Flat-rate data plans have turned wireless broadband into a commodity before operators have been able to extract a decent return on their huge infrastructure investment. In developed markets, some operators' data usage has increased more than 20-fold over the last 12 months due to the use of dongles and the smartphone boom.
Given the cost of spectrum, backhaul and infrastructure, operators find themselves increasingly trying to manage usage with the hope of making network efficiency gains.
Innovative billing schemes, femtocells, Wi-Fi offloading and moving up the content value chain (see "The winning content strategy") are examples of how operators are fighting back in this new data-driven consumption era.
In the longer term, price will become less of a factor, especially as wireless broadband adoption reaches into the lower income tiers of the market. In the not-so-distant future, the biggest differentiator between operators will be customer service, after-sales and technical support.
The end of unlimited
Unlimited rate plans, which are pervasive throughout Asia, have already started or will fairly soon start to cause congestion problems for operators that have not invested in capacity.
Operators are having to introduce a more "democratic rate plan structure," according to Han Willem Kotterman, CSL's chief strategy officer.