Siri, is this the end of all-you-can-eat bandwidth?

I was slightly amused with the story last week about the guy who got angry because he was banned from a restaurant for eating too much during an all-you-can-eat fish promotion. 

It was a case of life imitating art, or at least cartoons: “The Simpsons” had done the same thing in an episode where Homer was kicked out of The Frying Dutchman for eating “all our shrimp, and two plastic lobsters!”

Of course, the women of “The View” had to weigh in, no pun intended, and a few of them defended the big guy (the real person, not Homer). On the one hand, yes, the sign did say “All you can eat.” But on the other, there is a realistic expectation of what one person can consume. The fish are, in fact, a limited resource, and if one fat guy eats 10 times what he should, it means many others won’t be getting a good meal.

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Nothing against eating big, as I’ve been known to indulge myself sometimes. When I go to one of my favorite pizza places, CiCi’s, I pile the slices up pretty high, and I’ve seen others pile them even higher. But the pizza there is cheap, so it’s expected. And eating 10 times more than the average person is probably not possible with slices of bread and cheese.

My point is that you can overdo anything. In the tech world, we’ve been living with fake “all-you-can-eat” signs for a long time, and as more and more bandwidth gets eaten up, true smorgasbandwidth deals will be rarer and rarer — or, I suspect, will vanish altogether.

This will be true for federal agencies incorporating mobile devices into their networks and private businesses as well as normal people. It might even have an impact on “bring-your-own-device,” or BYOD, programs, if people get a little gun-shy about using their personal devices for work if they have to worry about set limits on monthly use.

At home I have Comcast for broadband use. Although I have an “unlimited plan,” there are actually limits. Comcast has finally defined these limits after years of keeping them secret, and there is a way to check to see how close you are to them each month. I only got close one time, when I had to reinstall “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” all 26G of it, several times due to glitches. Even then, I got to the end of the month with plenty of room to spare.

Wireless Internet is under even more constraints than landlines. If you push too far into your “unlimited” data threshold, you will get throttled back a lot of times, the equivalent of being forced to sit at your seat for a while before heading back to the buffet for another plateful.

Verizon just announced that it’s getting rid of its unlimited data plans altogether. New customers will have to buy tiered data plans, and existing unlimited customers will have to forfeit that benefit the next time they upgrade.

I blame Siri for the loss of bandwidth. Really. I suppose it’s cute when people like Zooey Deschanel ask Siri if it’s raining outside as her windows are being streaked with raindrops, but each time that happens, a little bit of bandwidth is eaten up.

And 4G or no, there is only so much to go around at any one time. I suspect this is the real reason that Siri wasn’t included on the new iPad. The carriers probably begged Apple not to do that. They aren’t ready, and most of them have trouble supporting everything on phones right now as it is.

A wise man once told me that when he was growing up, cars were fast and gas was cheap. I think I may be in a position to tell the next generation about the days when the Internet wasn’t crowded and bandwidth was truly unlimited. Enjoy it while it lasts!

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 Royce Edwards Freehold, NJ

I seriously doubt that the demise of unlimited data can be laid at Siri's feet. In the wireless world my largest data use is from streaming music and internet radio stations. At home, I stream movies and TV over my cable connection, and it's not uncommon to do this for several hours a day. Now, a good case can be made for paying by the Gigabyte; however, it's hard to feel sympathy for the carriers. After all, when they were running commercials showing all the broadband technology eating up bandwidth they never said, "be careful, don't eat too much." No, they showed everyone at the party streaming music or videos to their phones and locked us in to a two year contract. Only then did they start crying about bandwidth being a limited resource. I'm not a fan of big government but this is one area that the government could really lend a hand. Tax incentives for companies should be tied directly to building up infrastructure and providing more of these resources. Japan had the fastest, least expensive broadband for years, now the fastest country is South Korea and the United States sits in the mid 20th place worldwide. This is directly attributable to the fact that U.S. companies shovel their enormous profits into their pockets instead of into infrastructure. They don't have to provide better service, as long as they can lock you into a contract and keep you from shopping around, they can do whatever they want and pass the cost onto the consumer.

Thu, Jun 7, 2012 br8thw8 San Diego

SIRI uses very little data, and it really isn't used very much by the masses. I cannot see how it could be the reason we are losing our "unlimited" bandwidth. But streaming music and video is what is really eating up all of the bandwidth, but can you really blame people? We are constantly bombarded by the cell companies commercials about how fast their internet speeds are and how we can listen to our music or watch our movies/TV shows/YouTube/etc. Yes, you can watch you videos on our fast networks, but only for a few minutes this month. I think it's almost criminal the way they advertise what they cannot provide.

Wed, May 23, 2012 KingMel Houston

Seriously, Mr. Breeden, you blame Siri for the "loss of bandwidth"? Really? I don't suppose that people might be consuming more data on a monthly basis because of the proliferation of highly complex, graphics-intensive websites, or the acceleration of online shopping, or YouTube, or Netflix, or streaming music, or online gaming, or Flash advertisements, or spam email, or...I think that you get the picture. I don't know where you come up with these flaky ideas, but your anti-Apple bias shows up frequently in your GCN articles. Apple (the company and its products) has plenty of flaws, but Siri is not responsible for clogging the internet and ending so-called "unlimited" wired and wireless internet plans. Those plans were always gimmicks, and the major providers began phasing them out years ago, just as soon as a significant number of consumers found a way to effectively utilize those plans. If you want to place blame for the end of unlimited wireless data plans, then the iPhone and iPad would have been more appropriate targets. Those products paved the way for effective use of mobile bandwidth.

Tue, May 22, 2012 Joel Washington DC

Bandwidth is a commodity that is a capital investment. If you need more then you lay another fiber cable bundle (plus associated network hardware/software). Ditto for satellite transmission. Over the air tower based wireless may have capacity limitations, but even there capacity is growing exponentially. Somehow the US is the only country that seems to have these show-stopper issues with the internet. Also, the US ranks 26th and falling in terms of average international broadband bandwidth. Limiting bandwidth is equivalent to price per bit (or gigabit) of data. This is the holy grail of all network and service providers. It makes the telecommunications and ISP's partners in any internet dependent business, which is most businesses nowadays. Given the enormous financial stakes it is unsurprising that the telecoms and Internet service providers launch major campaigns every couple of years to capture the holy grail and make trillions of dollars in extra profits. What is in it for the rest of us is much less clear. If bandwidth is limited and priced by the gigabyte then the US economy will be damaged, and non-American countries will benefit.

Tue, May 22, 2012 Paul

This really shouldn't be surprising to people. I pretty much assumed this would happen the second they came up with unlimited bandwidth. There simply only so much to go around. I've always been amazed at how much cell bandwidth people seem to use. Unless you are out of the house and find you need directions or something, there's little reason not to use your own network at home. I have the lowest plan available and have never exceeded my plan.

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