I find the brewing pot of noise around sponsored data that AT&T announced this week all to be a bit funny. Why? Sponsored "data" has been around for a very long time. Radio programs were sponsored as far back as the 1920s. Public television has been sponsored since the 1950.
Just as mobile data runs over licensed spectrum, so does radio and television. So the sponsoring delivery of content, whether it comes from Hollywood or Microsoft, there's really no difference. What is at stake is the past protestations of mobile operators that they need more spectrum, that they need to charge high prices to support it. Instead, there are many ways to make money and keep the cost down. Sponsored data is one of those.
For now, the sale of sponsored data is being looked at as an enterprise play. It's not. It's an advertising and marketing opportunity on so many levels. As a matter of fact, there are more marketing promotion opportunities around sponsored data than there were with television or radio.
For example, from the device in your hand, the network can now know exactly where you are when you're consuming the data. That means they can offer you more targeted "ads" or "commercials." This opens up a whole new world of broadcast promotion, the likes that are just about to be imagined.
The flip side--WiFi. It's not licensed but it is being sponsored. If you ever wondered why the cable guys are all so bullish on WiFi. It's for the same reasons. They want to sell the right to deliver the content over it.