

But as with O2 UK’s decision to introduce a 500MB cap late last year, the extent to which consumers will be sympathetic to these changes remains to be seen—especially bearing in mind the operators’ history of poor communication in this area. More importantly, though, consumers are used to paying for access on a flat rate basis; it’s how they pay for fixed line internet, and how they’ve paid for mobile broadband access so far.

Compounding the problem is the fact that most users do not understand how a megabyte relates to a piece of content. If they are allowed 500MB of data each month, how many web pages, videos or downloads will this get them? Smartphones are the exclusive preserve of tech-savvy, high-spending early adopters who might either understand the correlation between data and cost or simply be impervious to fluctuations in their bills.

As Informa notes in this feature on the end of the flat rate tariff, one option is to change the billing model  to one already popular among fixed line carriers and charge by speed of service.

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