Streaming Video Devouring iPad Data Plans
March 24, 2012

Streaming Video Devouring iPad Data Plans

Some owners of the new iPad are reportedly having their dreams of watching endless amounts of streaming video and engaging in copious amounts of worry free 4G LTE web surfing shattered as they find themselves throttled, exceeding monthly usage caps faster than expected, and faced with the possibility of dealing with prohibitively high costs for additional wireless data transfer allotments.

LTE, or Long Term Evolution high-speed data transfer, a new feature in the latest model of the Apple-developed tablet computer, offers "the promise of superfast wireless connections," Anton Troianovski of The Wall Street Journal wrote on Thursday.

However, after just days worth of heavy usage, some users are discovering "the reality of what those services cost," he added. Likewise, Computerworld's Matt Hamblen said that the iPad's LTE option has "shocked some customers who found they can eat up an entire month's worth of data watching just a couple hours of streaming video."

Case in point: 31-year-old Web developer and apparent basketball enthusiast Brandon Wells, who according to Troianovski purchased the new iPad last Friday, began streaming college basketball games on the device the following day, and discovered that less than 24-hours later, he had used all the monthly data transfer allotment on his $30 Verizon Wireless 4G network account.

In order to continue using the high-speed network this month, Wells would have needed to (and did) pay $10 for an extra gigabyte. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he called it "kind of a Catch-22“¦ by streaming really fast video you tend to watch more video, and that's not always best."

Hamblen calls the iPad's combination of a nearly 10-inch, high-resolution "Retina" display screen "a great way to view everything from movies to online games to televised sports," and that when combined with the high-speed streaming capability of 4G LTE networks, it creates "a whole new level of temptation."

Both AT&T and Verizon network plans are available for the new iPad, with the former offering plans ranging from $14.99 for 250MB per month to $50 for 5GB per month and the latter offering plans ranging from $20 for 1GB to $80 for 10GB. Each carrier also allows users to purchase additional usage for all of their coverage plans, with fees for such extra service ranging from plan to plan.

However, Computerworld reports using a $30/3GB AT&T plan or similar 2GB plan, "a single HD movie download would cost $50 over Verizon (the $30 plan for 2GB, with two $10-per-GB overage charges) or $40 on AT&T." As such, on their website, Verizon suggests that iPad owners "may want to use Wi-Fi when streaming video," Hamblen reported.

"With users skittish about paying more, wireless carriers are likely to experiment with new pricing schemes as they try to squeeze more profits out of their new networks," Troianovsk said. "AT&T, for example, is studying a plan to give app developers and content providers the option to pay for the mobile data their products use, thereby keeping those apps and videos from counting against a user's allotment of data, kind of like an 800-number for apps."

In related news, CNET correspondent Marguerite Reardon discussed Verizon's throttling policy, telling readers that the way the company limits speeds among the highest data users is similar but "different" than the way AT&T implements their policy.

Both networks throttle the top 5% of their customers -- which, judging from the Computerworld and Wall Street Journal reports, is likely to include users of the new iPad. However, she said that Verizon "the company uses network intelligence to only slow down those heavy data users when the network is actually congested," while their rivals "will slow down a user once it hits the 3GB threshold and will keep that service slow until the end of the billing period, even when the network is not congested."