Telecom – BT

Buffet-style 3G pricing may go off the table

StarHub, SingTel may revise charges to deter hefty usage

(SINGAPORE) The telcos' crusade against virtually unlimited mobile data usage might soon be upon 3G shores. StarHub and SingTel are taking a good look at revising their 3G price plans, the two telcos told BT yesterday.

StarHub said that it may 'review current (3G) pricing plans and consider introducing usage-based data pricing', in response to BT's queries.

This, it said, was 'to ensure optimal network quality for our customers'. Currently, StarHub has three mobile broadband modem plans that offer unlimited data allowances. It also caps the local data usage bill at $30 a month for its mobile phone subscribers.

When it launches its own Long Term Evolution (LTE) – or 4G – network next year, it will not offer an unlimited data option, it said.

SingTel will be reviewing its 3G price plans, which include its mobile broadband plans that carry a data usage allowance of 50 gigabytes (GB).

This comes two days after it moved to start weaning high data-usage consumers off generous 3G data caps with a new 4G pricing structure.

By 2013, when 95 per cent of its users have access to the 4G network, new 4G data subscribers will have to make do with a 10GB cap on data, paying for the additional data that they use.

SingTel also revealed that 11 per cent of its 3G subscribers on dongles and tablets account for a staggering 60 per cent of data traffic.

'It's unsustainable and when you grow it, it becomes a challenge,' said Yuen Kuan Moon, SingTel executive vice-president, digital consumer group.

StarHub and M1 did not reveal their own data figures, but industry observers believe the usage patterns are similar to SingTel's.

M1 is staying tight- lipped on both its existing 3G price plans and approach to pricing LTE usage next year.

'We regularly review all our service offerings to ensure they are compelling and competitive,' its spokesman told BT.

It has the same narrow view of unlimited data usage, however. 'Mobile network resources are limited, and the experience of the majority of customers should not be adversely affected by a minority of customers who regularly consume large amounts of data.'

While SingTel's new 4G service currently applies only to dongle modems, StarHub's review of its 3G price plan could apply across several devices – dongles, smartphones and tablets.

Analysts have pointed out for a while that the real battle for average revenue per user will be fought not over the dongle platform, but on smartphones and tablets, where increasing data usage is cannibalising lucrative voice calls and SMSes.

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