Apple's iPhone 5, Other Smartphones Could Smack Against Carriers

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 data?

Considering Apple's increasingly speedy migration into the consumer cloud-following in the footsteps of Google and, 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 App Store.

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.

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