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Single data plans - keeping it all together

by Josie Sephton | Feb 02, 2011

Our appetite to be contactable and to access information while on the go, be it with streamed media, email or just simple voice, has grown exponentially over the past few years. And, for reasons of form factor, functionality and pure processing power, it has also outgrown being delivered by a single device. For a while, much of what individuals on the move wanted to do could be delivered by smartphone functionality and form, even if some of the transactions were somewhat awkward because of the device size. The laptop, and later, the netbook were added to the mix. More recently, we have seen tablets permeate the list of seemingly essential mobile devices. While it is undoubtedly useful to have different devices designated for both specific and general tasks, it also means that users usually find themselves taking out a separate data subscription for each device they want connected. For some, however, the volume and type of traffic they generate while on the move is unlikely to differ significantly whether they using one device or three, which means they are probably paying for more data than they actually use, particularly if each subscription comes with a hefty data allowance.

While this is not a happy place for users to be - no one wants to pay for three data subscriptions when they really only need one - it has the potential to be pretty lucrative for mobile operators. Unless, that is, users start to be more proactive with their data management - using WiFi hotspots much more, opting for WiFi-only versions of devices where available, and, more worryingly for operators, shopping around for offers from alternative carriers. This really isn't beyond the realms of possibility - there is already a lot of user dissatisfaction over the increasing amount of money spent on data, especially, when data quality is not particularly good.

It is not surprising then, that we are starting to see the emergence, albeit very slowly, of single data plans that cover multiple devices. The first one we came across was from Rogers Communications, the Canadian cable TV and wireless communications provider, which announced at the end of last year that it would allow customers to share existing mobile broadband plans across devices for a monthly fee - at the moment set at C$15. Whether the C$15 hits the sweet spot for users needs to be ascertained, of course. The plan doesn't provide any additional data for the extra money, and would only have appeal to users who consistently underuse their monthly data allowance across their various devices. But it is certainly a move in the right direction.

The likelihood of the emergence of similar plans in Europe in the near future is already evident. For example, there are already indications that Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom in France are planning to launch single subscriptions packages later this year, that cover multiple devices on a single plan.

The single plan concept is not dissimilar to the mobile WiFi (or MiFi) offers that have been around for a while now, and that carriers in numerous countries are increasingly marketing. MiFi allows users to create a wireless hotspot while on the move, using a MiFi modem or router. The hotspot will then allow shared internet access by several WiFi devices. In the UK, for example, 3, Orange and Vodafone all offer or have announced MiFi plans. Like the single plan concept, however, they do not come for free - a MiFi router is required, along with a monthly subscription, although some PAYG plans are available.

It is evident that operators are fast realizing that many users are close to their price ceiling, and that something needs to be done to maximize the revenue opportunity, whether this is through single plans or MiFi offerings. Expect more of the same to come.

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