The Pros and Cons of Smartphone Data Caps

Verizon Wireless has confirmed that it will soon put an end to unlimited smartphone data, but it's not all bad news.

While smartphone data caps can seem like a greedy attempt to keep customers in line, tiered data plans bring some benefits to the consumer as well. I took the plunge on AT&T's tiered data plans a month ago, finally surrendering my rights to unlimited data for life. Here's what to like and dislike about the whole idea of data caps:

Pro: Cheaper, probably

AT&T charges $25 per month for 2 GB, which is $5 cheaper than the unlimited plan AT&T used to offer. That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up to $120 over a two-year contract. I assume Verizon will offer similar pricing, but either way, the carrier will let families buy a big bucket of data. If it works out the same way as family voice plans, it could translate to big savings.

Con: Self-regulation isn't easy

If you've got a limited voice plan, minimizing usage is pretty simple. Just keep conversations short or try to catch up with loved ones on nights and weekends. Regulating data use is a lot more complicated, because most users have no idea how much data they're using by streaming a video or getting turn-by-turn directions. Some applications may even consume data in the background, slowly eating away at your monthly allotment. With high overage fees -- AT&T charges $10 per gigabyte -- power users could be in for big headaches.

Pro: You probably won't notice ...

When AT&T pulled the plug on unlimited data, it pointed out that only 2 percent of customers exceed 2 GB per month. I use my smartphone a lot for streaming music and tethering to a laptop, and I'm still nowhere near my monthly allotment. Wireless carriers claim that they need to cut off data hogs, but even as a power user, I'm not one of them.

Con: ... but some day, you might

Demand for data is only going to grow, especially as wireless carriers move to faster 4G networks. A high-definition Netflix movie is enough to blow through 5 GB of data. Consumers will eventually demand that kind of usage on their smartphones and tablets, but nowhere do AT&T or Verizon promise that they'll raise data caps as they build out their networks. That worries me.

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