Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

Apple also willingly blocks Facetime over 3G and tethering at the carrier's request (on a per-account basis) so that the carriers can upsell you.

It really pisses me off that Apple is actively assisting the carriers in screwing me out of using the data that I'm already paying for.

If I've paid the carrier for x GB, I should be able to use that for Facetime, wifi tethering, or whatever the hell else my phone is capable of.

Because it's so rare for Apple to fuck their customers like this, it's extra jarring when it actually happens.

You are actually paying for a probability distribution of how much data you are using: if you were paying for the data you weren't using, then the plan would be much more expensive than it is; this is due to insistence from customers to not be billed per-kB combined with competition between carriers.

The result is that if you just let FaceTime be used by everyone with an existing plan, enough more data will be used to skew the probability distribution for all other users, including those that are not using FaceTime, which would force an increase in all their plans as well.

Now, maybe you'd prefer that scenario; part of me actually does (but then, I'm also for per-kB billing, as it will make costs transparent and remove all of these weird incentives carriers have to limit things), but you can't just claim this is some simple matter of "I already paid for it".

For more information, I gave a detailed talk about this at JailbreakCon (yes: arguably a weird talk, but the audience was insanely diverse, so I had to find a topic that would work across the board from users to developers to security researchers; I went for something akin to "pricing myths").


No, that's how the value prop from the carrier works out across all of their subscribers. _I_ am paying for my x GB in a monthly fee, and I am resultantly entitled to all of it, as are everyone else who pays them.

Now, we all know their network doesn't have that sort of capacity, and that most don't use their x GB, and that's how they turn a profit... but that doesn't change the fact that, having paid them, I am now entitled to using all of my allowance.

It also doesn't help that the carrier in question is effectively prosecuting (by way of the DoJ) one of my best friends in federal court today for publicly shaming them for having poor security practices surrounding their users' PII.

And to the extent to which that is false advertising, I agree with you: I even mention so much in the talk. However, you aren't paying them enough to actually get that service, and it isn't because they are screwing you. ...and no, I'm sorry, but the fact that the carrier in question is prosecuting your friend is off-topic and entirely irrelevant to this pricing problem.

You thereby have to frame these kinds of things inside of the larger framework: you can't just say "oh yeah, Apple is evil because they are allowing this FaceTime charge thing" unless you are willing to also accept things like "everyone should be paying more for bandwidth" or "users should be paying for bandwidth in much smaller slices": this is a complex issue.

I don't know why techies aren't more accepting of paying more for bandwidth or paying in smaller slices rather than having most people pay for far more than the use. I mean, I guess I do know why techies are against that sort of thing, because they're more likely to be heavy users, and the current situation subsidizes heavy users to a pretty substantial degree. But still, basic fairness would seem to dictate that this stuff ought to be a little more sane.

Nobody seems to mind paying for precisely metered electricity, gas, or water. But the moment you want to meter internet usage, it seems like people swarm out of the woodwork to shoot it down, even though it seems that the current "unlimited" model is responsible for a lot of our current problems.

Electricity, gas, and water all have something critical in common: they are heavily regulated, so you're paying more or less cost for them.

When Internet usage gets metered, it's because the carriers think it will allow them to massively overcharge everyone, and take more profit; and they're right.

I'm not opposed to an Internet-as-utility model, where it's metered but there is _some_ mechanism to ensure that the charges are related to cost, and not just made up.

The market _ought_, in an unregulated industry, to be that mechanism, but in consumer internet service provision we have a sort of half-regulated industry, where there is never more than about a duopoly of providers in any given market.

No; in fact, when AT&T switched from unlimited to metered bandwidth pricing for iPhone plans, 95% of customers (including me) saw that they had to pay less per month. The private market is simply not so broken for cellular telecoms right now that AT&T can charge a lot more than their costs for things like bandwidth: they are actually in fierce competition with Verizon, and for the vast vast majority of users the only thing they care about when choosing between these two companies is price.

Five years ago this was not as true as it is today, as at the high-end of the market (so only people with a lot of money to burn) people would sometimes select carriers based on what phones were available (hence the value of the AT&T-exclusive iPhone), but with a world where handset manufacturers carry most of the power (and in fact get even a good percentage of the money paid to carriers, due to the subsidy) and all of the best phones are available for every major carrier, this no longer matters: carriers are now dumb pipes to everyone but a small percentage of people living in an area with a major coverage disparity.

Ahh, when I wrote that comment I was thinking of residential ISPs. I agree that there is more competition in the wireless ISP space, and I don't think we're getting shafted _too_ badly by the pay-by-the-byte plans there, compared to what I would expect if residential ISPs got into the pay-by-the-byte business.

Saurik, I definitely see where you're coming from, but why do the rules and standards change for cell phone providers as for other Internet providers? They pay the same for data as any other Internet provider.(probably less, actually) If you're paying more than $30/mo at home for land based Internet, you feel like you're being ripped off. Compare it to Cable Internet. You are capable of receiving impressive speeds during low use time and your experience will suffer during high use time. Same with cell phone data. Cable Internet isn't capped at a fixed amount. So, then if you work within the guidelines of spending over $30 is insane (Which I'm not saying is necessarily true, just arguing...) And you take into account that an average home user will use much, MUCH more data than what cell phone companies are charging their $30 on. (This article says average home broadband user uses 17GB/mo. I have no idea if it's accurate, but let's just use a much smaller number and avoid argument. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/nov/01/home-broadb...) Let's assume 10GB. That comes out to 333.3 MB per $1, or 3.33 MB per $0.01. We're not talking about what the probability of what a customer would or COULD use, we're talking about actual amounts. Heck, if we went 1/10 of that, down to a mere 1GB per user per month, we still wouldn't be at what the cell phone providers are charging. At 1GB/mo, for $30/mo, it would be $0.03/MB. (For all of my calculations I used 1000MB = 1GB, not 1024 to keep it simple.) What the cell phone industry is charging for data is plain ridiculous. The going rate seems to be $15 for 250MB or $0.06/MB. That's maybe 20X what a conservative user spends at home. Why? Maybe you could compare it to satellite based Internet. Satellite has fixed bandwidths and astronomically expensive equipment and that's all it does it provide Internet service. But, why would you compare it to satellite based? All a cell carrier does is get it back to a tower a maximum of 5 miles away. There they pay for land based Internet pipes. They are considered CLECs also and pay stupidly cheap prices for bandwidth. Sure, it may be expensive to get local loop to the tower sites, but we're not talking launching satellites into space. Even satellite companies only charge $50/mo for 10GB/mo. (Wildblue's website).

So, I simply ask, if you support a pay as you go model for cell phone providers, what price per MB do you have in mind? Because right now, it highway-frickin'-robery and they're still whining about data usage.

> If you're paying more than $30/mo at home for land based Internet, you feel like you're being ripped off.

Please speak for yourself: I pay much more than this, by choice (to get higher bandwidth caps). (For the record, I also "put my money where my mouth is", and immediately called AT&T when they started phasing out of unlimited data plans and opted myself out of that plan to the limited one. This has meant that on some months I pay much more than I used to, but it has also meant that on many months I pay less; it also means that I no longer am contributing to a systemic bias against disruptive-ish services like FaceTime or Netflix.)

> Compare it to Cable Internet. You are capable of receiving impressive speeds during low use time and your experience will suffer during high use time. Same with cell phone data.

This only argues for peak vs. off-peak pricing being different. In fact, I specifically cover this in my talk with an analogy to how electricity is billed. It simply makes obvious sense that if, in the middle of the night, bandwidth is nearly free due to unused infrastructure, yet during the day it is a spare commodity, that bandwidth should be priced differently during the night than it is during the day. Hell, even our cellular telephone service is billed in this way: it just makes sense.

> And you take into account that an average home user will use much, MUCH more data than what cell phone companies are charging their $30 on.

You seem to believe (not just with this sentence, but with most of your argument) that data should cost the same whether it comes over a wire or via a cellular connection: the costs simply aren't the same for numerous reasons ranging across the board from the technical to the political. (This includes some less-obvious ones, such as how no one wants a cell tower in their neighborhood, yet everyone wants good cell service: I discuss this particular issue in my talk along with some humorous slides.)

> We're not talking about what the probability of what a customer would or COULD use, we're talking about actual amounts.

No, actually: we have to talk about the probability of what a customer would use, as to do anything else is to price yourself out of the market. Again, I go into detail on this in my talk, using an analogy involving salt, but in this case, if AT&T charged for the actual bandwidth on the label it would be trivial for competitors like Verizon to undercut them by just noticing "hey, our average usage is for half of what we are charging, so there's a ton of overhead in our margin we can give back to the customer". Carriers, like most other almost entirely fungible commodity (they really are a "dumb pipe" with only minor differences in quality or locality), are in fierce pricing competition.

> Why? Maybe you could compare it to satellite based Internet. Satellite has fixed bandwidths and astronomically expensive equipment and that's all it does it provide Internet service. But, why would you compare it to satellite based? All a cell carrier does is get it back to a tower a maximum of 5 miles away. There they pay for land based Internet pipes.

Again, you seem to be entirely discounting the cost of those towers, both in terms of infrastructure and equipment and in terms of land; you also seem to be discounting the concern of limited frequency space, and the fierce competitions that occur to obtain it from the auction system we have for selling it off. If you want really cheap bandwidth, get a land-line: as you say, they exist.

And yes: even satellite internet may be cheaper in many circumstances; if nothing else, you have to take into consideration that most of the carrier plans people look at and compare are smart-phone subsidy contracts, which means that you are paying much much more than if you were willing to accept that, in fact, that iPhone or Android device in your pocket should have cost $500-$600. For some stupid reason, people get sticker shock at a large investment in hardware, but are willing to just whine about service costs.

> So, I simply ask, if you support a pay as you go model for cell phone providers, what price per MB do you have in mind? Because right now, it highway-frickin'-robery and they're still whining about data usage.

This question doesn't really matter; in essence, you are asking it because you feel that the carriers are drastically overcharging for a service that you somehow believe you can get from your cable provider, and thereby are certain that in a per-kB world the price will somehow be even more ludicrously expensive.

My contention is that the core issue here isn't price: it is poor incentives; the carriers are incentivized right now to hate data, as they are billing for it in an incorrect unit, leading to all kinds of weird pressures in seemingly-unrelated parts of the ecosystem, such as the old rule the iTunes App Store used to have on applications that used "too much" bandwidth (this was thankfully dismantled when AT&T stopped offering "unlimited" bandwidth pricing): you simply wouldn't have those horrible incentives under per-kB pricing.

Meanwhile, I am fairly certain that, based on the rather poor profit margins I see when I look at the financial statements released by carriers, combined with how fierce they seem to be to jump onto pricing models that aren't even sustainable in the long term yet give them temporary advantages over their competitors, that whatever the price that ends up coming out of this will be mostly fair. More expensive than cable? Well, duh. But, more expensive than now? Only if the customers suck and change their behaviors because of it; otherwise, when you have better pricing models things actually tend to get cheaper for normal people (as they did for 95% of customers when AT&T stopped running their unlimited data pricing plan).

BTW, I didn't say it before and feel like a heel. Thank you for all the work you do for iPhone users. I have nothing but immense respect for you, your time and your talent. Also, I did watch some of the video (like 10 minutes) but the audio was so echo-y that I couldn't really understand you.

This was never about arguing with your points and I know I didn't make mine with the most scientific of data. I worked for an ISP for 7 years and know first hand on the costs of licensing spectrum and what the 700 MHz sold for at auction. They are a wireless ISP and I was the purchasing manager,so I also know what it costs to put up a tower (actual costs as well as land use, leases, licenses, etc). I believe that if a small, regional ISP can do it and still offer affordable service to the customer, then it should be easier for a much larger company such as AT&T, Verizon, etc to do it.

I know I clumsily compared it to cable and satellite Internet service and made vague arguments about customer perception and price. I do feel that they are somewhat valid because I think customers focus on price first and QOS, data amounts and reliability second, third, never...

I think we're in agreement that if there was a model that was based on usage and actual costs (and not some arbitrary amount that they think they can squeeze a customer for) then we'd all be better off and have concrete numbers in hand. That would allow us to use our data however we feel like. Kinda the same as Nathan is arguing about his "unlocked" phone what what he should be able to do with it.

Lastly, have a Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with your family. - burtrom

I understand how business reality requires Apple to push at least some of the carriers' bullshit onto the customers.

But the second a device is "unlocked", all this nonsense needs to be removed from it. There's no defensible reason for an "unlocked" iPhone to still be subject to ATT/VZW's anti-consumer preferences.

All iPads are unlocked. My iPad won't let me Facetime over 3G, and instead gives me a dialog telling me to call AT&T.

This is after "Facetime over 3G" was promoted (by Apple) as one of the big features of iOS6.

I'm almost willing to switch to a shittier UI/software just to not have to deal with thieving fucks like this.

Curios, so I checked the website: "iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular can roam worldwide on GSM/UMTS networks. .. When you travel internationally, you can use a micro-SIM card from a local carrier."

However, they still make you specify your carrier (at&t/verizon/sprint). So, you are getting a carrier-flavored version when you buy an iPad in the US and it is only unlocked for travel?

That is terrible. I am vexed.

A few things:

1) Your iPad, purchased in the US with a carrier selection, comes from the factory with a SIM card in it. This can be used to activate a prepaid data plan _on the device_ right out of the box - via that same carrier's network. (They are minimally provisioned before you get it.)

2) The Sprint/VZW iPads also support CDMA for 3G in addition to LTE (4G) and HSPA+ (GSM 3G). The "ATT" ones do not. (They are different hardware models.)

3) They are all unlocked, GSM-wise.

> All iPads are unlocked.

Not true. Japan has the dubious honor of being the only country with locked iPads. Of Japan country-coded SIMs, they will only work with the single official carrier in the country due to a software lock. They still get to say 'unlocked' though, but the devices only work on overseas networks, not other compatible networks in the same country.

I've never understood Apple's willingness to bend over for carriers. Its always seemed to me that they've tried hard to foster an image of a company that exists to serve the customer as best they can (though, sometimes they think they know best.)

It would seem to me that Apple would have the upper-hand in these negotiations. The carriers, at this point, need the iPhone. AT&T, and Verizon simply couldn't afford to not offer the iPhone anymore and expect customer retention/satisfaction. Why doesn't Apple throw their weight around and go to bat for the customer?

Is this some relic of a contractual obligation with AT&T? What part of this story am I missing?

They're better about it than the other phone manufacturers. Before the iPhone, it was more or less impossible to get a smartphone that wasn't loaded with non-removable carrier crapware. Apple's refusal to let AT&T do the same with the iPhone during their initial exclusivity deal was a big step.

But now, Apple doesn't have as much leverage. If they walk away from negotiations and say "Sorry, no more AT&T iPhones," they're losing all of the customers that stay on AT&T and buy Android devices. And AT&T loses all of the customers that switch to other networks so they can get new iPhones.

Apple did try to do something about exploitative text message pricing when they introduced iMessage. AT&T's response was to stop offering anything but unlimited texting plans.

> Before the iPhone, it was more or less impossible to get a smartphone that wasn't loaded with non-removable carrier crapware

You've always been able to buy an unlocked phone with no crapware and no restrictions. The problem with the iPhone is that even the unlocked phones are restricted and locked-down, which is a first.

I could be wrong, but I don't believe you were able to buy unlocked phones with no crapware, as part of the normal subsidized phone regime most carriers have. Yes, you could always pay full retail for virgin phones, but most phone sales occur through channels that are structured around seriously reducing the cost of the phone in exchange for signing a contract. Apple was, IIRC, the first phone vendor to participate in those high-volume channels without locking or crapware.

iPhones have had locking from the start. You are correct about crapware however.

That said this conversation is about unsubsidised, unlocked phones. Not phones bought through carrier channels. Apple are breaking new ground by selling an "unlocked" phone, for an unsubsidized price, but still pushing carrier restrictions on it.

Not really. From the top article:

> Apple won't help me because they agreed to block on-device APN editing for certain carriers, including AT&T, even though this negatively impacts people who are not direct customers of AT&T, and even though there is not one single other unlocked GSM phone model on the market besides iPhone that imposes this restriction on users or hands over this kind of control to carriers.

Unless I'm misunderstanding your argument. Are you suggesting that Apple is beholden to _all_ of the carriers severally now, because of risk of losing their dominant slice of marketshare?

I'm saying that they used to because when the iPhone was new it gave them incredible leverage. If AT&T hadn't agreed, they'd have taken it to Verizon, and still made tons of money.

They no longer get the same leverage that they had while offering an exclusivity agreement on the first iPhone. If Apple were to walk away from AT&T, both companies would lose a bunch of money. It's something of a "nuclear option," and Apple doesn't care enough about unlocked phones to waste their limited bargaining ability on it.

Can't you buy iPhone without a contract (and contract without a phone)?

Yes. My iPhone is such a phone. It matters not: iOS enforces official carrier profiles on the phone regardless of whether it is an official Apple unlocked phone or not.

We absolutely are missing parts of the story. Negotiations and contracts at that scale are going to be massively complex, I can only imagine. Even my small shop's contracts with other businesses are multi-tiered and fairly dense.

Surely there is far more to this than simply "throwing weight" around by Apple, unfortunately. As well, it hasn't been that long since the carriers ruled everything about our experience with our phone. I'm sure there's plenty of old bureaucracy left for getting them to say "yes" to what all of us would want.

Perhaps, even, the things that frustrate you were some of the things Apple had to give up to give us the other awesomeness :P

Your reaction was my initial reaction as well, and definitely one I sympathize with (which made me actually comment). But, after thinking about my own basic experiences with contracts (and if you've ever signed a mortgage, for instance; a daunting amount of contractual repercussions, heh), I can only imagine the war room that negotiations must be with those carriers.

But all that, of course, is conjecture... Apple could just be assholes :P

Maybe I'm displaying some extreme naivete here, but I thought Apple did a spectacular job during the original iPhone launch proving to the carriers (and to the world) that they really didn't need them in order to move phones. Despite the fact that the original iPhone didn't even have any subsidy and yet STILL required you to sign a 2-year contract with AT&T (what!), Apple moved units like CRAZY via their own direct sales channels (Apple retail stores and store.apple.com).

It seems to me that given this fact, there really is no reason why Apple has to continue to kowtow to the carriers. Apple should stop sucking up to them and push direct sales of unlocked phones harder than ever. People will still buy them. They should then show a complete and fearless disregard for carriers by discarding the concessions they have made to them in the hardware and software design. Just throw stuff like carrier profile restriction features completely out. Sell iPhones to and for your end-users again.

If Apple decided to actually do this, what could any of the carriers really do about it? Nothing, that's what. Ban the iPhone from their networks? They wouldn't dare. (Or at least the GSM ones wouldn't...IS-95/CDMA2K is a slightly stickier subject, I'll admit.) There always seems to be a lot of talk (especially State-side) about carriers being open-access and what that means (remember the rider on the 700MHz auctions that Google convinced the FCC to sneak in which Verizon is now bound to as the winner of that spectrum block?), but GSM carriers have always mostly been "open" with respect to devices. Part of the promise of the SIM "personality module" is that it brings to the wireless industry what modular plugs in the home brought to the wireline industry following events such as the FCC's Carterphone ruling: a decoupling of the carrier and the end-user's device. I want to see the wireless industry move in that exact same direction. Sure, AT&T could decide to block iPhones from their network, but then they'd be turning down revenue from potential customers solely out of spite, and they aren't going to do that.

So far, the only company to have the balls to pursue a strategy like this, surprisingly, is Google. For some time now, you've been able to buy an unlocked Galaxy Nexus phone from them at a very reasonable price, and the Nexus 4 continues that tradition and even goes a step further: the ONLY sales channel (at least at this time) for the Nexus 4 is direct from Google. There are no subsidized or carrier-locked versions of this phone sold through carriers. There's a single SKU (well two, really, if you count the two fixed storage capacity options) for an unlocked GSM/UMTS phone. Google may have consulted with AT&T and T-Mobile here in the States out of courtesy before releasing the phone; I don't know. But I don't think that there's anything that says they had to get their approval to make and sell the phone, and there's nothing that says a user can't buy one without consulting their carrier first and put their own SIM card in it once it arrives.

Some may point out that Google isn't moving very many phones by themselves at the moment with this sales system, so doesn't that prove that this is not a viable business plan? I would counter that Google doesn't have quite the cachet that Apple does in this market at this time for reasons completely unrelated to how phones are sold, and that Apple, unlike Google, is in a position right now where it hold all of the cards. And for the sake of the consumer, Apple should take advantage of that position. That they don't appear to be ready and willing to do this (and in fact seem to be trending in the opposite direction) worries me.

I definitely salute Google for their move, and wish other phone manufacturers would follow in their footsteps. C'mon guys: take your destiny into your own hands rather than leave it in the trust of the carriers. Seriously.

Apple had a delicate relationship with carriers when it started making the iPhone. The carriers could dictate what they wanted. This has changed, as you state. These carrier-favouring measures could very well be contract inertia dating from that era.

At this point in the game with Android moving around 3/4 of all smartphones, Apple needs the carriers' $500 iPhone subsidies far more than the carriers need Apple.

Get an Android.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact