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Unlimited Data Plans: Are They Really the Golden Ticket for Enterprises?

We’ve seen plenty of hype about unlimited data plans this year. Verizon introduced a new unlimited data plan in February (after dropping it back in 2011), and other carriers (AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) were quick to follow their lead with updated plans. On the surface, there’s little not to love about unlimited data plans. They can alleviate the headache of managing heavy data users who are driving higher costs to the business.

But look deeper, and you’ll find that it’s not as simple as it seems. The catch is that the new unlimited plans reduce the class of service or throttle after a certain threshold of data consumption is met.

For employees who regulate most of their data usage to personal activities, reducing the class of service or throttling download speed shouldn’t affect their ability to get their job done. But for employees who rely on data to complete tasks, collaborate, and communicate with colleagues, this could affect their productivity and engagement levels.

To ensure there is no disruption to employee productivity, enterprises need to be aware of what is being consumed on the device before deciding to move users from pooled to unlimited. Throttled data may lead to an unwanted drop in productivity or even loss of critical safety functions if the data consumption is business related.

Take, for example, a MiFi device used in a remote area for oil and gas company by multiple employees. Throttled data could leave employees high and dry without any other technology to rely on to do their job. On the other hand, if the data consumption is related to personal activities, throttled data would likely make sense as some applications are not essential for business purposes (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, unless you work at those companies, of course).

The challenge here is that most enterprises don’t have a way of discerning if usage is personal or business beyond sending an email asking employees about it. It’s also important to remember that because enterprises can negotiate lower prices for pools of data, there’s a risk of overbuying by switching to unlimited plans.  Pooled plans, when properly managed, can provide more value. When you factor in devices under contract, the price point of unlimited data plans is not as attractive.

Bottom line: Before jumping into unlimited plans, the enterprise needs to understand not only their usage consumption but also what type of consumption, so the decision to switch doesn’t negatively affect business operations and employee productivity. The application of either plan should always be well-thought out and strategic.