How AT&T's limits on data use will impact A/E/C users

AT&T announced yesterday they are eliminating unlimited data plans, capping the "premium" plan at 2GB per month, with fees for additional gigabytes. Reports suggest Verison has a similar plan in the works. Some commentators are getting a bit melodramatic about this step, but there will be potentially serious impacts on the way we use mobile data, especially in an industry like construction where files tend to be large and graphic intensive.

In an interview Mike Collins, AT&T's senior VP of data and voice products, mobility and consumer products, explained the rationale behind this move. Sadly, despite all his nostalgic discussion of "The early days of wireless" and pro-tech, futuristic visions of "innovation", the company's motivations come down to this:
Overall this is a way to reallocate demand based on products and services that customers are willing to consume and pay for. It goes back to the phrase, what is something worth? It’s worth what someone is willing to pay you for it.
At a time when high data-use app development is soaring, smartphone adoption is increasing, and the best predictions suggest cell phones will become the primary mode of internet access globally within the next decade, AT&T redesigned their data plans based on last year's data usage.

Ok, maybe I'm a little upset. 

But what will this mean for the construction industry?

First of all, it will mean streamlined website development. Contractors in the field looking for product information won't want to pay for a big, fancy site to load. Additionally, successful manufacturers will offer mobile-optimized sites. Any large photos or documents will need two versions, normal and low-resolution, with the low-res version set as default. Hopefully your company is already doing this.

Secondly, it could chill the growing movement towards mobile CAD and BIM programs. Just yesterday I was listening to a podcast extolling the virtues of AutoCAD's iPad program. These will still be useful for working on local projects, but the cloud-based aspect of BIM could face limitations.

Basically, this will be a problem in the field -- which is usually where we need our smartphone data connections. WiFi connections will still provide unlimited usage, so using smartphones at your office, home, or Starbucks will be unaffected. But a lot of our work happens outside these locations, such as in clients' offices.

Will they be willing to share their wireless network so you can stream your presentation? Maybe; this might be the move that makes wireless data as much a public resource as the water fountain, restrooms, and coffee pot. That brings up a slew of privacy and liability issues, though. Maybe the government will finally get around to making WiFi a free public utility, but I wouldn't count on it.

Ironically, this may drive adoption of the WiFi-only iPad; or, as I call it, the affordable model. Originally I felt WiFi-only was too limiting on how I would use the iPad, but if data pricing continues along this trend then I have enough of an incentive to rely more on locally-stored files and WiFi hotspots.

How will this impact your smartphone adoption? Does it discourage iPad or social media campaigns?