The iPad Is Turning Everyone Into Expensive Data Superusers

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With the iPad selling like too-warm cakes (get it?!) and the expansion of 4G LTE networks we are all turning into very expensive super-users. As feared, the iPad's 4G LTE's video capabilities are sucking up data plans quite quickly. It's not as fast as some had predicted -- the skeptics gave it four to ten minutes -- but The Wall Street Journal's Anton Troianovski has found some anecdotal evidence to match their fears, citing users who have used up their whole month's data plan within days of owning the iPad.In preparation for this data-use deluge, mobile carriers have started pushing users away from unlimited data plans. Both AT&T and Verizon have stopped offering these unlimited plans to new customers. And even though they have grandfathered in users who already had unlimited data, both Verizon and AT&T are now throttling data speeds for their heaviest users. Verizon also encourages users to downgrade with a campaign it calls "Unthink Unlimited" that claims "95 percent of our smartphone customers use less than 2GB," hoping to get those lucky remaining unlimited data holders to relinquish their plans. With more LTE networks and LTE compatible devices on the horizon, that doesn't sound like an enticing offer. 

For iPad users, however, unlimited data is not an option. And even though the advertised LTE speeds are overhyped, they do run chew through data much faster than those that run on 3G. "Verizon estimates that streaming [video] over an LTE connection runs through 650 megabytes an hour," notes Troianovski. After watching two hours of college basketball on his iPad, new iPad owner Brandon Wells told Troianovski he had burned through 2 gigabytes. It took another iPad user Troianovski talked to one hour of YouTube videos and five days of regular use to burn through his 3 gig plan. Users on the MacRumors forums report similar experiences.

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Since neither Verizon nor AT&T offer unlimited data anymore, this can turn into a very expensive habit. Not only do bigger data plans cost more money, but each carrier has expensive overage charges: AT&T charges those who sign up for 250 megabytes a month (miniscule by these video downloaders' standards) an additional $14.99 for every 250 megabytes they go over their cap. For those buying 3 or 5 gigs a month, it's $10 for every additional gig; Verizon charges $20 for each additional gig for those on the 1 gig per month plan and an adidtional $10 on higher plans. There are other options: stick to WiFi. Users can take the same route as new iPad owner Cindy Bryant. "I'm going to put myself on a diet," she told Troianovski. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.