Sep 27th, 2011

Much has been made about the future of unlimited data. As Verizon and AT&T have nixed the thought and as T-Mobile has chosen to throttle customers instead of completely shutting it down, Sprint’s been steadfast in letting people know that their unlimited data is going nowhere. Their advertising campaigns did enough to reassure customers that.

Sprint again confirmed at the GigaOM Mobilize conference that they weren’t going to be pressured by the rest of he wireless industry to change their approach. One must ask themselves, though – how long can they keep it up? Are costs of building and maintaining infrastructures really low enough that it’s not a problem for Sprint to keep doing this or will they eventually need to help cover costs by charging users more for the data they chow down on?

Sprint faces directly-related problems, however. As they try and keep up with the rest of the industry in the 4G race, they have been quickly left in the dust. Their failed WiMax rollout (is it safe to call it a failure at this point?) has prompted the Now Network to stick to their mantra and find a solution to expand their 4G coverage in the very near future.

All rumors are pointing to LTE and it won’t be cheap for the company to get started on that. In fact, even if they were to continue forward with WiMax and help Clearwire build their network, they’d still need a great deal of funds.

As they’ve learned from Clearwire’s blunders, building out a 4G network takes an extremely large amount of capital, and while we’re sure Sprint has a lot of that to work with, we can’t say they aren’t currently looking for ways to help ease the hit on their wallets. Most major wireless companies have decided that the very users they’re serving will have to pay for the data they want.

That alone could be the pressure that could eventually drive them to nix unlimited data. Another source of pressure would simply come from investors and stock holders who feel Sprint’s returns aren’t where they could be.

Recent moves by Sprint have had customers worried in general. They’ve done away with their premier program, they’ve shortened their device return/exchange window from 30 days to 14 days and they’ve gotten rid of unlimited data while using your phone as a mobile hotspot.

What gets a lot of people worried as that Sprint also looked at their 30 day return window and their premier program as key features that would keep and attract customers. It would appear that unlimited data and moderately competitive prices are the last big things Sprint’s got going for them up against competitors, but recent actions should tell you that all of that could change at the drop of a dime.

For now, though, your unlimited data for your non mobile hotspot needs is safe. Sprint’s banking on that to attract customers, but in their efforts to provide a sustainable 4G network up against their fast-moving competitor Verizon and up-and-coming T-Mobile and AT&T, you have to look into the future with a bit of uncertainty. [CNET]