4G with data-caps: pay for a month, hit your limit in under an hour

Public Knowledge's Michael Weinberg, who wrote an outstanding paper on the law and 3D printing, has a new paper, this one on 4G networks with data-caps, and how weird it is to advertise that your network is a) very fast and suitable for video; and b) that you'd better not use it for data-intensive applications. He sez, "Wireless carriers have started to push their new 4G networks. The carriers say that these new networks are amazing, and will allow you to do more, faster, than ever before. What they do not tell you is that you will not be able to use the new 4G networks for very much. That is because the wireless carriers (with the exception of Sprint, which offers truly unlimited 4G connections) have imposed arbitrary limits on their 4G networks. For the average user, this limit is set at 2 GB per month. As a result, just about everything that you would use the 4G network for will put you over your limit. At full speed, you will hit a month's worth of caps in under an hour. In that time, you might be able to download half an HD movie to watch for the rest of the month."

This unfortunate fact is the result of a combination between fast 4G networks that deliver a lot of data and low limits on how much data you can use. The 4G speed means that you hit your cap even faster than you would on the existing 3G network. How much faster? Well, Verizon advertises its 4G network can deliver top speeds between 5 and 12 Mbps. AT&T claims it can deliver 6 Mbps. At those speeds, you will hit your monthly limit in less than one hour.

Of course, you may not think about your connection in terms of how long you can use it at full blast. Instead, you might think about it in terms of what you can actually do with the connection.

Under AT&T and Verizon’s 2 GB monthly limit, you could download half of an HD movie from iTunes before hitting your limit. Alternatively, you could download two 45-minute HD TV shows. If you shot some video you wanted to share with friends, you might be able to upload 2 ten-minutes videos. Keep in mind that any one of those things would essentially use up your data cap for the month, so you would not be able to do anything else with your smartphone (like get your email or get directions) without going over the limit.

Arbitrary Data Limits Make Wireless 4G A Waste of Money