It was only a matter of time! Those yummy, all-you-can-eat (AYCE) data plans are back in vogue at T-Mobile in the US, albeit with some caveats. It seems that either competitive market forces or good old common sense came into play with this decision, which, on closer inspection should be a winner.

Before you all rush out to sign up you should be aware that the plans are limited to smartphones and they cannot be tethered or used as hotspots for all your other extra-hungry devices. With the benefit of hindsight, and probably lots of big data analysis, the gurus at T-Mobile have worked out that the brunt of load on its network is PC or tablet-based, so limiting the unlimited plans to smartphones.

This is a carefully calculated strategy targeting potential Sprint customers where AYCE plans are still restricted primarily to its 3G CDMA network and AT&T and Verizon subscribers that have no similar option.

Director of Marketing Harry Thomas said T-Mobile is revisiting the unlimited plan simply because that’s what its customers want. Brilliant deduction Sherlock, almost every user forum in the world is decrying the loss of uncapped data mobile data plans. As The Insider pointed out some time ago, eventually, someone would work out how to offer them without going broke just by tailoring them to avoid abuse.

When the new plans are released on September 5, smartphone owners will be able to do whatever they like including big downloads, watching movies & videos, social networking, file sharing, in fact anything – except tethering. After all, how much abuse can a smartphone dish out to a network on its own? Well, plenty it seems, and there will, no doubt, be the odd abuser but one suspects that T-Mobile will have some conditions built in to the contracts that will allow them to track and single out the naughty ones.

The two plans being offered are great value and come in under all the competition offerings, even for capped plans. The Value plan for unsubsidized customers is a measly $20 a month, while Classic, for subsidized customers, is $30. Thomas was at odds to point out that the plans are not a fly-by-night marketing gimmick to stem subscriber losses, but they a real money-makers that will be around for a long time.

This raises the question that if T-Mobile is so certain it can make money from AYCE what’s stopping its competitors. Having convinced their customers that capped plans are great value and working feverishly to move as many off their own AYCE plans it could be a monumental loss of face, or a gamble they are simply not willing to take. Of course, if vast numbers shift to T-Mobile in the coming months, they may have no choice.

Customers definitely like the simplicity of AYCE plans and they are incredibly easy for operators to offer without the overhead of constant monitoring, real-time warnings of cap breaches, and the ever-present and growing fear of those nasty ‘bill shock’ headlines. T-Mobile may have just stopped the rot with this strategy and, no doubt, its progress will be eagerly watched from other operators in other world markets grappling with slower than expected data revenue growth.

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 22 August 2012