Mobile operators handed content billing blueprint
YouTube at 50 cents a month, Skype for €3
An allegedly leaked presentation from Allot Communications suggests that mobile customers might end up paying €3 a month for Skype, and 2 cents per MB for Facebook.
The leaked presentation isn't an operator plan, despite how DailyTech describes it - it's just what infrastructure providers Allot and Openet think would be appropriate. But as both companies supply billing and management systems to significant operators, it's worth taking a moment to see how they envision the future.
The unlimited, or fair-use-capped, data tariff fades in favour of tariffs based on the services and when they are used, with payment for data being bundled in the price of devices and applications as well as tariffs. So using Facebook costs 2 cents a MB, while the operator's own content is free and evening and weekend data is charged at a lower rate.
The presentation (pdf) goes on to suggest that devices might be sold with unlimited data, but limited functionality, and that applications could come with a quantity of data bundled with them.
None of this is new - Orange already provides discounted data in the evenings for users of Samsung's Galaxy Tab, while Amazon bundles unlimited data (for downloading books) with its Kindle e-book reader. Three already provides application-specific bandwidth in the form of free access to Facebook (over 0.facebook.com), and few operators count browsing of their own pages towards the fair-use cap already imposed.
In fact the only thing missing is the ability to pay for bandwidth when buying an application, which is logistically difficult given the number of players involved, but will surely come.
The other thing that is missing today, critically, is much in the way of transparency and fairness. The majority of mobile data users just want occasional Facebook access and are currently subsidising those few who do hit their data caps on a monthly basis, not to mention that all data users are still being subsidised by those who pay for voice calls by the minute - who contribute more than 70 per cent of operator revenue, despite accounting for less than five per cent of the traffic on a network such as Three's.
That situation is obviously unsustainable: we're going to have to pay more for our data, the only question is how we go about doing so. ®
That's the most ridiculous article on this leak I've seen on any tech site. Trying to paint the idea that the Internet should be turned into a glorified cable network where you pay for artificially-differentiated access to an arbitrarily-defined limited range of 'services' as a mere technical question over how we're going to be pleased to pay more for our data is...well, jaw-dropping, really.
Aside from that, if data usage is such a huge problem for the networks, why is 3 perfectly happy to sell me 500MB of data for a fiver? (Let alone 15GB a month for 16 quid, for monthly mobile broadband). That's not some kind of complicated bundle they're trying to sell me to get me to spend more money on phone calls. No. It's a straight-up offer for PAYG customers. Five quid, 500MB of data. Why would they do that if they don't make money on it? What possible motivation could they have? And if they can, right now, sell me 500MB of data usage for a fiver, why should anyone have to pay more than that in future? Capacity should increase (greatly) with time, not decrease.
BTW, my favourite thing about this truly idiotic proposal that I don't think anyone's noticed yet is the simple hubris in the diagram. Allot sees fit to represent their 'Policy Enforcement & Charging' service as bigger than the entire Internet. Yup, Policy Enforcement & Charging is where it's at! That whole Internet thing is just a sad little cloud, tacked on behind the exciting Policy Enforcement & Charging as an afterthought...
What a ridiculous idea
Operators naturally dread becoming just a commodity pipe through which anonymous data can flow - but that is in fact their natural position. For a mobile operator or ISP to charge different amounts for network traffic dependent on what its origin or destination is equally absurd as it would be for your water supplier to charge different amounts per litre depending on whether you use the water for cooking, washing or watering the garden. It just doesn't make sense, except in the wild fantasies of operators and the network equipment vendors who would love to sell them the hardware to make this rape and pillage of customers possible.
Just like the good ol' dial-up days
Remember the days of 56K dial-up? Before all that 0800 number nonsense? People used to merely go on the net to check emails for an hour or two a week. Having to worry about every time you open up Google Maps or your browser, or every thing your newly-purchased iPhone Fart App is sending or receiving may well herald a return to those good old days.
Regardless of how fair and cheap per-MB billing is, I will avoid contracts that include it and I am unlikely to recommend such contracts to less tech-literate friends and family who are quite likely to not understand the importance of watching what you download ("I spent all day on YouTube on my trip to Edinburgh, why am I being sent a bill for £100?"). And if there are no contracts that don't, I'll probably be buying a cheaper contract anyway (or PAYG) as I hardly use any minutes or texts. This could lead to a net loss of revenue for the operators.