Aug 01 AT 12:54 PM Anthony Domanico 53 Comments

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.

  1. How long will carriers be allowed to set such minimal data caps on their customers?
  2. What actions can companies such as Google, Amazon and (dare I say it?) Apple take to ensure cloud computing takes off?
  3. Is unlimited data truly a relic of the past, or will it rear its head again sometime soon?
  4. 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.

Anthony loves all things technology, from hardware to apps and games. You can connect with him via Google+ or Twitter by clicking one of the fancy doo-dads above.

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  • midijunkie

    sooo…..dont come to germany…..500mb throttle cap ist normal here. feels like living back in the medieval ages – not the future.

  • Dr.Jeckyl

    I still believe ISPs/Carriers should be relegated to dumb pipes of data. I’ll pay for truly unlimited data if I had access to it.

  • Benjamin M. Strozykowski

    For those of us living in rural areas, for the most part we’ve had to rely on Wi-Fi for data anyway. I know that the only reason I use *any* data is for notifications, then I flip on Wi-Fi if it’s available to do any kind of actual “mobile computing”.

    That being said, the direction that carriers are heading with all of these psuedo-unlimited plans is just getting ridiculous. I don’t think the word “unlimited” should be anywhere near a plan’s name if there are *any* kind of limits involved. Make it the 5Gb/month plan if you’re capping it. Plain and simple.

    I may not be able to speak for everyone, but until coverage gets to the point where data is ubiquitous for everyone, I don’t think we should be relying on the mobile ISPs for anything but voice. And even then I’m skeptical that they can provide the service they are advertising.

    My $0.02.

  • keridel

    I don’t use an American carrier so my data is a crappy 1.5gb and it casts me £1 ($1.50) per mb to exceed it.

    Daylight robbery …

  • SparkyXI

    At this point the only current solution I see is wifi. Until wireless carriers gain enough bandwidth to handle every customer streaming music, or until some sort of new compression technology is introduced, it’s just not possible. I think once that happens, ‘data plans’ will go away, and will be included in the normal monthly billing as a potential ‘fee’.

    I suppose you could throw public wifi into the mix, but we all know how awesome *that* can be… Maybe Google’s internet test (the one that’s currently in 5 cities) will be what finally liberates us all?

    • Chris

      Ive heard many countries out of the US have City wide Wifi. with that in mind there will always be a fee involved, data cap, etc :l

  • PixelSlave

    >> Several users will posit that most of us have constant access to Wi-Fi networks wherever we happen to be.

    This is an illusion. In most cases, the so called “constant access” only exists when someone sits down and starts playing with his/her device. For example, let’s say I am in a cafe with Wi-Fi. The moment I left the door of that cafe, the chance I still receive that “constant access” quickly diminishes. Granted, many of us do not need that kind of “constant access”, but imagine you are listening to Google Music, and suddenly want to play a tune that has never been cached in your phone. Now, we are back to carrier data plan. Switch from playing music to playing video, and put yourself in a bus or subway train.1 hour later when you arrive your destination, congratulation, you’ve used up your monthly allowance.

    • pekosROB


      And what about rural places and smaller cities that don’t have public wi-fi everywhere?

      The people outside the cities get boned really bad, not unlimited service and in some cases reception/coverage is bad and this leads to slow data speeds.

  • Daniel

    What is this article?

    You are complaining about having to pay on a per gb amount for data you are using. As someone who doesn’t use 10gb a month, I’m very happy I don’t have to subsidize your unlimited data.

    “How long will carriers be allowed to set such minimal data caps on their customers?”
    Does this presume that you feel the FCC/GOV should step into the pricing and plan models of different carriers? Because I’d love to know your justification for that.

    I think (insert site here) has too many ads. How long will it be before someone stops them from spamming my eyes with all this garbage?

    • Clark Wimberly

      I’m not the author but I love to argue and complain so here we go:

      I don’t think he wants the government to get involved, I’d imagine he is talking about the consumer making their voice heard, ie: don’t say unlimited unless you really mean it, don’t push data-heavy services that will make us hit the cap faster when you aren’t clear about the cap in the first place, etc.

      And the exact same sentiment can be carried for a site with too many ads. If they offend you too much, leave that site. You have a choice. There are millions of websites.

      But we’ve only got four carriers.

      • Daniel

        You have many more than 4 carriers (I’m assuming we are talking US here).

        That would be like saying you only have two cereals to choose from, Kellogs and General Mills. Certainly the post paid carriers offer services that are attractive to many people and so they don’t want to use prepaid but that doesn’t mean they aren’t options. Yes the prepaid carriers are often parts of a postpaid carrier but they are targeted at the bargin shopper so they clearly have options. As several people have already posted here, many european countries have far higher data rates than the US.

        I wholely agree that consumers should choose a carrier based on more than just ‘it’s who I have’ but I don’t think we need to treat people like cattle. They will choose what is best for them.

        I also don’t see anyone pushing data heavy services. Certainly they are offered, but people also demand those things. I’m not sure how you fault someone for offering services people want.

        Luxuries are expensive and yes, streaming netflix on your phone is a luxury.

        • Geah

          You are so thick…

    • Pete

      The thing is, you’re not using 10gb a month but you’re not saving money, either. The carriers place caps and throttling and charge extra on the top end. As far as I can tell they haven’t actually *lessened* the costs at the low end. And at least in Verizon’s case they seem to have raised the price on the middle sweet spot, where I assume most everyone is going to lie.

      It’s also funny you bring up ads – how do you feel about mobile sites that are slow and load ads – those are going to be using up your now-precious bandwidth, too.

    • Bob

      I actually feel the federal government should get involved at some point.

      The government has for years regulated or has overseen landline services and consider it a Public Utility, similar to electric, sewer, water, etc. Landlines are a dying entity and cell phones are replacing them. They are now more popular, more important, and more versatile than our landlines ever were.

      Five or so years ago, text messages were .10 each without a plan. AT&T Wireless had it .10 to send and free to receive. Verizon .10 to receive and .02 to receive. That all began change and now sending or receiving is .25 per message. How does something as simple, easy, and actually helps relieve strain on a network become more expensive? Answer: They saw a way to make more money and every single carrier silently agreed to raise the prices. Once one did it, the rest did too.

      Now, I do not believe the government should get involved in every aspect, but, a consumer advocate should have the power to review new policies and if something becomes obvious such as all the carriers raising the price of the same service, should be able to put a stop or fine them.

      As mentioned in the article, MOBILE means moving. I frequently stream Pandora radio while in the car. No way could I connect to WiFi and do it. I make every effort to use WiFi when it’s available, however, it is not at work and if I want to listen to Pandora or Google Music I know I will use up a lot of data, but, I still have unlimited and I doubt I will become part of the top 5%.

      T-Mobile has (had) the best policy in my opinion with the 10 GB and then throttled to slower speeds when that is reached. 10GB is a very large amount for even the ardent user and it prevents abuse. The most I ever used, even when trying to use as much as possible was about 5 GB.

      • RainCaster

        Get the government involved? I’ve been watching the government this week- getting “involved” in the debt crisis. What a dysfunctional bunch of twits. You don’t really think our government is going to do something effective for the consumer do you?

        • Anthony Domanico

          man… I was actually hoping someone would rail against the government in my post.

          You’re awesome, and I’ll keep coming back to upvote you.

  • Taylor Wimberly

    So what is a fair overage charge? It looks like most carriers have started with $10/GB. Pretty soon there will be a price war and then we might be paying $1/GB or whatever it comes down to. I actually don’t mind paying for the data I use.

    I’m also in favor of their on-demand speed based pricing, where I could pay extra on a certain day that I know I need the extra speed.

    • Justin Shapcott

      I’d love to be able to pay on smaller increments as long as the price was reasonable. Most months I use less than 10% of my available data, I’d like to also pay only 10%.

      • Jess Blanchard

        Seriously. If I’m going to be charged an overage, can I get a refund on what I don’t use? What about roll-over data?

    • Anthony Domanico

      I don’t think there shouldn’t be overage charges. I’m saying the limits for hitting overage charges should be waaaaaaaay higher. Some of the work files I sometimes access on my phone are a few hundred MBs. Imagine just accessing 10 of those and being capped. I can do that in a day.


    • Derek

      Personally, I want unlimited if I pay for unlimited. With current data wholesale prices I would think that they could make good money at $30 for 5-10GB and then $1/GB overage fee. But you know the carriers are too greedy for that. ATT is making record profits at their current rates, yet you know that its only a matter of months before they jack the crap out of their rates like Verizon is doing. Really? Like $80/month for 10GB?? Thats just purely assanine!

    • AME

      I agree that over time competition will drive prices down, but with T-Mo getting absorbed by AT&T, it might happen at a slower pace since T-Mo and Sprint are the two known for being a little more generous with their data plans.


    Great article and I agree with just about everything you have said.. its coming to the point where I am actually rethinking the whole smartphone need. I mean carrying a dummy phone that would allow me to call and text then having a tablet seems to make more and more sense to me now.if I have to rely mostly on wifi it might as well be my wifi tablet that does it. When Iam visiting friends, family, restaurant, etc the first thing I end up doing is pulling up my wifi settings to see if one is available.. a few years ago I did not care. What is the point of all this advancement in connection speeds? It seems its just a faster way to get to you limit these days. In fact it has become a habit of mines that if I am at the gym, movies, etc where I know I am not going to look at my phone I just turn the mobile network off to conserve whatever MB I can for another day. Cap restrictions, rising insurance rates on your device,higher taxes, less customer service,etc is leaving a nasty taste. Now the best price I can find with a provider (tmobile) is threatened to be snatched from underneath me by the big blue giant? What’s my next option? Metro PC’s? Virgin mobile?netflix app, can I really watch a movie? MLB at bat, can i really watch a game? If i am not connected to wifi? I might as well use a wifi tablet and have a dummy phone for calls and texts

  • Leo

    I think that Google can expand into this territories. They understand that giving access to the consumer drives its business growth. They could make a subsidiary, either a WiFi or wireless carrier, that provide solely on data. Google can make it price competitive comparing to other wireless carrier. Because not only they will have a new source of revenue from the data plan, but will also be making more money on Google searches and ads. They can subsidize the start-up cost. As Google is in all for openness and freedom, they can make better decision to ensure consumer can enjoy internet access with more freedom.

    The result would be incredible, because no consumer will ever need to buy their data plan through their carrier again. The bargaining power is back to the consumer. Unless, the carrier either provide quality and value data plan to its subscribers.

  • Matt Cleary

    I will miss truly unlimited data, but if it’s the option between having my data speeds throttled and having to face monthly overage charges for going over I would choose to be throttled.

    With the way that data packages are going, it makes me angry that carriers want us to pay on usage basis, but also want to control our options for consuming that data. What I mean is, if I have a smartphone data plan that allows me 2GB/month of data, why should I have to pay extra if I want to use my smartphone as a mobile hotspot. If I own a tablet and a smartphone, why should I have to pay for two separate data plans. It makes sense to me that carriers wanted to limit use in these ways when we were all blessed with unlimited data, but if I’m effectively paying per GB I should be able to consume however (or on whatever device) I want.

    And I think that this should also extend to family plans.

    Either we pay per device/phone, or on a consumption/usage basis. We shouldn’t be paying for both.

    Just my opinion…

    • codesplice

      “Either we pay per device/phone, or on a consumption/usage basis. We shouldn’t be paying for both.”

      Amen. And, as mentioned by Jess up there ^^^, we really should be seeing refunds/discounts/rollover balances for the data that we pay for and don’t use. It seems only fair, after all.

  • AME

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a plan where you sign up for speed and then you pay according to how much you use– like filling up the tank of your car with gas. I would be super pissed if I was forced to pay $50 every time I went to the pump even though sometimes I only got $30 of gas, but had to pay $10/gal if I used over $50. That would be seriously weak and that’s exactly what we get at our mobile carriers.

    I think it’s only a matter of time before Google, Amazon, Apple, etc step in and say something– even if it’s behind closed doors. It costs a lot for them to run their cloud services and if they are missing out on a big chunk of people using it, they will eventually start working on gaining access to that market.

    • Justin Shapcott

      That’s actually a pretty great analogy. I like it.

    • John Oxley

      There is a flaw in your analogy.

      A fuel station buys 1000 litres of petrol. In August they sell 700 litres. In September they can sell the remaining 300. Their losses are the operating costs of the fuel station for the extra month. They still have the 300 litres of petrol which doesn’t go anywhere.

      If an ISP buys 1 Gb/s from it’s upstream providers and works out that it needs to charge $3/Gb and sell X number of gigs in a month to break even, it has to sell that many gigs. If it doesn’t, that revenue is lost and can never be recovered.

      A much better analogy for ISPs and MNOs is that of the hospitality industry. If a hotel has a room vacant for one night, that is revenue gone, never to be recovered.


    good points Code. I agree

  • Kevin

    Nobody likes data-bills so it’s expected from carriers to do a lame move removing unlimited-plans and switching to costy (but little) data plans i.e. 2GB. Google should make their own carrier =)

  • WickedToby741

    Why not charge us for speeds like home internet? Mobile internet is increasingly gaining on the speeds of home internet, so why not bill it the same. Why not offer a range of different speeds for users to choose from but unlimited data and free tethering? Is that really too much to ask for? Having technologies like LTE and cloud storage or streaming apps just doesn’t make sense for limited data because you’ll blow through your cap before you even know what happened. Its like buying a Ferrari but only being able to put a gallon of gas in it every month.

    • Kevin

      they like to cap it because they KNOW you’re going to blow your limit easily.

      • Anthony Domanico

        Exactly. Cell phone carriers hate selling phones sans contract because they make more money on contracts.

        They also like capping customers data because they make more money on overage fees.

  • mmalakai10

    Well I personally thing this article has a very strong point. What about other features that smart phones are able to do. For example Netflix and not the android market being able to stream movies. All these feature certain users like to use do abuse data easily going over 2 TB in a monthly cycle. Wi-Fi will have do the trick all the time now leaving over mobile data plan left to rot and become the thing of the past sort of. Carriers need a solution as well as customers that use smart phones that use data.

  • SliestDragon

    I have been thinking about this a lot these last few months. It’s not only that we are using more data and they’re trying to cut us off, but with the higher speeds it definitely doesn’t make any sense. You don’t even have to be a big data user by choice any more. Data is so fast, that many users may not mean to use so much data, it just gets sucked away. If carriers don’t change there ways soon, they will definitely get an ear full once normal users start complaining about not enough data along with us tech geeks…

    • Anthony Domanico

      I keep reading stories like “The first 42MBPS phones are coming out soon” and all I can think about is:

      “Great, now users can reach those bandwidth limits even sooner!”

  • sylar

    Yea and where I live there isn’t any signal or a Wi-Fi network for at least twenty miles. Everyone complains to the companies but their response has always been that they seen no profitable reason to bring anything out here. Yep only several thousand people who would pay to be able to text or call fiends, no profit in that at all. Ah dial up at least the let us have our land lines.

  • aj

    Well most comments have said it but yeah i agree with your points. It would be nice if majority of the companys like you mentioned(EGADS, apple and google join forces!!! that would be like joker/apple working with batman/google to defeat and even greater threat) work together to do something because i definitely feel that their jump in to these cloud based services will be affected. Every day and every second the world is moving towards a mobile filled world where our phones and tablets are slowly replacing laptops and computers especially for common tasks. So if we also have to rely on cloud computing instead of HDD,flash drives, and sd cards while these carriers are capping and super overcharging us for overages then no one will want to use services on their phone like cloud storage, netflixs, youtube. Everything will be affected. So as i mentioned as the future of cell phones and our reliance on them continues to grow so will our needs for data.

  • aj

    Yeah and i dont think Wi-fi is a good solution. Even if wifi was at every corner of the street you have to constantly switch networks interrupting whatever it is you are doing. Imagine driving down the road or even just walking. That would defeat the purpose of the convenience and portability of the cell phone

  • Richard Yarrell

    The way things are on other carriers data wise as well as devices ONLY MAKE ME HAPPY TO BE ON SPRINT. If that day ever comes where UNLIMITED changes then people should pay for what they use. Bottomline is carriers have the right to charge for services being provided that are being used and sometimes ABUSED by customers but they must be fair and UP FRONT about those charges. People will have to decide what they will pay on a monthly basis. REGARDLESS I will pay gladly for whatever data I use….

    • Anthony Domanico

      Unfortunately, Sprint will follow suit and start a cap and tax system.

  • John Oxley

    Sorry guys, but you have zero sympathy from anyone living in Africa. Absolutely nothing. In fact we’re envious you can buy data for $10/Gb.

    My mobile provider, Econet, in Zimbabwe charges $100/Gb.

    My ISP bills me $110 per month for a 512kbps connection with a cap of 1Gb during working hours (7am to 7pm).

    • Anthony Domanico

      I understand that the picture is completely different in developing countries, and even in several developed countries (for lack of a better word). Since we’re U.S. focused, we kept the scope of this article to the U.S.

      Perhaps I can solve all the world’s mobile internet problem, but by then I’d probably have a 1,000 page book? :)

      Thanks for chiming in, though. It’s fascinating to learn what others are going through and helps us snobs in the U.S. get a little perspective :)

    • pekosROB

      Holy crap! I hope you read this during non-working hours!

      I will not get so pissy next time I pay my ISP bill!

  • alamoe

    I don’t have an issue with companies implementing tiered data plans. The issue I have is with the price points that they are using. I read an article that suggested that almost all of the people who are willing to pay $30+ for data packages are already paying. That would mean that the carriers wouldn’t get many new customers using those prices. It was suggested that tiered packages were a solution since the lowest data package, which is usually $15-$20, could be used to entice the.people who felt $30 was too high. But here’s the problem (with Verizon specifically). Verizon’s lowest data package is $30, which used to be the price of the unlimited package. So that leads me to believe this tiered package trend is just a money grab, not an attempt to get new customers. What makes them think the people who felt $30 was too much for unlimited data would pay the sake price for even less data?

    • pekosROB

      Price point? Shouldn’t just plain ole “price” do? Isn’t a price the point at which a good sells?

      Sorry to nitpick, this phrase was a recent topic of discussion at work lol :-P

      • alamoe

        Heck, it just sounded right to me LOL

  • pekosROB

    I can’t believe AT&T U-Verse and other companies have a 250 GB cap for both upload and download.

    I have SuddenLink as my ISP; the last few months they have been sending out emails about “monitoring bandwidth usage.” It’s funny because we aren’t capped… yet. This email signals to me that they are going to be heading in this direction.

    This infuriates me. Why? To save money, I cut my cable (around $40 for basic) and increased my internet speed a little to accommodate Hulu and Netflix. Since I had a DVR, Shotime and HBO, as well as HD content, I was spending over $150 a month including internet (10 mbps down).

    My bandwidth easily exceeds 300 GB a month, usually in the 350-400 GB range. I have a roommate that sits around and watches shit all the time so my bandwidth is really getting raped. It’s fucking ridiculous they are putting caps on usage at home, I’m pretty certain it’s to discourage people from using streaming services and to go back to using their cable they provide.

    Best solution? Fucking charge less for cable and don’t monitor the bandwidth usage. Maybe people would pay for cable if it wasn’t one huge advertisement that you’re PAYING to see.

    • Anthony Domanico

      Fair enough. I’m not a fan of usage caps anywhere, but mobile broadband caps are currently 1-2% of what DSL/Cable companies cap at (usually 250GB). Yes, 1-2%. That’s screwed up, in my opinion.

  • John

    There is a problem with using WIFI in place of cell.. Those providers are also capping and throttling. Here in alaska we have caps on Cable modems. Granted its around 200GB but if you want to watch shows or game you sol.. (Of course you can pay the overage charges which are insane, not to mention the speeds we get here are a joke compared to the rest of the US or the world.) You have no caps on DSL BUT you have a max connection speed of 3MBps.. (LOL, omg even north korea has faster speeds)
    Very sad but its time for the government to step in and take the internet access away from the ISPs.

    • Anthony Domanico

      Yeah, it’s hard for the average consumer to hit the 200-250GB data caps, but I think it’s much easier to hit a 2GB cap on mobile devices.

      I don’t think wi-fi is the answer either, since wi-fi is decidedly anti-mobile.

  • AnonymousUser

    The carriers have no problem setting unrealistic data limits for around the same price they used to offer their unlimited data plans for. They only want you to go over your limit, so the overages start racking up.