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Hulu's iPhone App To Bump Up Cell-Phone Bills?

Posted by: Olga Kharif on April 20, 2009

Video Web site Hulu is developing an iPhone app, according to this report. The application will allow users of the iPhone and iPod touch to stream movies and TV shows via cellular or Wi-Fi connections.

While a Hulu app is sure to become a hit, I wonder how it will impact iPhone service provider AT&T. AT&T doesn’t have a bandwidth limit on iPhone data usage. So if a lot of people start watching video via its 3G network, that could drive up the network’s usage.

One solution would be to impose usage limits, which is what’s already done with PC Web access. Typically, the limit is relatively high: You can watch two standard-definition movies, or one movie in HD per month. I suspect that, for now, most people won’t exceed it, as watching video for a prolonged period of time on a tiny cell-phone screen is painful.

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Reader Comments


April 20, 2009 11:13 PM

"two standard-definition movies" per month?

What the hell bandwidth cap are you looking at. I believe AT&T's is 5Gb, and most RIP's of 2 hour movies are 700Mb-1Gb for roughly SD resolution (which looks great at 1900x1200), so it can be compressed significantly smaller and still look fabulous on the iPod Touch/iPhones screen.

And why the hell would anybody even TRY to view a HD movie on the iPhone, as the phone would have to downsample the image to be able to display it.


April 21, 2009 12:45 AM

Isn't the standard AT&T iPhone plan unlimited data?

Get used to it

April 21, 2009 07:35 AM

IN five to ten years this looks to be the economic norm for broadband.

Cable companies will continue to lose subscribers little by little due to net video competition then they will bleed them and then their capping bandwidth plans will become the norm.

Sucks.. i guess. We cant have everything for free to sustain our economy!

Jesse Lamarre-Vincent

April 21, 2009 09:47 AM

Olga, you are missing the effect of those that use the app on their Ipod Touch, which will magnify the Hulu apps effect. Ipod Touch users are never worried about bandwidth limits, and therefor use the internet connectivity of their devices more freely. Hulu will be a top app the moment it is launched.

Ken Leebow

April 21, 2009 11:26 AM

I watch long-form video all the time on my iPhone. It's not painful at all. It allows me to watch video anywhere, anytime.


April 21, 2009 02:36 PM

Will you be able to display the video on HDTV as you can do with the Apple's Youtube app ?

Casey Diggler

April 21, 2009 06:33 PM

The iPhone has unlimited data. From ATT:

Data Plan for iPhone 3G includes unlimited data in the U.S. Access rich HTML email and desktop-level web browsing, as well as Visual Voicemail to listen to voicemail messages in any order you choose.

Paddy Martin

April 22, 2009 10:08 AM

I can't find any documentation that talks about this 5G data cap? Please provide your source.


April 27, 2009 05:25 PM

"Typically, the limit is relatively high: You can watch two standard-definition movies, or one movie in HD per month."

Relatively high?? That's absurdly low. I'd cancel any internet subscription (PC or iPhone) that had that terrible of a restriction.


May 19, 2009 10:45 AM

The 5gb cap is true, it's on the att brochures. I've known about it for a couple of years so when I just recently went to get an Iphone I asked if the data was unlimited. I was told it was. Then I asked if they still had the 5gb cap which they said was also true with a $/kb price after the cap. They also said that there's no way an iphone can go over the cap. I'm not sure if they are right on this and am not too inclined to believe them as they then stated that a computer on dsl running downloads and streaming video 24/7 wouldn't be able to go over 5gb of bandwidth usage. I'm an IT person our small company network running just simple web browsing and office apps uses anywhere from 1-3gb of data per day. I can blow through 1gb of bandwidth in half a day with downloads. So when a sales person gives me a 100% complete BS line like that, it makes me less inclined to believe the other stuff they say.


May 22, 2009 07:19 AM

I am trying to find proof of a 5 gb cap as well. Local wireless store said there was a cap yet two different corporate employees said over the phone that there is no limit. They stated it applies when you are out of the US. The use of a data connect plan (air card, ect.) includes a 5gb cap. It was also stated that apple and AT&T have an agreement on a truly " unlimited" plan. Wall Street Journal printed an article showing what they believe to be AT&T's downfall as being the offering of truly "unlimited" plan. I would expect to see a lot of things change was 3.0 arrives anyone that can show me any proof of a 5gb cap please e-mail me.


June 17, 2009 10:09 AM

The iPhone plan affords the user unlimited data. The 5 gb cap is for those who use use a laptop connect device. I watch movies on my iPhone a great deal and don't have a problem with the screen or comfort. If a 5 gb cap was imposed on the iPhone account, I would give up my iPhone and cancel my ATT account.


July 30, 2009 01:35 AM

If u want proof check youtube for videos of ppl getting 5000$ bills from at&t browsing when they were on the unlimited plan. Contact AT&T if u want more details

Hans Ololade

August 17, 2009 11:09 PM

Arber, could you tell me what part of AT&T's site these folks were browsing when they received their 5000 dollar bills? Do you have a more specific phone number or email to contact about this giveaway? I'm having trouble believing an ailing company like AT&T would be handing out large sums of money but I'd like to get in on it. What youtube video shows the people (that is what ppl means, right?) getting this big reward. Could you provide a link? Thanks kindly.


September 3, 2009 11:45 PM

Hans they are bills that must be paid... Not giveaways, or winnings. They went over the cap and are paying and complaining on YouTube a $5000 debt.


September 8, 2009 03:07 AM

Ever since I bought my iPhone I've have watched video and browsed the web not stop , also I go to a site and stream full length movies on a regular basis sometimes watching 3 movies a day , my data usage is unreal but never have I been charged anything more than what my unlimited plan costs . I would have to go look at the exact figures to see how much usage I have but I'm sure it's over 5 g .


September 20, 2009 02:31 AM

The 5000$ bills are probably because of roaming data charges which are self explanatory, they probably didn't disable roaming in settings and got hit with absurd charges every time they were out of AT&T coverage.


September 20, 2009 02:58 AM

I have had my iPhone for 9 months, and I use the Internet on it almost more than on my PC (and I'm a web developer). I'm constantly browsing the web, watching YouTube, checking email, etc. I just checked my phones lifetime data usage under settings, and it says 1.1GB. I totally believe it, too because you can't download any apps over 10mb without being connected to wifi (which wouldn't register to the phone as data usage), and even email attachments are restricted in many ways.

But the other dude was right: the 5GB plan is for laptop connect. Those YouTube vids are bogus.


October 3, 2009 03:14 AM

There is no limit on iphone or PDA personal plan. I have both and I'm averaging 8GB/mnth on my Fuze. I've never been charged a single penny for over-limit usage. I also travel a LOT all over the US and roaming quite often. After I went over 5GB while ROAMING, AT&T placed a restriction on my acc that I can access Internet only on AT&T network but didn't charged me a dime.


October 16, 2009 04:45 PM

Unlimited text and minutes has a cap, its ridiculously high, something like 999,999. So i wouldn't be surprised if the data plan had a cap, but just like the texts and minutes, if people were having problems of going over that, they would raise the cap.

Im sure if they have a problem with people using the data play too much, they will up there service not screw up over.

Hey Blinken

October 24, 2009 11:11 AM

Those $5000 bills on you tube are from when the iPhone first launched and the data plan wasn't mandatory. People didn't understand that they were paying for their data usage per MB. Now you can't get an iPhone without the data package and if you cancel your data package AT&T reserves the right to add a data package at any time. There's no 5gb cap on iPhone data usage.


October 29, 2009 03:19 AM

There is definately no cap for data. I have had my iPhone for about 3 months and my data incoming usage is at 22.38 gigs and out going at 5 gigs. I work in a call center so I stream movies all day. The movies and tv shows are already out there. All hulu would be doing is making it more easily accessed. But it would definately up the network usage but as some one else mentioned a movie compressed for iPhone is only about 300mb at most while maintaining great quality


November 4, 2009 11:18 AM

"Those $5000 bills on you tube are from when the iPhone first launched and the data plan wasn't mandatory. "

It has always been mandatory I thought. The $5000 bills I saw were for people that were out of the country and data roaming.


November 12, 2009 04:42 PM

What cap. You need to make sure you are talking about the facts before you mention caps which you do not understand or state factually.


November 15, 2009 09:07 PM

The 5GB cap is true for the laptop connect cards. The iPhone data plan currently IS UNLIMITED. The home Internet service is also currently unlimited. iPhone has always required a data plan from day one and it has always been unlimited.

Been working for AT&T for 3yrs and sell this stuff everyday. Hopefully this just answered the questions.


November 28, 2009 07:27 PM

I have an iphone i got from my gf. I have had it for about a little over month now. How can at&t chwrge me $30 a month for the data package when i still can't get online on my phonw without putting her sims card in it??? Its ridiculous.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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