AT&T: iPhone data hogs better pay up

Executive tells iPhone users to expect new pricing plans designed to curb bandwidth guzzling.

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    Guess which one has an iPhone.
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The days of unlimited iPhone plans may be coming to an end. AT&T said today that it will push back against rampant data usage on its network. New "incentives" to curb bandwidth hogs could include a tiered pricing structure with limits on how much each phone may download or pay-per-usage plans that meter monthly activity.

Ralph de la Vega, who oversees the carrier's consumer services, was careful not to elaborate on how or when such a plan would go into effect, but said to expect details "very soon."

Apple's iPhone attracted millions of new customers to AT&T – no doubt pleasing stockholders but driving network technicians batty. On average, the feature-heavy phone gulps down 10 times the network capacity of other smart phones. And as users browse the Web, watch videos, download apps, and stream music on their iPhones, the device has strained AT&T's network. Struggling to bear the extra load, AT&T has accidentally dropped calls, delivered occasionally molasses-like speeds, faced ridicule from Verizon, and infuriated customers.

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AT&T reassures current and potential subscribers that it has poured billions of dollars into network updates. But the real problem, according to de la Vega, is that about 3 percent of AT&T's customers hog 40 percent of the company's bandwidth.

And by "about 3 percent," de la Vega means "iPhone users."

Not all iPhone users, mind you. Apple's smart phone accounts for at least 8 percent of AT&T's celluar users. So, these forthcoming price changes will target maybe a third of all iPhone owners.

Part of the campaign to rein in rampant downloads will involve simply informing customers of how much data they're using.

"We need to educate the customer," de la Vega told the AP. "We've got to get them to understand what represents a megabyte of data.... We're improving all our systems to let consumers get real-time information on their data usage."

More information is always a good thing, but it'll be interesting to see how this meter will be paired with possible price increases. Will $30 a month, the current rate for unlimited data, become the price point for the most restrictive plan? Will AT&T do away with an unlimited plan all together, such as with the 5 GB hard cap attached to its wireless computer card?

Do you blame data hogs or AT&T for slow network speed? Share your thoughts in the comments or through Twitter.

Also check out:

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