Posted by Barb Dybwad
One of the hallmark features of Apple’s new iPad is its support for faster 4G mobile networks from carriers Verizon and AT&T, and from experience you will certainly benefit from truly impressive data speeds as a result. Unfortunately, all that blazing speed is going to come at a blazingly high price to match.
As the graphic below shows, you’ll be paying the same price for either 2GB or 5GB worth of monthly data on either carrier at $30 and $50 monthly, respectively; AT&T also offers a smaller 250MB plan for $14.99, and Verizon offers a higher 10GB plan for $80 per month [update: both carriers have made modifications to their plans since this article was first written; AT&T's middle tier is now 3G for $30, and Verizon also offers a smaller 1GB plan for $20]. The trouble is, none of those data caps are actually very high when you start factoring things in like streaming video, audio, beaming high-resolution photographs (one of the features in the new iPhoto for iPad application), or syncing all of your various media files using Apple’s own iCloud storage service. Even some apps, particularly games, can clock in at hundreds of megabytes.
Combine the realities of multimedia file size and a blazing fast connection that allows transfer of said files at unprecedented speeds, and you have a recipe for potentially expensive disaster. One careless download of a 1080p high-definition movie from the iTunes Store over 4G could eat up your entire monthly plan and then some. In fact, if you could achieve download speeds at the theoretical maximum 72Mbps of LTE, you could blow through a 5GB plan in just under 10 minutes, and Verizon’s largest 10GB tier in about 20. Real-world speeds of course are actually going to be somewhat lower, but we’re still talking about the potential to obliterate your entire expensive monthly data plan in much less than a single day. And once you hit that cap, you’ll be paying at least an additional $10 per GB overage charge — or as much as $20 per GB if you’re on Verizon’s lowest plan, or a whopping $14.99 per extra 250MB if you’re on AT&T’s lowest (one silver lining is that at least Verizon will allow you to use the mobile hotspot feature for no additional charge, allowing other devices to connect to your data service; AT&T won’t be offering this at launch).
Data pricing remains the Achilles’ heel of 4G. Carriers and manufacturers alike are avidly attempting to seduce consumers with the allure of always-on connectivity offering speeds comparable to, if not faster than, our cable internet service at home — but both sticker and bandwidth shock are going to increasingly confront the average consumer as devices like the new iPad spur greater interest in and adoption of 4G service. To live up to the true promise of 4G, carriers will need to stop pricing mobile data for gentle sipping and find a way to offer reasonable plans that reflect real-world usage of 4G devices.