Sprint Unlimited Data Plan Doomed?

Will there be a limit to Sprint’s unlimited data plan?

AT&T and Verizon long ago stopped offering unlimited data plans to their customers. Sprint, the lone holdout among major U.S. wireless carriers, has been touting its $80 monthly unlimited data plan as it attempts to lure iPhone and other smartphone customers.

But in a recent Reuters article, analysts who cover the U.S. wireless carriers speculated that Sprint’s ongoing network upgrade to LTE from 4G WiMax spells doom for its unlimited data plan.

The popularity of Sprint’s all-you-can-eat data plan is likely to strain the network or noticeably slow down surfing speeds, just as it’s working to transition to the faster LTE 4G standard.

At the same time, Sprint is launching its LTE service with “only half the wireless airwaves bigger rivals Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc have assigned,” Reuters reports. Sprint has allotted 10 MHz of its network spectrum for LTE, while Verizon and AT&T each allocated 20 MHz. As a result, Sprint will need to reassign airwaves that are being used for other services so it can expand capacity for LTE, analysts predict.

"It's a very bare-bones implementation of LTE," Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall told Reuters. "The risk is, if you don't have headroom as your LTE subscriber base grows, then the speeds will go down." Should that happen, Sprint wouldn’t be able to keep offering its unlimited data plan, he added.

Sprint is spending $7 billion to upgrade to LTE by year-end 2013 and says concerns about its capacity are exaggerated. The company has not commented on the longevity of its unlimited smartphone data plans or whether or not current subscribers of its unlimited plan would be “grandfathered” in as new subscribers are restricted to tiered data plans.



Sprint, LTE, Sprint 4G, unlimited data plan