Assessing AT&T's new data plans: cheaper but limited--and, finally, with iPhone tethering
AT&T Wireless tore up its data-pricing playbook Wednesday morning, dumping its old unlimited-data rate in favor of two cheaper but limited plans.
Under the new price structure, starting Monday buyers of iPhones and other smartphones will no longer have to pay $30 a month for unlimited data service. Instead, they'll choose between a $15 DataPlus plan that includes 200 megabytes of data a month and a $25 DataPro option with 2 gigabytes of data a month.
Each new service departs from traditional wireless practice by not penalizing overages with steep per-megabyte fees. Instead, DataPlus users will pay an extra $15 for each extra 200 MB (or fraction of that quota) they use in a month, while DataPro customers will pay $10 for each extra gigabyte or fraction thereof.
AT&T says that 65 percent of its smartphone customers "use less than 200 MB of data per month on average," while 98 percent of them average less than 2 GB of data a month.
Those claims may sound implausible to people who can't stop checking their iPhones at every spare moment, but a look at an iPhone's data-usage display--open the Settings app, tap General and then tap Usage--may reveal another reality. When veteran tech reporter and early iPhone adopter Glenn Fleishman--one of the few people to blow past Comcast's 250-gigabyte monthly cable-modem limit--checked his own usage earlier this year, he was surprised to find that he'd only been averaging 270 megabytes a month. I've seen similar reactions from iPhone users on Twitter this morning.
If you own an iPhone, you'll get an extra reward later on when AT&T finally enables the "tethering" option Apple added to the iPhone's software a year ago. Once Apple ships the 4.0 version of the iPhone's operating system sometime this summer, AT&T will let you share an iPhone's Internet connection with a computer for $20 extra--a provision you can apparently switch on or off on a month-by-month basis. (11:42 a.m.: But that $20 doesn't increase your data allowance, which makes the surcharge look like a form of double-charging.)
On the other hand, users of the 3G version of Apple's iPad may not feel so happy about the change. Although they can keep renewing their current service (either $14.99 for 250 MB or $29.99 for unlimited use) as long as they want, after June 7 the $25 Data Pro option will replace the $29.99 unlimited deal. Considering how easy it is to indulge in video and other bandwidth-heavy uses on an iPad, that could be a problem.
The big unknown here is what AT&T's competitors will do next. Wireless carriers have a history of marching in lockstep in terms of basic voice and data pricing. So will others follow AT&T's lead? Or will they instead try to advertise the relative simplicity of their current data plans? Please post your guess--and your own assessment of AT&T's new prices--in the comments.
June 2, 2010; 10:10 AM ET
Categories: Mobile , Telecom
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