Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group that promotes innovation and the rights of consumers, while working to stop any bad legislation from passing that would slow technology innovation, shrink the public domain, or prevent fair use, published a white paper called 4G + Data Caps = Magic Beans. The paper discusses 4G, data caps, and their relationship to magic beans.
4G is the fourth generation of wireless communication services. A 4G phone, when used on a compatible 4G network offers more than crystal clear sound and reliable connections. Video on demand and video calls are common, along with other services that use your phone’s data communications capabilities.
Today’s phones have features that can take advantage of the fact that they can send and receive data any time. GPS is a great example – 4G phones include GPS along with mapping services, like those provided by Google Maps. In the past, you had to get updates for your GPS device because maps change over time, especially in areas where there’s a lot of expansion taking place. When using a 4G phone instead of a traditional GPS receiver, your phone gets the most up to date maps the moment you need them. In fact, your phone can also get information about current traffic conditions, road closures, and other important information. You can also get a current listing of things that are close to you, like restaurants, gas stations, hotels, shopping, and more. Not sure if a place is good? Your phone can get reviews and photos of places you’re thinking of visiting, and you can provide reviews in real time if you like, helping others too.
4G services are provided by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile yet they all impose data caps – an upper limit to the amount of data you can send and receive per month. The most popular tier of data caps is likely going to be the 2 GB plan for about $30 per month, with an extra charge of $10 per 1 GB over the limit. The white paper describes, in more practical terms, just how much 2 GB gets. At Verizon’s top speed and used continuously at the top speed, you would be able to transfer data for about 20 minutes. For AT&T, you would be able to transfer data at their top speed for about 45 minutes.
More practically speaking, since many like to watch movies and TV programs on their phones, you would be able to watch about three 45-minute TV programs per month before you hit your data cap, but the story does not end there.
The data caps are really designed for occasional users, yet this group of users is more likely to go over their limit. The white paper points out that most occasional users read their email, use their GPS with a mapping app, maybe get reviews using another app, and generally use their data services in various ways, making tracking exact data use a challenge for most users.
The white paper concludes that competition among carriers could change the marketplace and draws a a parallel between dial-up internet access during the 1990s to make the point. Dial-up internet access started out being charged per minute, and eventually became unlimited as competitors tried to get a slice of the overall market.
The magic beans? 4G is fast, yet you cannot use it as much as you like – which is much like being sold the magic beans, just as Jack got in the folktale, “Jack and the Beanstalk”.