On Monday, we learned that AT&T would allow a new Skype iPhone app that allows users to place calls over the 3G network. Then, on Wednesday, AT&T announced that it would scrap its unlimited data plan, and force new customers to pay for data based on their usage. Coincidence? Probably not.
A post I wrote on the Skype news earlier this week ended with the following paragraph:
As voice calling over data networks gain popularity, what's another likely outcome? Higher data fees forced on consumers. If AT&T and other service providers see a huge departure from voice to data, expect them to shift their business models accordingly. In the meantime, enjoy the transition when unlimited data usage comes at a low price. It won't last forever.
Indeed, it didn't even last three days. Even though data isn't necessarily more expensive for smartphone customers through the new pricing scheme (yet), it certainly will be if you intend to do a lot of Skype calling on it: data usage will no longer be unlimited. This will also make customers think twice about making lots of calls over 3G, as it could cost them in data overages.
This might shed some light on why AT&T is suddenly allowing services like Skype that might place a strain its data network. Now, customers will have to pay up if they intend to use huge amounts of data. Of course, AT&T will still lose some revenue on long distance and overage minutes, but it must figure that its new data plans will eventually make up for that -- if not now, then in the years to come as the company slowly raises the price of data.
Along with the new pricing plan announcement, AT&T also said it would allow tethering -- using your smartphone to connect your computer to the Internet through the data network -- for a monthly fee. As unlimited data plans become a thing of the past, expect to see AT&T and other service providers more easily consent to new applications or functionality that would result in their customers consuming more data. After all, the more data people consume, the more revenue for AT&T. That means higher profits and more money to improve its data network's capacity. Customers may complain at first, but ultimately, they'll benefit through better service and more freedom to use their mobile device's full capabilities anywhere.