Have you heard the news? Most of us are aware of a burgeoning number of options for smartphone users to bring online audio streams to their earbuds or car audio systems. But before you begin salivating at the prospect of having Pandora on board during your grueling commute, NAB's Tech Check publication says you'd better do the math and get out your wallet.
According to Tech Check, a month's worth of listening to 128kb/s stream for a couple hours each day would cost you $285 in additional bandwidth fees if you're on AT&T's bargain "Data Plus" (200MB/month) wireless plan, and $45 under its high-volume (2GB/month) "Data Pro" plan.
This new math comes on the heels of AT&T's recent discontinuance of its unlimited mobile data plan. Replacing it is a series of tiered plans that meter additional monthly bandwidth beyond specified limits. The company justified the move by saying that a very small percentage of users were tying up more than half of the network's bandwidth.
In the wake of that announcement, a number of industry publications have pronounced that terrestrial radio, written off by some tech gurus as a dead technology walking in the emerging era of mobile broadband, may look like a great value if other wireless providers follow AT&T's lead and remain stingy with bandwidth over the long haul. AT&T's move also provided more ammunition to support the NAB's current campaign to require FM receiver integration in all cell phones.
But support for the assumption that mobile bandwidth will be rationed is still open to question. One T-Mobile unlimited data customer recently made the news when he filed a suit against the company for restricting his bandwidth to 50kb/s or less after he exceeded a 10GB "cap" on his account. Plaintiff Trent Alverez called T-Mobile's representation of his two-year contract for an "unlmited" plan misleading.
Meanwhile, Virgin Mobile appears ready to try to win over disgruntled AT&T customers with the announcement of a new "unlimited" mobile broadband plan for roughly $40 monthly. Even though a closer look reveals that the plan is capped at around 400GB/month, such an offering would, in theory, allow a 128kb/s audio stream user to listen to their favorite online radio station as often and as long as he or she liked, and still leave room for plenty of other online apps.
So, are consumers who've become accustomed to all-you-can-eat downloads via Wi-fi and wired ISP connections really relegated to a strict broadband diet when they're on the road? And if so, will that make a strong enough case for handset makers to include FM receivers in their devices?