ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT INTERNET?

On April Fool’s Day T-Mobile announced that its Web’n’Walk mobile internet service would be available as a £7.50 a month add-on to the network’s mainstream Relax and FlexT tariffs. A couple of weeks later came a business-oriented version of the same add-on to FlexT tariffs at £10pm. The big deal:
completely unlimited internet access. But what does that really mean?

The £7.50 Web’n’Walk add-on takes the cheapest all-inclusive deals to £35 a month. And as well as a package of inclusive minutes and texts, internet usage will be unlimited – absolutely no download limits.
We think this is pretty significant, given the average cost of around £1 per megabyte charged by most operators. It’s easy to rack up several megabytes’ worth of access, especially if you are visiting PC-oriented websites that don’t make any concessions to the physical limitations of the mobile phone and the price of downloading big chunks of graphical effects. Without the need to watch the meter, web browsing can be a much more flexible experience.

Some operators do operate walled-garden internet access, restricting the user to sites with network-specific content; they argue that this means they can control the nature of the site, ensuring that it is optimised for mobile. But in practice the walled gardens are there for the operators’ benefit, to discourage the user from shopping elsewhere for content. Restricting the internet runs counter to the whole point of the web, the whole cornucopia effect.

Unlimited Web’n’Walk fixes both issues – unlimited access in terms of content, a fixed price for any amount of usage.

Phil Chapman, Marketing Director of T-Mobile UK, said: “By making the service unlimited and framing it as an add-on to Relax and FlexT tariffs, Web’n’Walk becomes a core part of our product range.”
That certainly seems to be the case. And with a couple of exceptions the offer seems blissfully clear.
There is one obvious restriction, in that it is available only to users of a Sidekick II, MDA Compact II, MDA Vario or Nokia N70 handset. Note that last one: the Web’n’Walk add-ons apply to 3G phones as well, so you can indeed surf at 3G speeds. On the other hand, T-Mobile’s 3G coverage is considerably patchier than its competitors, so this may not be quite so impressive in practice.

More phones will be added to the list shortly: T-Mobile says the range of handsets will be expanded in June, hopefully to include the MDA Pro (3G plus WiFi). A multimillion ad campaign is also planned for the summer.

The other potential drawback is the ‘fair use policy’ in the small print of the terms and conditions – “to ensure a high quality of service for all our customers, they [Relax web ‘n’ walk and FlexT web ‘n’ walk price plans] are not to be used for other activities such as (but not limited to): modem access for computers, internet based video/audio streaming services, peer to peer file sharing, internet based video download and internet based telephony”.

So you can’t use the service for Skype-type VoIP, for big downloads, or for avoiding access charges on a laptop. That sounds fairly reasonable, though large attachments to emails may inadvertently be regarded as oversized downloads.

Even so, the sanctions on transgressors won’t be applied too viciously: “If such use is detected, notice may be given, after which network protection controls may be applied which will result in a reduced speed of transmission …” Our T-Mobile mole tells us that if a customer exceeds what T-Mob considers to fair to use in two consecutive months they will contact the user and request that they stop. A third month of overuse and the customer will probably be moved on to a limited-data plan.

Presumably it is not the amount of data being downloaded that’s the problem as far as T-Mobile is concerned. It’s more the fact that VoIP, streaming and big downloads, occupy the data channels and restrict access for other users. This is much more of a problem for GPRS than it would be for 3G, incidentally.

Even so, it would seem that T-Mobile support people have unofficially confirmed that in practice a cap will be in operation. It will however be set at a generous level, probably 1Gb per month though we have seen a message from a member of T-Mobile’s email team that suggests it’s 2Gb.
In fact the higher level refers to Web’n’Walk Pro, a business-oriented add-on plan for £10 a month that seems to be aimed at laptop users with a data card. The Pro version doesn’t have the same restrictions (so it could be used for VoIP, phone-as-modem, and so on) but the 2GB cap applies. 12 months WiFi hotspot access is included, though T-Mobile’s 2,000 hotspots again represent patchy coverage of the country.

Some clarity about the fair usage policy would be appreciated; after all, if the cap on the consumer’s Web’n’Walk add-on is indeed 1GB in practice, that’s worth shouting about. But overall it looks like a good deal all round.

 

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