The table below shows the service definition of the new 4G unlimited mobile data plans from three top-tier carriers. As you can see, unlimited does not mean unfettered access.
|Data Cap||22GB Phone10GB Mobile Hotspot||28GB Phone10GB Mobile Hotspot||22GB Phone10GB Mobile Hotspot|
|Enforcement Action||Phone||Users exceeding their data cap have lower priority during congested periods||Top 3% of users who have exceeded their data cap will be throttled to 3G speeds on congested networks||Users exceeding their data cap have lower priority during congested periods|
|Mobile Hotspot||Speeds revert to 3G after exceeding data cap for remainder of billing period||Speeds revert to 3G after exceeding data cap for remainder of billing period||Throttled to 128kbps out of bucket|
|Video Policy||Native format video||Native format video||Video streamed at 480P (default)|
|Zero Rating||FreeBee Data 360||Binge-on app offers zero rated video delivered at 480P||Sponsored Data (e.g. DirectTV)|
Why are mobile operators focusing on unlimited rather than tiered plans? There are many reasons for the shift, including competitive forces, lack of regulatory constraints, and evolving user needs. Generally speaking, customers are willing to pay a premium for cost certainty.
One of the key enablers to profitable unlimited services is network traffic management using policy control. Unlimited mobile data plans demand precise management of service delivery because of the finite amount of capacity available. This same dynamic is beginning to exist on fixed networks as more video is consumed at higher quality, leading to peak-period congestion that demands either new investment or active management. Tactics that fixed network operators can consider include:
- Tiered network traffic management providing high value subscribers with a higher grade of service during peak-usage periods. This tactic can work well to create additional value for subscribers in usage-based tiers. One consideration for providers utilizing this tactic will be the net neutrality regulations in the serving market as traffic management by tier may be prohibited.
- Top talker management focusing on the heaviest users. This tactic can deliver the largest single benefit to network efficiency while impacting the fewest subscribers. One consideration will be the impact on latency sensitive applications like online gaming and IP telephony. This will require attention in the design of business services to exclude them from traffic management during SLA periods.
- Zero rating for affiliated content including videos. This tactic can be particularly successful for service providers with managed video offerings that are delivered over WiFi in the home. If the subscriber has purchased TV service, that subscriber should be able to choose the screen they wish to view content on without fear of exceeding data caps. Net neutrality regulations should be reviewed for rules governing differential billing.
- Video delivered at standard definition (DVD) quality. Mobile operators can apply traffic management and transcoding to streaming video because the difference in viewing quality on a phone screen is relatively minor. This tactic does not work as well for fixed broadband subscribers because the content is likely being viewed on a large TV screen and manifests to that user as a poor service experience.
It’s better to think of unlimited as “controlled and managed” rather than “unrestricted”. Next generation unlimited services on mobile networks are showing the need to bring traffic management and charging together in subscriber services to realize profitable and popular broadband service offerings.
Incognito Active Broadband enables fair unlimited broadband services with a service management system that enables usage metering, tiered services, and policy control without the need for network appliances or in-line servers.