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Posted at 06:02 PM ET, 08/05/2011

Data caps, mobile surfing and expectations


Expectations for mobile surfing are on the rise. So are the limits of data plans. (JO YONG-HAK/REUTERS)
Data caps, data throttling and mobile surfing in general have been in the news lately as companies and consumers try to get a handle on the shift to mobile computing.

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have all put an end to their all-you-can-eat data plans either by instituting tiered data caps or simply slowing down mobile Web speeds past a certain point.

Earlier this week, information access advocacy group Public Knowledge put out a consumer warning on 4G data plans. The group said that while 4G is a great technology, low data caps are keeping consumers from effectively using the fast Internet, streaming video and other advertised perks of 4G networks.

For example, the group said, watching mobile Netflix under a capped plan is probably not worth the money for most people.

“Under a 2 GB cap, users would be able to watch about three hours of content per month, assuming they did not also want to use their data connection for other activities,” the report said.

The psychological effect of a data cap — regardless of whether or not you’re close to hitting it — can keep people from using their smartphones. Even with tools such as data calculators and carrier alerts, users are still going to be annoyed with having to account for every byte of data.

On the other hand, Verizon has said that 95 percent of its customers don’t use 2GB of data per month, and those who argue in favor of data caps say that limiting the biggest data consumers helps everyone on the network.

And a study commissioned by Compuware showed that customers prize speed above all else when it comes to mobile browsing. Of those surveyed, 71 percent of global mobile Web users expect Web sites to load as quickly, almost as quickly or faster on their phone as on their home computer.

Data throttling is kind of a middle ground, putting the brakes on data flow but without charging overage fees. It will still irk and annoy customers and make it very tough to watch movies or stream music, but comes without overage fees. It’s better for people who stream a lot of media, but worse for power users who need speed all through the month.

What do you use you phone for?

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By  |  06:02 PM ET, 08/05/2011

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