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New gadgets, LTE upstarts and data plans on tap at CTIA Wireless

John Cox | March 18, 2011
Wireless industry gathering next week for conference in Florida

Another possible change is U.S. carriers adopting the "multi-device subscription" plan introduced last year by Rogers Communications of Canada. FierceWireless points to a December 2010 blog post by ABI Research analyst Mark Beccue: "The utopia in that sense would be one data plan for all of a subscriber's devices -- smartphone, feature phone, laptop dongle, media tablet, perhaps even portable media players and gaming devices."

"The scheme will be a huge success, particularly with high value customers (who tend to have multiple devices already) if the plans are easy to understand and manage," Beccue wrote. "If not, Rogers could risk losing some of their best customers."

Increasingly for wireless carriers in the U.S., the best customers are no longer humans: They're machines. In the past 18 months, all the top wireless carriers have launched or greatly expanded their machine-to-machine (M2M) cellular data services. They're being driven to it, because voice revenues have hit a plateau; there are only so many humans carrying phones.

"Voice has been their mainstay and margins are being impacted by competition," says Stratton Nicolaides, CEO of Numerex, Atlanta, Ga., offering products and services to deploy machine-to-machine wireless applications. "So they turn to data as the next big thing in generating revenue. The ARPU [average revenue per user] on the data side is much lower in M2M compared to consumers, but the numbers of machines are much larger. So it makes a greater margin contribution."

At $10-50 per month, M2M data plans are a fraction of what consumers pay. But the monthly plans encompass thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of consistent, low-bandwidth "subscribers." CTIA could see expanded competition and innovation in M2M strategies for devices and service plans.


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