Thu, May 28th 2009 10:22pm
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said this week that US mobile networks can't keep up with all the data traffic being spawned by smartphone users. This is something Stephenson's got a lot of first-hand knowledge about. Earlier this month, AT&T blocked the SlingPlayer app for the iPhone, saying it didn't have the capacity to support it, while the company annoyed lots of geeks with blogs when its network in Austin couldn't keep up with the influx of iPhone users during the SXSW conference in March. Stephenson says the company is taking steps to address the problem by upgrading its 3G network to HSPA+ technology that will double its throughput. The logic here isn't completely clear, though: the new technology will require new device hardware, and furthermore, the real issue is capacity not speed. And capacity doesn't just apply to the mobile network -- each individual cell site's backhaul connection needs to be beefed up, too. But the real solution AT&T and other operators employ to fix this issue may not be a technological one. Stephenson hints that flat-rate data plans could be on their way out, with variable-use pricing on its way back in. By bringing back per-unit pricing, operators will hope to increase their revenues from data-hungry users, but all they'll really do is end up stifling mobile data use -- just like they did before they went to flat-rate plans.
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