AT&T announced Stream Saver on Friday, a new function of its network that will default all streaming video across its network to just 480p when it launches in 2017.
I know it sounds bad, but don't go burning down barns just yet.
This, of course, follows T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon's moves to execute similar changes. I argued that T-Mobile's implementation was a bad idea because it is. T-Mobile defaults video to 480p and then charges customers to view it in higher quality with a $25 monthly HD add-on plan. Sprint and Verizon also have plans in place to upcharge either for video or temporary access to unlimited data, like Verizon's "PopData" service. That's not the case with AT&T.
Stream Saver will be implemented on all plans (you won't need to do anything) to help customers cut back on the data they're using. To AT&T's benefit, it also takes a lot of pressure off of its network when people are only streaming 480p video instead of HD, FHD or QHD content by default. And unlike T-Mobile, you don't have to pay for higher resolution video if you still want it.
While AT&T Stream Saver will be activated by default beginning in January 2017, anyone can opt-out by going into the myAT&T app and turning it off. You only need to do this once. Also, you shouldn't see any degradation in quality over Wi-Fi, all videos over those networks should be high quality at all times.
I'm torn onhow I feel about AT&T Stream Saver
On one hand, I understand carriers need to improve customer experience by taking some load off of their towers. That's good news for everyone who needs faster data speeds and reliable connections. For AT&T, I also wonder how much of this will tie in with its streaming DirecTV service due by the end of the month. That will no doubt increase the video being watched on its network, at least if the plans are competitively priced against PlayStation Vue and Sling TV.
On the other hand, I don't like the idea of being defaulted to lower-res video when there are higher-res options. How many customers will know that they can actually get something better? I suppose it's our job to let you know, but I hope AT&T plans to as well.
And my deepest fear is that AT&T may be tempted to one day move toward what T-Mobile has done, upcharging for higher quality video. Thankfully, there's no indication that's in the cards just yet, but AT&T is a business.
When shareholders start asking for greater profits, it may be awfully tempting to walk down the path taken by other carriers.