The Complaint Department is once again open after a brief hiatus! This week, targets are locked on mobile cloud computing. The quantity and variety of things being stored in the cloud is increasing, but carriers are continually decreasing the amount of bandwidth mobile users are able to consume. The end result will be a system in which tons of information is stored outside the normal channels — channels we may not be able to use on our mobile devices.
With the recent releases of Google Music, Amazon Cloud Storage and Apple’s iCloud, it’s clear cloud-based computing is becoming a big trend in the technology industry and will certainly become more prominent in the mobile arena. Experts suggest expandable storage devices (such as external hard drives and micro SD cards) are headed towards extinction, particularly when it comes to smartphones and tablets. Though we certainly hope the lack of expandable memory won’t soon become the norm, cloud computing pushes that notion within the realm of possibility — something that gets extremely problematic in light of carrier limitations on data usage.
But one large piece of the puzzle is missing. In the telecom industry in particular, there’s a strong and significant movement towards tiered (or flat-out capped) data plans, where users incur expensive overage charges for exceeding a certain level of monthly data usage. This is true of phone and tablet plans alike, given current offerings. With these caps being set as low as a measly 2 GB with $10/GB overage charges, the costs of cloud computing from mobile devices could quickly become astronomical.
Sprint is boasting that it’s the only carrier left to offer a truly unlimited data plan; however, recent comments by CEO Dan Hesse lead us to believe that they, too, may succumb to capping mobile data in the not-too-distant future.
It gets really problematic considering how little bandwidth is actually allowed under these caps. Yes, I understand mobile is a different ballgame, but I have a 250 GB cap at home. Some hardcore users can easily exceed even those high broadband cap levels. With mobile broadband caps falling at 2-5 GB (a paltry 1-2% of broadband caps), we can and are seeing more and more users complaining about hefty data bills or abysmal dial-up throttled speeds.
Cloud Computing Requires More Data
With greater amounts of information being stored in the cloud, users who want to stream music or access files on the go are using more data than they ever have. But with heavy carrier restrictions on data usage, users will potentially be left out in the cold once they hit those data caps.
Aaron Baker from Phonedog said it best in this tweet from Apple’s iCloud launch:
So with AT&T's 2 GB data plan, you'll be able to take advantage of iCloud for approximately seven minutesAaron BakerPhonedog
Though the seven minute figure applies if you could achieve AT&T’s current ~6Mbps max download speeds, that we’re even talking minutes and not days to reach the cap really highlights the problem with carrier data plans. The amount of data we consume is growing at an exponential rate, while the amount of data telecom companies are allowing us to consume is ever-shrinking. I just don’t see mobile cloud computing taking off unless the carriers have a significant change of heart.
Unfortunately, the likeliness of this happening appears bleaker by the day. AT&T has recently announced that they will soon start throttling data speeds for the 5% of customers who use the largest amounts of data. Verizon and T-Mobile have both recently revamped their data packages, bringing either higher costs, lower bandwidth caps or both. All in all, it’s not looking like carriers are going to be on board with more progressive and lax data limitations anytime soon.
Could Wi-Fi potentially be the answer? Several users will posit that most of us have constant access to Wi-Fi networks wherever we happen to be. Though in my opinion, that kind of defeats the purpose of “mobile.” I buy a smartphone because I want the ability to handle my basic computing needs. I don’t really want to worry about whether or not a Wi-Fi connection is readily available. I sign a contract with a carrier like T-Mobile or Verizon Wireless with the understanding that they should be able to deliver on all my mobile needs. Sadly, with hefty overage charges and data throttling, this just isn’t the case today.
There are several questions that remain unanswered and will play an instrumental role in the future of cloud computing.
- How long will carriers be allowed to set such minimal data caps on their customers?
- What actions can companies such as Google, Amazon and (dare I say it?) Apple take to ensure cloud computing takes off?
- Is unlimited data truly a relic of the past, or will it rear its head again sometime soon?
- Is the future made brighter with Wi-Fi and not cellular networks as we know them today?
Please keep in mind that these are my opinions and thoughts as I try to understand the future of cloud computing. These ideas are in no way meant to be construed as fact. Have a different opinion? Think I’m spot on? We definitely want to hear from all of you on this important issue. Sound off in the comments below, where you’ll earn double points.