Sprint nixes unlimited 4G data plan for tablets, netbooks

Unlimited Sprint 4G service will soon be a thing of the past for tablet and netbook users. Got a Sprint smartphone? You're in the clear, for now.

Sprint is ending 4G data plans for netbooks, notebooks, and tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, shown here.

Sprint this week announced it would cut unlimited 4G data plans for tablets, laptops, USB cards, notebooks, and basically anything else that isn't a smartphone. In a message posted to the customer support section of its site, Sprint said 4G usage will now be billed – along with 3G service – at three different tiers: 3 gigabytes, 5 GB, and 10 GB. Exceed the limit, and you'll be charged five cents per megabyte.

So what accounts for the switch-up? Well, over at PC World, Stephen Lawson points to a recent Credit Suisse survey, which showed mobile networks in the US were running, on average, at 80 percent of capacity. Carriers, Lawson writes, "have been moving away from unlimited plans as the amount of data flowing over mobile networks has grown dramatically and showed no signs of slowing down."

Of course, Sprint has long used unlimited 4G service to lure consumers away from competitors such as AT&T and Verizon, which currently cap or throttle 3G and 4G data usage on all their devices. As of 2011, Sprint is the only carrier in the US to offer an unlimited smartphone plan. That could be changing very soon, writes Mike Isaac of Wired.

"Sprint’s latest move may be an omen of things to come, especially as the company begins to carry the iPhone 4S on its network for the first time," Isaac writes. "AT&T killed unlimited data after gaining a notorious reputation for terrible iPhone coverage, and Verizon put down its unlimited plan only months after it started carrying Apple’s handset. Could Sprint be setting consumers up for the same thing?"

Thus far, Sprint is staying mum, and why not? Copping to the fact that it plans on canceling its unlimited smartphone data plan would only scare away prospective Sprint iPhone customers.

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