Sprint was the first to tell us that 5G would provide carriers with another opportunity to increase data plan prices, but AT&T will probably be the first to play around with various pricing ideas. AT&T’s 5G network is live in parts of over a dozen cities, so they are starting to talk about what the near 5G future will look like once devices are available. You should expect tiers on tiers on tiers.
During the company’s earnings call this morning, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that in 2-3 years, after their 5G network isn’t just a couple of hotspots in metro areas, they could offer speed tiers, just like you see now from home internet providers. Stephenson said he would be “surprised” if wireless pricing for 5G doesn’t look a lot like the pricing you see in fixed internet. That would mean customers paying a premium to have those super fast 500Mbps or 1Gbps speeds.
AT&T already told us back in September that they were looking at ways to nickel and dime customers once 5G is everywhere. They predicted pricing for tiers of service, giving one example that had to do with low-latency gaming. Of course, my mind at the time immediately imagined a world where there would be tiers broken out by speeds, as well as a straight 5G access fee. As it turns out, AT&T is indeed thinking along the tiered lines, while Verizon is charging the flat fee (for now). Funny how predictable these mega-corps are.
What’s wrong with tiers? Well, tiers could be an OK thing if they were created in a way that actually provided choices for people. The problem, though, is that carriers position them to almost force your hand into upgrading to a higher tier. For example, the lower LTE plans they offer now, often provide super low-res video or music streaming or they leave out hotspot features or don’t give you the free TV service, etc. They don’t necessarily provide tiers to give you choice, they do it to get you to upgrade.
For now, 5G isn’t really a thing for most of us to care about. Stephenson’s prediction of 2-3 years out means you still have a couple of years left to milk that unlimited LTE data plan. Because once 5G is here, carriers will want you on it and they’ll be sure to make you pay handsomely for its benefits.
// The Verge