The wireless industry clearly sees the need to protect their networks.
"Carriers need to keep the data usage rates fairly high to avoid being overwhelmed by the users of these these content-crazy devices," said Jack Gold, an analyst for J. Gold Associates. "So I wouldn't expect carriers to be making data more attractive anytime soon."
Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said the "core of the problem is under-capacity of networks.... If you are a carrier basically selling more [bandwidth] than you have, you aren't really motivated to reduce prices, because that would drive up demand and you already don't have enough."
Enderle, Gold and other analysts said many consumers already avoid buying LTE and 3G tablets to keep their costs low, resorting to Wi-Fi-only devices.
Just 1 in 10 tablets sold uses a cellular connection, analyst Chetan Sharma reported this week. Many tablet owners already have a smartphone and don't want to pay for both services, he noted.
The controversy has raised a number of possible scenarios for carriers. One approach would be to set up family and company group plans in which 3G or 4G wireless data use for a given month is shared across a group of people and their various devices.
"I do expect to see data sharing plans [from carriers] by the end of the year or early next year," Gold said.
Another approach would wrap the data costs of an online app, movie or sporting event into the overall cost of the app. Carriers could meter this data by using technology similar to 800 calling services where the vendor pays for the data. On-demand wireless video services are already emerging that include the cost of data.
Currently there's not a mechanism to allow an app provider to include the cost of data usage when selling an app, Enderle said. But Amazon's early e-reader devices -- not the Kindle Fire -- do allow users to download a book with the wireless download cost bundled with the book. "Eventually, some apps will have connectivity as part of the package," he predicted.
A third approach is emerging: cellular-to-Wi-Fi roaming technology, which would make it seamless for a tablet user on 3G or LTE to roam onto a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Carriers aren't expected to allow their customers to roam to Wi-Fi from cellular totally free, but it isn't clear how much they would charge, analysts said.
The Hotspot 2.0 technology initiative has begun a second round of testing smartphones, tablets, and laptops with embedded software that handle secure and seamless cellular-to-Wi-Fi handoffs, said Niels Jonker, CTO of Boingo Wireless. Boingo runs hotspots in many airports and sits on the board of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, which is promoting the Hotspot 2.0 initiative.
Jonker said software updates for existing phones and software embedded in new phones will be available in the early part of 2013. "The time to mass adoption is pretty close, not five years off," he said.
The handoff from cellular to Wi-Fi with Hotspot 2.0 would work over smartphones and tablets and laptops and "would be fully automatic and part of a customer's plan," he said.
"The cellular carriers are very much into this, and are motivated," he added. "They understand full well that there's no way they can service a crowded place like a stadium of full of people taking and sending photos at once in any other way [than with Wi-Fi] and even LTE won't scale to do that for them."