mobile data costs limit usefulness of new services
Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business
July 10-16, 2007; issue 924
High Tech Office column
the U.S. media were going ga-ga in the weeks leading up to Apple’s
iPhone release, I was evaluating an iPhone competitor, RIM’s Blackberry
Curve with many of the same features Apple promises. I decided to
figure out what it might cost me to use one.
best feature is the always accessible e-mail. That requires a data plan
from your mobile provider. Rogers (currently the only Canadian provider
of the Curve) offers various plans: users can get a low-end data plan
for $15 per month offering 1.5 megabytes of data. At the other end of
the scale, $100 per month promises 200 megabytes of data each.
But what does a megabyte of data represent?
photo taken with the Curve’s built-in camera weighs in at about half a
megabyte. E-mail just three of those photos and you’ve hit the monthly
limit of the lowest-end data service. Rogers will happily sell you more
bandwidth. Again, the rates vary from plan to plan and range from $21
per additional megabyte to $5 for each added megabyte. All these
charges are on top of voice charges.
Meanwhile in the U.S.,
Apple announced pricing for the iPhone with AT&T’s wireless
network: US$60 a month includes 450 minutes of talk time and unlimited
web browsing. Does any wireless provider in Canada provide “unlimited”
web access, at any price?
Prior to its purchase by Rogers, Fido offered unlimited Internet access
of its HipTop smartphone. No more.
an iPhone isn’t cheap. Unofficial estimates point out that costs start
at US$500 to US$600 for the iPhone and continue with a US$36 activation
fee and then monthly charges ranging from US$60 to US$220, for a
two-year total ranging from about US$1,975 to US$5,915. But at least
there are no extra charges for web access.)
In April, technology consultant Thomas Purves published a graph online
comparing the best monthly cost of transferring 500 megabytes of data
using service providers in various countries. There was a huge
variation. At the low end was US$41 using Vodafone’s service in New
Zealand. T-mobile (US$58) and Sprint (US$69) were near the low end for
their U.S. services, followed by a service in Rwanda (US$74).
the other end were Canada’s various mobile providers ranging from
Telus’ $375 to Bell’s $850 to $1,600 with Rogers or Fido. The
international providers listed have relatively low rates because,
unlike the Canadian providers, they offer either unlimited data
transfer or a relatively high monthly limit to subscribers.
notes that 500 megabytes of data represents about 100 active online
minutes at the maximum download speeds of 700 kb/second advertised by
Bell and Telus are offering subscribers
reasonably quick EVDO (EVolution Data Optimized) access – at least in
metropolitan areas. Purves notes that Bell offers this high-speed
service as part of several plans. At the top end, there’s “Ultimate”
access: $100 a month gets 250 megabytes of data, with additional data
available at $3 per megabyte. At EVDO’s advertised speed, it would take
48 minutes to use that 250 megabytes. After that, additional data-rich
access such as downloading large files or watching streaming video
would cost you $15 per minute.
(That’s the best rate. If you’ve
signed up for a “Light” plan, you would be billed over $29,000 per hour
to watch that video clip … streaming data constantly over the whole
month on that plan would theoretically result in a $2.75 million phone
Canada’s mobile providers are promising users they can
surf the web, watch video online and more. Given the high data access
rates, it might be a while before many of us can afford to use mobile
services for much besides voice. •