There continues to be a ferocious discussion about AT&T's new data plans - and also, as I commented a couple of weeks ago, about the fact that its femtocell traffic counts against a user's monthly data cap.
Broadband Reports gives airtime to AT&T's rather unconvincing explanation:
"3G MicroCell is primarily intended to enhance the voice call quality experience in your home," AT&T's Seth Bloom tells us. "While it can carry mobile data traffic, that’s not the primary solution it provides," he says. "Wi-Fi is the optimal solution for home mobile data use. We encourage people to take advantage of Wi-Fi capabilities - that’s why all of our smartphones include Wi-Fi radios, and usage on Wi-Fi doesn’t count against your mobile data usage bucket."
Firstly, I rather pity Cisco, AT&T's supplier, for its client's diminishing of its carefully-engineered data offload capabilities. I suspect it hadn't expected to be relegated to providing voice-only coverage.
But the interesting thing here is that, unwittingly, AT&T is putting a value on collecting customer data. We all keep hearing that "subscriber data management" is a big deal, and that operators urgently need to find ways to monetise their customers' "social graphs" and aggregated web access records and behaviours.
But by telling its customers to prefer WiFi to femto for data traffic, it is sending out the message "Actually, customer data isn't really worth that much after all. They might as well connect directly to the Internet via WiFi - we're not interested in collating that usage for data-mining anyway".
Either that, or AT&T's core network is weirdly expensive, and they'd much rather have all the traffic bypass it and go straight to the web by the most direct route.
Again from Broadband Reports: Bloom goes on to insist that the Microcell "uses our core wireless network just like a call placed while driving down the highway uses the core wireless network." "The only difference is how that data or call gets there – via a MicroCell connected to a wired broadband connection instead of a cell tower."
Which is funny, because I always thought that the majority of an operator's cost base was the cell tower and radio network, rather than the core. And therefore "the only difference" for femto vs. macro is really just a cost-saving.
My gut feeling is that AT&T has either not thought this through - or has major problems in changing its charging / billing structure to accommodate femto vs. macro traffic differences. Perhaps it thought nobody would care.
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