Users Binge at the Wireless Buffet

Wireless carriers are backpedaling on unlimited service offerings as customers take undue advantage of data deals.

Wireless carriers are backpedaling on unlimited service offerings as smart customers figure out how to patch their phones to their laptops to take undue advantage of the all-you-can-eat data deals.

To get customers turned on to its cell phone-based wireless data services, Sprint PCS in the fall started offering several new plans for its 3G network that include unlimited "PCS Vision" data access at no extra charge for three months, and an additional $10 per month after that.

Other plans include the ability to customize plans by adding unlimited "Vision" data service to previously-existing plans for an additional $10 per month. These plans are designed for customers who want to read e-mail and Internet data on their phones.

At the same time, Sprint offers something called "PCS Vision for Laptops and PDAs." These plans are designed for wireless access to the Internet using a PC card modem and cost $100 for unlimited data access.

The problem for Sprint, and the loophole for customers, is that its possible to use a Sprint phone as a laptop modem with a simple software download and a cable connection from the phone to the computer. Thus its possible to get access meant to cost $100 per month for free, simply by buying an entire phone plan that costs as little as $30.

Earlier this year, Sprint pulled connection cables from its site. Customers who order service and say they want a laptop connection are told they need to buy a PC Card modem and the "PCS Vision Plans for Laptops and PDAs" plan.