I wish they’d help me manage the data in my phone plan better than they do now. You can basically throw out every part of a phone plan EXCEPT the data they include, these days. Fewer people are making calls at all. SMSs have been replaced by WhatsApp. International calls are done over Skype. Access to the phone company networks serves one purpose – to provide access to data, the internet and the services that sit on it.
But managing the data in a plan is difficult and time consuming at the moment. Getting it wrong is expensive. Most people don’t bother and that has its own effects ‘Overage’ – the name phone companies use to explain the extra charges they apply to your account when you use more data than you bought – can be extremely expensive. Phone bills make up around 5% of the average family monthly costs.
Data itself is a commodity. The GB of internet access you get from Vodafone is exactly the same as the GB of data you get from EE. The phone companies that’ll win in the future are the ones which offer better data management facilities.
Competition should generate an app which solves this problem
The rudiments of a solution to the problem of data management are already in place :
- Data management apps : A host of third party apps (link to https://www.lifewire.com/apps-for-monitoring-mobile-data-usage-817908 ) offer apps which are effective at monitoring your data usage. There are even some aspects of data management (for example, the ability to set a maximum limit on the amount of data you consume in a month) ready to use in settings on your Android or iOS device.
- Phone company apps : Almost every phone company now has a self service app. The purpose of these clever little smartphone applications is to help you effectively manage your data.
The phone companies should be extended to assist normal, everyday users with the complexities which are starting to appear in the system.
The app needs to help us manage data in 3 places
The new Apple Watch 3 had a feature which tells a tale of the future of your relationship with your phone company is going to change. It could be connected directly to the internet without the need for a physical SIM to be inserted. Some phone companies issued a new ‘product’ to support the device. For a flat monthly charge, they allowed you to share the data between your iPhone plan and your Apple Watch.
- Our PAN : The Apple Watch is an example of one thing which sits in our ‘Personal Area Network.’ Others will include health monitoring products in the near future and all manner of extras in the future. Think of internet connected contact lenses in the future and your child having a sensor in their clothes so you know where they are if they wander off at the supermarket.
- Our assets : The internet of things is already connecting almost literally everything to the itnernet. Lights and the fabled internet connected fridge will likely get online over WiFi. However, personal assets, which roam more broadly, cars, boats and perhaps children (or at least their backpacks) will be connected with SIMs, use data and need managing.
- Shared data : There are already phone plans which offer shared data facilities. Your child can be allocated 5GB of data, while you get 5GB a month. Then, when they run out, you can provide them more, from your handset, as you see fit.
Summing up – we’re not there yet but it’s coming
With 5G on it’s way, there is going to be a lot of mobile network capacity. It’ll be possible to download the next hours’ Netflix episode in around 1 second from 2020 when the new networks start to come to market. Mobile services are still expensive compared to fixed alternatives for average users. But prices of mobile data continue to fall.
Many commentators believe it will only be 2 or 3 years, perhaps sooner, before mobile data costs are on a par with fixed, even for those who live on Netflix. By then, phone companies around the world are going to have to provide apps which allow us to easily manage our data, across the three domains I’ve shown. Those that don’t will get left behind.
There is evidence that some of these principals are already manifesting to a degree – although it is not visible in the apps that the phone companies are producing. Phone companies are starting to work on the management of data in their plans. In the UK, SIMply ( a small phone company ) refunds you for the data you don’t use in your phone plan in the month. In Australia, a recently launched phone company provides a ‘data vault’. Whatever data you buy from them is yours to keep. Unused allocations are not taken back at the end of the month.
It will be the phone company with a data management app which will win customers in the future. The world may well be entirely wireless connected in the next 5 years. The management of data will be an increasing proportion of household expenses. Data management self service apps are the key strategic priority for telco.