Mobile Data Crunch (and Costs)
Data Bundle Overload: End to Free Mobile Data
It looks like mobile data users at the Southern tip of Africa are not the only ones looking at paying high prices for data bundles (or buckets as they are known in some locales). The USA is joining the trend of charging for mobile data. Down South we have never known the privilege of free mobile data, having some of the highest data cost per GB in the world – at least when compared to first world civilisation.
The Data Crunch
The end of free mobile data is no real surprise. The RF frequencies used to carry this traffic are limited in capacity, new compression technology can only go so far to reduce the load on these channels. Urguably more frequencies could be made available, however these would have to be in higher frequency bands than are currently used. Increasing RF frequency brings it’s own problems – higher frequencies (into the mid and high Ghz region) suffer more loss from inclement weather signal absorption from structures, components cost more, and we have to consider the human health related dangers of microwave radiation.
We could consider using the higher RF ranges for fixed wireless applications, with mandatory externally mounted antennas to kep high frequency RF away from people and other living creatures, however this is not the answer for mobile use… we cannot carry around a microwave antenna mounted on a pole at least 3 metres above our heads to keep RF density low enough for safety.
Service providers must bow to the inevitable – the demand for data bandwidth is not going to decrease in the near future – and like the price of fuel, demand is outstripping supply – hence prices must rise…
Chris Ziegler writes on theverge.com “Unlimited data is dead, so let’s fight a smarter fight“
“Carriers don’t own spectrum, they license it from the federal government. The spectrum itself is a national resource that can’t be replenished. As such, each spectrum band is licensed with particular needs and applications in mind, and there are rules that the FCC puts in place around that. Those rules vary from band to band and from auction to auction, of course — take the infamous 700MHz Block C auction that Verizon won in 2008, for instance, which has an “open access” clause requiring that any device be able to connect — but there are always rules.”
Still Cheap when Compared
If AT&T’s rate of $50 for 5GB is representative of the rates being charged to US consumers are cheap when compared to our local pricing, if we take into account relative income levels, cost of living and other essential goods. In straight R/$ forex conversion, $50 equals about R400.00. 5GB of mobile data down South costs in the region of R550 to R750 – about 50% more. But we must consider avarage income levels, and other cost of living factors. An average income in South Africa today is around R6500 or $820.00.
I have heard (I don’t know but I’ve been told…) an average USA urban income is around $3000.00? (I’ll be sure to ask my step-daughter when she returns from California later in the year). In local terms, this is around R22 000/month – a respectable upper-mid level income. If this figure is only closely correct, it means a 5GB data bundle locally costs the equivalent of $380.00 in the US – and effectively costs R4500 in a local income scenario – of course this is a purely subjective comparison.
Data and Internet no Longer a Luxury
At least in this nation, Internet access is no longer a luxury. Our scholars are expected to source a large part of the information required for normal school work online… If education is considered a basic human right, then Internet access must be considered a basic need. We often don’t have the option of using fixed line access – also expensive, and only available to around 10% of a wide spread population – who can only access the net using a mobile device, mostly on Internet enabled cellphones.
At the other end of the scale, many mid and upper income earners have switched to HSPA / 3G services simply because the fixed line network is unreliable, and extremely bandwidth limited. Reasonable fixed line bandwidth is only available in a few micro-urban areas, mostly the best available is 512kbs to (maybe) 2Gbps…