Fat pipe vs small bucket: How carriers should address data-hungry LTE iPads

New iPad LTE and HSPA+ radio tests

iOS 5.1 snuck in a 4G indicator on the AT&T iPhone 4S. When asked if they felt like their phone was running at mind-bending speed, one commenter smartly replied "Lightning fast. I can't wait to get throttled even sooner now." This encapsulates the conundrum of 4G data, and a problem currently faced by new LTE iPad owners: increased data speeds are only as useful as the data caps that go along with them. Drinking from the firehose is only fun if it's hooked up to more than a thimble of water.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece detailing various anecdotes where users were quickly running out of data, and needed to pay extra to get their service back on track. Though it's good that the pitfall is being identified for those who might not know any better, for most of us it's obvious that higher speeds without appropriately bumped data caps will ultimately result in a bigger bill. If you buy a Ferrari, after all, you're going to need the gas to go with it.

This is the world Android owners have been living in for awhile now. The problem is only exacerbated on the iOS side as video is going to HD, even 1080p to take advantage of the new high resolution display. There are a few things you can do to alleviate the stress on your bucket of data, like relying on Wi-Fi as much as possible, and reducing the quality on streaming video, but that kind of defeats the purpose of having an iPad with LTE, doesn't it? It seems like the impetus is on service providers to get with the times and adapt their pricing structure for next-generation wireless speeds. But what to change?

Flex data

As you might have seen from out AT&T versus Verizon comparison, iPad plans start at 250 MB for $15 and max out at 5 GB for $50, but there aren't clear steps for transitioning from one tier to another. Up here in Canada, TELUS and Bell offer Flex plans, which basically means you're paying a little more at each tier, but you'll automatically be knocked up or down the ladder depending on your monthly usage. While this might not seem particularly different from simply paying overages on top of your standard plan if you blow past your data cap, a billing system that goes down with your usage is entirely reasonable, especially for those with erratic usage habits.

Speed tiers

One trend that might be worth transplanting from the landline internet world are speed tiers. Grandma probably doesn't need LTE data speeds, but little Billy probably wants the best of the best. Even if they were both transferring the same amount of data, what really matters to each of them isn't whatever is in their respective packets, but how quickly they get them. Ultimately, that should be what wireless service providers are charging for. If carriers are worried about congestion, this would be a fine way of mitigating and controlling bandwidth, without earning the ire of power users when they get throttled; offering separate 2G, 3G, and 4G data plans would essentially be pre-emptive throttling for people who opt-in in exchange for lower rates, and an opportunity for heavy data users to guarantee consistent performance.

Roll-over

If service providers are going to stick with data caps, it would be nice if we could use them after the month's up -we paid for those megabytes, after all. This is something prepaid voice service has done in the past, and seeing as new iPad owners aren't on a term contract, it would be a great fit. Some months you're going to spend on the move more than others, and it seems ridiculous that during those times, you've got to pay more even though the entire month before your iPad might have existed within reach of a Wi-Fi zone. Of course, it could be a huge stress on carriers if folks just stockpiled their data and went nuts on their LTE iPad in a short period of time.  Those kinds of activity spikes are hard for carriers to deal with. Still, offering a spare unused GB from the last month or two could be all the wriggle room someone needs to go without paying overages or reconsidering their plans.

Of course, this whole issue would be cleared up if service providers just upped their data caps or lowered their prices, but I understand that they have shareholders to keep happy, and that involves making sure they aren't just giving away service. There's also the obvious issue of capacity; one would hope that as LTE networks mature, the situation will improve. These are just some ideas to get the conversation rolling, and I doubt any of them are a silver bullet to addressing the disparity between data speed demand and bandwidth supply, but the fact remains that it's becoming a problem that needs to be solved. I invite anyone from the retail or infrastructure side to comment on why some of the options would or wouldn't work. New LTE iPad owners, is there anything you would like to see on the service side, or is everything hunky-dory as is?

And while you're at it, jump into the new iPad forums and tell us how much 4G data you've used on your new iPad so far.

Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.

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There are 28 comments. Add yours.

Loren says:

This is exactly why I'm not on the 4g bandwagon. I've never used 4g before and I'm sure it's amazing but I've been telling my friends this for the past year. I really really hope the new iPhone will still have 3G radios inside. Until the networks increase the data plans I could care less. And if you think AT&T and Verizon plans are a rip off just look at the Canadian carrier pans and be thankful.

Trusttee says:

Rest assured, a 3G radio will be included in the next iPhone. 3G isn't a technology that can be abandoned at this point; probably not for another 10 years really. Consider that early 3G solutions (EVDO and EDGE) are still available as a backup for present day 3G.

Alan says:

Yes, EDGE and EVDO remain available in the current Apple 3G devices, but there is no longer a way to turn off 3G and force your device to use the slower service. Interestingly, the new iPad does allow you to turn off LTE, but doesn't give any further control as to what lower service you CAN use. Who knows if this LTE switch will continue to exist in the future....

Dan says:

Yes there is, at least on the iPhone 4... Settings->General->Network->Enable 3G... Turn it off and you are on Edge.

GeorgeDW says:

That's gone on 4S, you can only turn all data on or off (without jailbreak anyway).

Boris says:

It is possible to turn off 3G in iPhone 4s, you need only iOS 5.1
settings>general>network>enable 3G> on/of

jasondeno says:

Can we just dust off the conversations from the 2G to 3G migration a few years back? Its the same thing all over again. Only this time Netflix streams in HD. :)

Aenean144 says:

$0.01/MB. Users pay for the amount they use, kind of like what utility companies do. Of course, not going to happen.

NeverEnough02 says:

Of course not!! That would be fair...

mech1164 says:

I said this in another site about why 9 out of 10 tablets are wifi only. Until the carries get real data caps LTE as it is is a non starter for most. I will not pay 30.00 for a measly 2GB of data and blow it in less then a week if not sooner. All theses trick of flex and such are just means for you to have to pay more. Years ago we had 5GB soft caps with edge. We kept into 3g until recently. Under the guise of helping us and combating data hogs. ATT followed by VZW lowered not raised the data caps to a generous 2GB.
If we get say 25GB for 20.00 or 50GB for 30.00 I can jump on it and use LTE to it's potential. The carriers WANT to GOUGE us. It's called Maximizing Profit Potential. Until that changes they can pound sand.

sting7k says:

How long is it going to take for everyone to realize that mobile data is not an unlimited resource?

mech1164 says:

It's also not as scarce as you make it out. This is the only industry where the faster you go the less you get. This is why WIFI is still KING on tablets. What will solve much of this is the installation of this small cube micro cells. The more points the better the efficiency. What is holding them mostly back is the capacity of the towers and the frequencies. With what they are doing to address it (except ATT will they ever spend on capacity???NO!) What matters more though isn't what is now it's what will this look like when it's done? Will we still be at >2GB plans or will we have reasonable usage? The way the industry acts I think it's the former not the latter.

markawashington says:

Yeap I got the ipad verizon 16gb through pre-order came on the 16. Just replaced it at the apple store 1 hours ago. Dont laugh but it is the first time I have every walked into the apple store. The exchange was the easiest I have every seen ( reason: for a dead pixel)anyway I got the 1gb month to month and I used it in one day watch a netflix movie lol wow I only had 21mb left and I told my wife only use it for checking email if your not in a wifi area. I wasnt thinking that it would suck that much data. But there goes 20 dollars down the drain. ( also because I had to cancel plan and now have a new sim)

markawashington says:

Reply to myself...I did see the option after, when trying to see how much data I have left, to turn off the 4gLTE to 3g only .. I guess that defeats the purpose of having the faster net speeds for HD content.

dloveprod says:

I want to be able to limit the bandwidth, I'd rather get 5 down 2 up instead of this 20/20 that gonna be gone in a week.

Mister-E says:

4g speed does not necessary mean people will use more data. Web sites will load faster but we won't be reading the news on CNN any more faster , and the number of websites we want to visit wont change. Of course higher quality video will use more data but even watching Netflix on 3G will eat through a plan in a couple of days. Mobile data plans are not a replacement for cable/dsl and everyone on a dataplan should regularly check how much data they have used so that they don't go over there plan limit.

iSRS says:

My primary reason for going wifi only. Worst case, I can use my iPhone as a hotspot. But tablet wise, I am essentially near wifi 90% of the time.

DARK_BLU says:

Same here. WiFi only iPad2. WiFi is everywhere I go. Rich people with two data plans shouldn't be surprised when your LTE iPad reaches your data cap sooner. That is actually the point of LTE plus data caps. Get you to overages quicker and you pay more. CHA CHING. Not me. No thanks.

sphinx23 says:

I was going to get an LTE Ipad but than thought again why would I do that when I can tether off of my phone which is on an unlimited data plan.

DARK_BLU says:

You can tether your iPad to your Phone? How? That is the answer to the problem.

Simon Sage says:

Mobile hotspot. Not exactly tethering, the same idea. The smartphone/tablet pairing for shared data is a huge opportunity, and so far it seems like RIM is the only one going at that angle.

Mike S says:

my fear is that trending with other types of service like the ISP I work with, the higher caps that may come are just going to be at more and more expensive price points. The ISP I work for had a data cap of 250gb for home net and they are test bedding 45mbps net, but just keep adding price points up the system. Unlike the company I have for my ISP who increased each tier by a few megs/sec at the same price points they'd been at (8/12/20 became 10/15/25 for example)
I get the capacity issue, especially as this is still very much in the early adoption period of LTE, just hoping that we see capacity upgrades with the current price points remaining the same vs the option of just adding new plans at higher and higher rates, this being over the next 3-5 years or so I'd guess.
My greedy side is thinking if only my verizon iphone's unlimited data plan was usable for my ipad at LTE speeds as well, but that just isn't really reasonable.

Redshirt says:

I hope lots and lots of people buy the LTE iPad. Things will not change until people get pissed off. Nothing pisses people off like understanding they've been played as total CHUMPS for buying LTE right now. So, the more people buy LTE, hit the data cap after 5 minutes of use, then freak out, the better.

Gonzalo says:

.I was perfectly paelsed with my iPad 2, a wifi-only model with 32gb. When Apple announced the new iPad, I typed up a long list of reasons why I shouldn't buy it. And then I bought one anyway. (I'll be giving my iPad 2 to my parents.)You've probably already read up on the new iPad and know the list of new facial appearance it has, and how the specs compare to the iPad 2 s specs. But comparing specs on paper is different than comparing the actual experience of using the two products, and the experience matters more than the specs. I can tell you which of those facial appearance, at least to me, really makes the experience of using the new iPad better. And there's only one: the show.I do a lot of reading on the iPad, and this is where the retina show really matters. Text is very sharp, even for very small fonts, and this makes reading on iPad much more comfortable. I've been reading Steve Jobs on my iPad 2 (using the Kindle app); I read the next stage on the retina iPad and then tried to read the following stage on the iPad 2 over again, and going back to the iPad 2 was unpleasant. I had similar results when I compared reading articles on websites using Safari and when reading a few pages of War and Concord in the iBooks app on the retina iPad vs. iPad 2. After reading on the new iPad, you just won't want to go back to reading on iPad 2.If you read a lot on your iPad, this to me is a compelling reason to upgrade, and perhaps the only compelling reason.What about photos? Videos? Games? Here, you can tell the difference, and the retina show is better. But in terms of how much the retina show increases my enjoyment of viewing cinema, video, and games, it is not enough to justify the cost of upgrading.On both iPads, I compared hi-res cinema I took at the Chicago Botanic Gardens using a DSLR with a excellent lens. On iPad 2, your eye can indeed discern individual pixels if you look closely enough, whereas on the retina iPad, it's like looking at a real print of the photo. But after looking at the cinema on the retina iPad, and even noticing the differences, it was subdue reasonably nice to view them over again on the iPad 2. Similarly for video: I watched a scene from the Breaking Terrible season 4 finale on both devices, and while it looked a bit better on the retina iPad, it subdue looked fantastic on iPad 2. Streaming hi-res movie trailers looked better on the retina iPad, but subdue looked fantastic on iPad 2. For streaming video from Netflix, I could not tell any difference, most likely because the resolution of the source material isn't any higher than the iPad 2 s show.I'm less of a gamer than most iPad users, but I did try Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy (a game supposedly optimized for the retina show) and Plants vs. Zombies HD (an older game). PvZ looks exactly the same on both, Sky Gamblers looks better on the retina iPad but it subdue looks very awesome on the iPad 2.In small, you can see the difference the retina show makes for photos, videos, and games. Yet, the experience of using the iPad 2 is subdue reasonably brilliant. The fact is that, even at a lower resolution, the iPad 2 s IPS show is exceptional.What about the other specs? Is it worth upgrading to get a newer processor, for example?No. I really don't see a difference in performance. The retina iPad is super quick, but so is iPad 2. Some apps load a small quicker, others I can't tell. But the speed difference, if any, isn't enough to make the retina iPad more enjoyable to use than iPad 2.I haven't had the new iPad long enough to tell you about battery life. Here is where I have to rely on specs. The new iPad is more store-hungry, but it has a much larger battery inside. This is why Apple says battery life is about the same.What about the improved camera? Sure, it takes better cinema than the joke of a camera on iPad 2. But do most people use their iPad for photography, anyway? If you have an iPhone 4 or 4S, your camera is just as excellent or better, and it's more convenient for taking cinema than using the iPad. Ditto for most smartphones. And only the rear-facing camera was improved; the front-facing camera is just as crappy as before. And that's a shame, because the front camera is the one I'd really use (for skype and facetime).What about dictation? I find it works about 80%, less in a noisy room. And it is simpler to dictate and then edit the few errors than typing something from scratch on the iPad's on-screen keyboard. But I don't reflect most people will use it enough for it to topic in the upgrade choice. People who write a lot on the iPad will already have an external keyboard (or should get

Savvy Traveler says:

I love the 4G LTE "new iPad". It's blazing fast, but I agree totally that the data plans are crap. I decided to do a little testing a few nights ago. I streamed about an hour of video and burned up nearly 1GB. Ouch.
This simply has to change. Verizon did tell me that if I exceeded 2GB they would automatically add another gig for $10, so that seems to be seamless anyway.

Koji says:
  • 5 megapixel rear-facing cmeraa take photos with over 8x higher resolution and quality than the iPad 2 (but still no flash)+ Dual-core 1GHz A5X processor with quad-core graphics better multitasking and flawless high-res graphics performance+ 4G LTE capable faster mobile connections on AT&T and Verizon when in 4G-LTE-covered network areaIf you're considering the now-cheaper iPad 2, here's a quick recap of what was new last year:+ Dual-core 1GHz A5 Processor better multitasking, 9-times faster graphics+ 3-Axis Gyroscope allows for higher precision and more motion gestures+ Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound pass-through with Apple Digital AV Adapter (sold separately)+ Rear-facing cmeraa supports 960 x 720 sized photos (0.6 megapixels), plus 720p HD videos+ Front-facing VGA-quality cmeraa VGA-quality is a resolution of 640 x 480 (0.3 megapixels)+ Verizon 3G model now available no longer limited to just AT&T for the WiFi+3G model+ Thinner, lighter and smoother with contoured back feels more comfortable in your handsThe iPad 2 brought a lot more new features to the iPad lineup, but the 3rd generation iPad still brings us some welcome new features. First, it sports the new A5X processor. Don't be confused though, it's not really that much better than the iPad 2 s, and it's not technically a quad-core processor. The CPU itself remains dual-core, but the graphics processor built-into the CPU chip can compute 4 streams of graphics information, thus making the graphics aspect of the A5X processor quad-core. It's confusing, I know. To be honest, there was no noticeable improvement in performance over the iPad 2, except maybe behind the scenes where it handles 4x more pixels. In general, everything on the new iPad runs just as smooth as it always has, which is as to be expected from Apple! But I imagine the new processor has particularly been used to speed up image processing for the new 5 megapixel cmeraa, making photography just about as snappy as it is on the iPhone 4S, which I own as well. 4G support was also a nice surprise that had been rumored.On the other hand, other rumors didn't exactly pan-out, including an SD card slot for photos and file storage, nor the possibility of a smaller, more manageable 7 iPad model, but I'm still holding out hope for one in the future. Thankfully, the price stays the same for these new models, but that is as to be expected. As a boon for those who don't really plan to use the new high-res cmeraa nor need the Retina display or 4G speed, the iPad 2 is going to stick around for a while longer, with a new lower price for those in the market!===== My Background =====I'm a website and mobile app developer who's created a few apps and games for iOS devices, including the iPad. I also develop websites, so I like to ensure that those sites look and perform well on the device too, since it's continually growing in popularity for surfing the Web with over the past two years. I've spent lots of time with both the iPad and various Android-based tablets, and I have to be honest apps are what make the iPad (and other iDevices) so great. Android tablets have the benefit of price and size, but Android apps available for tablets are terribly mediocre! They're also not as responsive as the iPad, at least not after you load them up with apps, games and other junk.I'm no Apple fanboy, but I can recognize quality hardware and software when I see it, and as far as 10 tablets are concerned, the new iPad simply can't be beat, but that's mostly due to Apple's knack for high-end hardware, plus the ridiculously huge following of quality app developers that Apple can boast about. With over 200,000 apps just for the iPad alone, there's more than enough to keep you busy!===== First Impression =====Unboxing any new device certainly has its appeal, but the
תאורה says:

There is definately a great deal to find out about this issue. I like all the points you've made.