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Flat-Rate Cell Phone Plans Pose Serious Network Challenges for Operators

Mobile operators in the United States have begun offering their subscribers flat-rate, all-you-can-eat service pricing plans. These are intended to reduce customer churn and attract new subscribers, and they frequently succeed. But according to ABI Research, operators should beware of the risks such plans pose to their network and backhaul capacity.

“Flat rate plans will test the limits of 3G networks, raising new challenges for operators,” says senior analyst Nadine Manjaro. “Operators need to pay close attention to the capacity limitations of their 3G networks and the true cost of ‘all-you-can-eat’ data plans.”

These challenges affect multiple parts of the networks. Increased usage of SMS can flood the network and impact its ability to deliver voice signaling, which may impact voice calls. Another concern is that unlimited plans may spur text message spamming. Instant Messaging and “picture mail” usage may also increase under flat rate plans.

Unlimited Internet access will have the biggest impact on the network, especially if users begin to visit sites such as YouTube to download videos. Continuous use of video applications, whether streaming, downloading or uploading pose the biggest challenge by significantly increasing network utilization and reducing per-subscriber data rates, or the number of subscribers able to access the network. There are reports that two majors Korean operators (SKT and KTF) offering video calls and global roaming on WCDMA networks are experiencing degraded voice quality.

Backhaul is also affected. As operators’ 3G backhaul requirement increases and they plan for network migration, higher capacity backhaul becomes essential. Operators have been evaluating alternative backhaul solutions for some time, but higher utilization of 3G networks will drive this requirement faster than 4G requirements. “The cost of increasing backhaul capacity, handling more calls to service centers, and potential increases in customer churn can quickly erode any gains from flat-rate plans,” Manjaro concludes.

These and many other issues are discussed in ABI Research’s study, Mobile Backhaul Analysis: Global Trends and Opportunities, which offers insight into current and future market conditions. It provides segmented data to show the commonalities and differences by regions and technologies.

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It forms part of the firm’s Consumer Mobility and Mobile Networks Research Services, which also include other Research Reports, Research Briefs, Market Data, Online Databases, ABI Insights, ABI Vendor Matrices, and analyst inquiry support.

ABI Research is a leading market research firm focused on the impact of emerging technologies on global consumer and business markets. Utilizing a unique blend of market intelligence, primary research, and expert assessment from its worldwide team of industry analysts, ABI Research assists hundreds of clients each year with their strategic growth initiatives. For information, visit http://www.abiresearch.com, or call +1.516.624.2500.

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