Perhaps there is a way to bring tiers to subscribers without bringing subscribers to tears.
However, Oâ€™Connor argues that the shift doesnâ€™t have to be painful. â€śWhat most operators have done is phase out unlimited tariffs and place promotions and subsidies on your capped
tariffs.â€ť Along the way, these carriers also institute tiers that provide various usage profiles and payment structures which allow some users to actually pay less while others pay more. â€śThe
argument is that youâ€™re introducing a level of granularity that will allow a better fit between consumption and payment,â€ť said Oâ€™Connor.
However, the extent to which a clear case for that granular fit can be made depends a great deal on what kinds of service tiers a provider is facilitating. Certainly tiers can be based on simple
data usage, but thatâ€™s really a pricing question with only a modicum of data management and charging needed for the service provider to differentiate the elite users from the rank and file.
There are, however, other ways to build useful service tiers that differentiate data at the application layer to distinguish between types of data in a quantitative, rather than simply a
qualitative, manner. Once this level of data visibility is achieved, all sorts of tiering options emerge.
For example, Gordon notes the case of Latin American carrier Movistar, which instituted levels of service based not on the amount of data used, but the type of data used. Basic plans allowing
web-based email can be had for less than a standard data plan, with additional tiers for users who want additional services. Perhaps a user can pay a little more for a plan that includes access
to Facebook or other social networking sites. For a little more, that customer may be able to stream video. The options are numerous.
Other tiering/prioritization use cases include an example Oâ€™Connor mentioned of Singtel, where users can pay more for priority data access during peak operating hours. And, of course, users
across all access technologies are increasingly able to select service tiers based not on overall consumption, but on network speed.
Of course, memories of dust-ups over throttling and net neutrality do beg mention of the legal and regulatory concerns surrounding data prioritization and other policy control
matters. Fittingly, vendors like Openet tend to defer to the provider in such matters. â€śOur view is that we sell our software to mobile operators and itâ€™s up to them how they use it in
different markets,â€ť said Oâ€™Connor. â€śFor example, our software is used in certain Middle Eastern countries to enforce time-of-day restrictions around prayer time.â€ś
And so it is with issues like net neutrality. In many European countries (Oâ€™Connor mentions The Netherlands, one of the first countries to adopt strict guidelines on the matter) net neutrality
requirements are dependent upon the contract offered by the provider. That is, if the contract restricts certain types of content, the user must abide by those restrictions, wider neutrality
concerns notwithstanding. In this way, even this topic leads to an opportunity for providers to divide and differentiate service in new and different ways to meet the needs of the user while
maintaining profitability and overall network capacity.
We all know that all-you-can-eat data is a thing of the past. But what is the future? Carriers have the ability to differentiate different types of data in ways that they never have before. With
all of these sophisticated tools available, the feasibility of bandwidth caps is immaterial. Tools exist to offer different classes of data at different times of day to different users at
different speeds. With these options available, perhaps there is a way to bring tiers to customers without bringing customers to tears.