WSJ: Unlimited Data Phone Plans Are Doomed Thanks to the iPhone

The complicated tango between the iPhone and AT&T's network isn't a new story, but the latest stats—web browsing eats 69 percent of phone bandwidth—highlight the fragility of networks, allowing fresh portents of doom.

The WSJ's math runs like this: AT&T charges iPhone 3G customers the same $30 a month it charges every other smartphone user, but they use two to four times the data, because data is essentially unlimited. Which leads to further costs, like having to constantly expand the network's capacity to keep up with demand, which isn't cheap—$6 billion on overall capacity annually. That's problematic because the amount of money carriers are supposedly making off of every customer—average revenue per user—won't increase dramatically with new data revenue, not like it used to by simply piling on new customers. (And at this point, the new customers are not high revenue ones, mostly.)

So the WSJ says "in the short term, carriers should abandon unlimited data pricing plans. Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless already charge extra for heavy users with wirelessly connected laptops. They will have to contemplate similar strategies for smartphone users." Right.

On the other hand, clearly the iPhone isn't all bad—AT&T's fighting to keep it exclusive longer, and it was responsible for about half of its new customers last quarter.

Still, I'm not really looking forward to making a phone call on AT&T in June or July, whenever the next iPhone is released. [WSJ]