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Users Find the Superfast 4G Link Carries a Big Cost: Churning Through Data Limits in Mere Hours

Brandon Wells got the new iPad last Friday, started wirelessly streaming March Madness games the next day and by Saturday night was out of gas.

Two hours of college basketball—which he viewed mounted to his car dashboard and live at tournament games—had burned through his monthly wireless data allotment of two gigabytes.

Now, to keep surfing the Web or watch more NCAA hoops over Verizon Wireless's 4G network, Mr. Wells will have to pay an extra $10 for every gigabyte above his current $30 subscription.

It has been only five days since users of Apple Inc.'s newest iPad first took the device out of the box. Some are now finding just how quickly the promise of superfast wireless connections collides with the reality of what those services cost.

"It's kind of a Catch-22," says Mr. Wells, a 31-year-old Web developer who decided to pony up for another gigabyte. "It streams really fast video, but by streaming really fast video you tend to watch more video, and that's not always best."

he iPad's new high-resolution screen and fast connection are specifically designed to spur greater use of online video—a long-stated goal for phone companies as well as technology purveyors such as Apple and Google Inc. Telecom companies in particular are banking on mobile video to drum up demand for their new, fourth-generation networks and create new revenue streams as they adjust to the smartphone age.

That means something has to give: Either consumers will have to get used to paying more or wireless carriers will come under pressure to change their pricing models.

Verizon declined to comment on its pricing strategy, but said customers can pick higher-use plans or they can go easier on their data allotments by shifting to Wi-Fi networks when they are available.

Those alternatives don't always line up well with what consumers want.

Albert Park, a 24-year-old working at a start-up in Austin, Texas, tapped into the Wi-Fi network at a local café on Sunday to watch some YouTube videos on his iPad. The network turned out to be too slow for an uninterrupted stream, so Mr. Park switched to the high-speed mobile network operated by his service provider, AT&T Inc.

For the next hour, Mr. Park watched concert videos and other clips and browsed social-media sites. On Tuesday, five days after getting the new iPad, he found he was already two-thirds of the way through his monthly allotment of 3 gigabytes of wireless data.

"I'll probably avoid watching videos outside my home," Mr. Park concluded.

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