Apple's iPhone 5 and other smartphones, loaded with cloud-centric and data-devouring apps, could smack against carriers' newfound desire to throttle and cap data.
Can Apple's iPhone 5,
combined with iCloud and iOS 5, handle carriers' newfound love of throttling
increasingly speedy migration into the consumer cloud-following in the
footsteps of Google and Amazon.com, among others-that question is liable to
become a pressing one by the end of the year. Apple is widely expected to
release its next-generation iPhone sometime this fall, with most recent reports
suggesting either a September or October launch window.
AT&T recently announced that, starting Oct.
1, smartphone customers with unlimited data plans will experience reduced speeds
once their data consumption puts them in the top 5 percent of users. If
T-Mobile ends up absorbed into AT&T, its subscribers will necessarily find
themselves bound by the same rules. In July, Verizon Wireless confirmed that
its unlimited data plans will be replaced with a tiered pricing structure.
Sprint currently offers unlimited data plans, although Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has
suggested that that could change in the future.
This clamping down by
carriers seems at odds with various companies' newfound interest in offering
data-intensive cloud features. For the moment, many of those features will work
perfectly fine on WiFi. Apple's FaceTime video conferencing works on WiFi, for
example, and iCloud users will have the choice to download and sync content
across their mobile devices via WiFi or 3G. Even PCs are starting to play the
game, be it the Google Chromebooks and their need for an omnipresent Internet
connection, or Mac OS X "Lion" and its mobile-influenced features such as an
In any event, the
increased prevalence of cloud applications suggests that, at some point, data
ceilings and throttling will evolve into a real issue for users who want
everything the mobile Web has to offer. For months, carrier CEOs have argued, en
masse, that the mobile industry needs more spectrum; were that to come to pass,
would carriers raise their data caps and ease throttling?
That remains to be seen.
But as smartphones in the pipeline ready themselves for release over the next
year-including not only the iPhone 5, but a new generation of Google Android
devices, RIM's BlackBerry "superphones" running QNX-based operating systems,
and Windows Phones from Nokia and other manufacturers-there seems the potential
for an imbalance between what those devices promise, in terms of their
cloud-based content, and what the carriers will be able and willing to let
their customers do.
Follow Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.