AT&T Inc. is preparing a service that would let content providers and developers of mobile applications pay the wireless carrier for the mobile data its customers use, the carrier's network and technology head John Donovan said in an interview Monday.
Mr. Donovan likened the service to toll-free calling for the mobile-broadband world. The move comes as carriers are hunting for new ways to make money on the rising data traffic on their networks, while mindful of limits on what consumers are willing to spend.
If AT&T can persuade some data-heavy culprits (i.e., streaming video services) to get on board, this could be of enormous significance for the end-user. Although that's a rather steep challenge, it certainly seems possible. Unlimited use of Netflix on the go, for instance, would be quite a positive selling point for both Netflix and AT&T.
Having said that, for smaller up-start services, such consumer-benefitting costs will be impractical. Facilitating unlimited mobile use will become expected, but many will not be able to stomach the initial expense, thus harming their chances.
It is important to remember that the cost of data does not dissipate, AT&T would merely redistribute it. Rather than giving your money to AT&T for your service, it would just be charged by data-heavy services - particularly as this would increase their data costs. Furthermore, reliance upon such a system would likely give AT&T license to reduce data package size, thus harming the average smartphone user.
Although AT&T might frame this as innovation, such maneuvering is transparently self-serving. Evidently tired of having the customer blame them for high costs and decreasing data allowances, AT&T can place the blame elsewhere.
Knowing AT&T as we do, the potential for good in this model is somewhat woefully undercut by its obvious potential for bad.
Still, if this is the way the market is set to turn, it's interesting to consider how this might affect the mobile landscape in the coming years.