Mobile Data Plans Render Broadband Useless

For the last few years, mobile carriers around the world have been rolling out 4G networks of some sort, from WiMAX to HSDPA to LTE and now LTE-A, all in the name of a better mobile experience. For example, according to rumors for the iPhone 5S, LTE-A on that device will allow for download speeds of 150Mbps. That’s incredibly fast, much faster than the average land-based broadband connection. And it’s completely useless.

Aside from the fact that it’s hard to take advantage of 150Mbps on a smartphone or tablet, because the content we consume just doesn’t need that big of a pipe at this point, a bigger problem is that today’s mobile broadband plans make high-speed mobile data transfer rates meaningless, or rather incredibly expensive. In the US, 2GB per month data plans are pretty standard. A couple of the carriers (Sprint and T-Mobile) claim to offer unlimited data, but they’ll throttle down your speed if they think you’ve used your fair share, and it’s rare you can get anything approaching 4G speeds anyway.

At 150Mbps per second, you’ll blow through a 2GB data plan in less than two minutes. Then what? Sure, you can purchase more data at $10 per GB, but that gets expensive. Let’s make the math easy and say you could use 1GB per minute on maxed-out LTE-A at 150Mbps. That’ll cost you $600 per hour. Most people can hardly afford their standard smartphone plans, much less $600 per hour for data usage.

So it’s great marketing, all this high-speed stuff, but as it stands now, with mobile plans being as limited as they are, and content not needing it, the big high-speed mobile push is a bit (pun intended) ahead of its time. Certainly at some point things will change, either through data limit increases or cheaper prices, but until then we could really do just fine with old-school 3G.