The Consumer Impact Of An End To "Unlimited" Mobile Internet

Last week, O2 in the UK and AT&T in the US announced an end to "unlimited" mobile data on their smartphone tariffs.

Many have argued -- some discussed with me on twitter last week -- that the impact on consumers will be minimal as very few consumers currently use a greater amount of data than the new data limits. This is only a part of the story. There will be unintended impacts as the new limits will alter mainstream consumer behaviour:

  • The perception of "unlimited" is as important as the reality. Like the word "free", "unlimited" is a powerful word in helping consumers feel sufficiently comfortable to experiment with the mobile Internet. Any sense that a consumer will incur extra costs, or a glacial throttled speed, as a result of using too much data will cause consumers to alter their behaviour. And, as mobile Internet adoption is still relatively small, this could cause a slowdown in usage that will harm the mobile industry. Handset makers will see slower demand for advanced smartphones while operators will see lower revenues, alongside the lower data costs that they so desire.
  • Consumers' expectations have been set by their home broadband experience. Before the arrival of unlimited mobile Internet tariffs three to four years ago, adoption of mobile Internet was tiny. The vast majority of new mobile Internet users never used the older tightly limited mobile data tariffs -- the time when 10Mb was a generous bundle -- but the new consumers that have started using mobile Internet in the post "unlimited" data era have been conditioned by home broadband. In the home, most packages are either unlimited and marketed as such, or so generous with their data limits so as to be effectively unlimited.

 

In a similar vein, I'm unconvinced that the widely publicised AT&T and O2 moves will mean an end to "unlimited" mobile Internet tariffs across the board in Europe. In diverse countries across Europe there is fierce mobile operator competition. The iPhone is non-exclusive in most countries. Other advanced handsets typically enjoy brief periods of exclusivity before being offered on all operators.

This competitive dynamic enables consumers to pick and choose the best offer from the variety available, and so encourages mobile operators to differentiate. O2 showed its hand early with its new iPhone and smartphone tariffs last week, I expect we will see a variety of options from the six operators in the UK that sell the 3GS today or have announced they will sell the iPhone4. In markets with fewer mobile operators -- such as France -- and a lesser competitive dynamic, the range of offers will likely be more uniform.

iAd -- Is $60M A Big Deal?

Most of the news this morning at WWDC was around iPhone 4 and iOS 4. Will leave the new device and platform play to my colleague Charles Golvin. I can't wait to get one of the new phones . . . very slick as it looks like a mini iPad in a modified format.

iAd . . . $60M committed for the second half of 2010. Initial advertisers include: AT&T, Best Buy, Campbell Soup Company, Chanel, Citi, DirecTV, GEICO, GE, JCPenney, Liberty Mutual Group, Nissan, Sears, State Farm, Target, Turner Broadcasting System, Unilever, and The Walt Disney Studios.

Pretty impressive. How do they get to $60M? Rumor is that the minimum buy-in is $1M, but it goes up from there. They claim to have 50% of mobile ad market share according to a J.P. Morgan study. I think it is a bold claim unless this is purely the media spend and doesn't include creative. Our number is comparable -- but without creative. Advertisers can count on the buzz surrounding iAd's launch on July 1. That alone may justify the initial buy. These initial advertisers are a smart bunch. A few million dollars isn't much to any one of them, but these are sizeable buys for mobile.

I think there are a lot of interesting questions to be answered. Many will be "wait and see," but here's my wishlist:

- What do I get for $1M+ in mobile advertising? Am I buying creative, development, ads, and analytics?

- How much targeting do I get?

- Is it performance-based? Or CPMs?

- What will work well on the i OS4 devices? Branding? Or, will the ads leverage context -- the context of how, where, and when I use these devices? Will the ads drive me to online purchases or into a nearby store to make a purchase?

- How much control do I get over where my ads are placed?

Read more