Survey Finds Mobile Users Love Unlimited Data Plans

A survey of more than 800 smartphone users has found that unlimited data plans are their most important preference when making decisions about carriers and devices. The report by the financial research firm Sanford Bernstein found that customers are willing to pay more for the peace of mind of knowing they won’t get hit with a huge overage bill.

The survey also found that one-third of the respondents are dissatisfied with AT&T for removing unlimited plans for new customers (earlier users can keep their plans.)

Verizon Wireless still offers a $30 unlimited plan for mobile data as well as a $15 plan for 150 megabytes of usage, which is slightly less bang for the buck than AT&T’s 200 megabytes for the same price. AT&T also has a $25 plan for two gigabytes of data.

Verizon executives have indicated that unlimited plans won’t be available for users on its 4G Long Term Evolution network when compatible devices roll out next year.

‘Too Much Demand’

With an increasing array of mobile devices — from laptops and tablet computers to smartphones and smart TVs — accessing the mobile Internet, carriers may be left with no choice but to discourage strain on their networks, said analyst Gerry Purdy of MobilTrax.

“The trend is for wireless operators to migrate from unlimited to metered plans over time,” said Purdy. “There is going to be too much demand to continue to allow for unlimited [plans].”

“Unlimited data plans could become a major source of differentiation, attracting customers and giving still-unlimited carriers a subscribership boost,” said Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett in a report quoted by Information Week. “At the same time, however, carriers who maintain unlimited pricing in the face of AT&T’s move to usage-based pricing could self-select to the heaviest users, impairing future profitability.”

In an interview with Fortune magazine in August, AT&T CEO…

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