AT&T dropping unlimited data plans. Who will follow?

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Keep a close on your network’s data plans over the next year, as the long expected reduction in “all you can eat” data plans has started. US network AT&T is dropping support for the unlimited plans and moving to a 200MB or 2GB choice of data cap for users. With network congestion in popular spots, how these bottlenecks are dealt with is going to be an interesting topic in going forward to 2011.

The problem is a simple one. Networks need to either invest in more infrastructure or reduce the amount of data being used.

It would require a huge program to upgrade national networks, as opposed to adding in capacity at “hot spots” (such as, err, most of San Francisco) and that means the networks need a lot more gross income. So the only other option is to reduce the strain on each network.

Now the genie is out the bottle and people are looking for unlimited data (and in many cases are going to have it removed from their account, never a smart customer service move), returning to measured accounts seems a backward step, but it should help at a macro level. But the impact on customer perception could hurt the bottom line of the company more – and of course it’s only temporary, as the growth of smartphone and internet connected devices will increase the demand.

Between a rock and a hard place, what would you realistically do?