Smart phone data plans
Starting Monday, AT&T Inc. is phasing out its offering of unlimited wireless data for $30 per month. If you’re a current customer you can keep that plan. If you’re a new one you need to pick one of two new plans:
• A plan called DataPlus will provide 200 megabytes of data for $15 per month. If you go over, you pay another $15 for 200 more megabytes. AT&T says this plan will suffice for people who surf the Web, send e-mail and use applications like Facebook. The data allowance is enough for more than 1,000 e-mails, hundreds of Web pages and 20 minutes of streaming video.
• A plan called DataPro will provide 2 gigabytes of data per month (10 times more than DataPlus) for $25 per month. If you go over, you pay another $10 for one more gigabyte. AT&T says 98 percent of smart phone users use less than 2 gigabytes.
• If you want to “tether” your phone to your laptop to give the computer Internet access through AT&T’s network, that will cost you another $20 per month, down from the current $30. IPhones will be able to tether for the first time this summer after a software upgrade. (Some users have hacked their phones to enable tethering already.)
The prices are in addition to the voice part of the plan, which costs at least $40 per month, plus taxes and fees that vary by jurisidiction. Data use over Wi-Fi does not count towards the limits.
New York Just in time for the release of a new iPhone, AT&T will stop letting new customers sign up for its unlimited Internet data plan for smart phones and iPads and charge more for users who hog the most bandwidth.
AT&T hopes to ease congestion on its network, which has drawn complaints, particularly in big cities. But the approach could confuse customers unfamiliar with how much data it takes to watch a YouTube video or fire up a favorite app.
The move takes effect in time for the expected unveiling of Apple’s new iPhone next week. Analysts said they expect other phone companies to follow. With no caps on consumption, data use could swamp wireless networks while revenue for the operators remains flat.
Verizon Wireless, the largest wireless carrier and AT&T’s chief rival, had no immediate comment on AT&T’s move. There has been much speculation about Verizon getting to sell its own version of the iPhone, but that prospect still appears distant.
A gigabyte is enough for hundreds of e-mails and Web pages, but it’s quickly eaten up by Internet video and videoconferencing. The 200 megabytes offered under the $15 plan is enough for more than 1,000 e-mails, hundreds of Web pages and about 20 minutes of streaming video, AT&T says.
With the smaller plan and voice service, a smart phone could cost as little as $55 per month before taxes and add-on fees, down from $70 now. Ralph de la Vega, head of AT&T’s consumer business, said smart phones would become accessible to more people.
“Customers are getting a good deal, and if they can understand their usage, they can save some money,” de la Vega said in an interview.
Figuring out which plan to choose may not be easy, because many people have only a hazy notion of the size of a gigabyte and how many they use now.
By contrast, a minute spent talking on the phone is easy to understand, and many people have learned roughly how many minutes they use every month.
The limits will apply only on AT&T’s cellular networks. Data usage over Wi-Fi networks, including AT&T’s public Wi-Fi “hot spots,” will not count toward the limits.
De la Vega noted that AT&T lets customers track their usage online. The iPhone also has a built-in usage tracking tool. And the carrier will also text subscribers to let them know they’re getting close to their limits.
Jason Prance, an iPhone 3G user in Atlanta, said his first reaction to the end of unlimited usage was to be “ticked off.”
But then he checked his data consumption on his iPhone for the first time and found he had never used more than 200 megabytes in a month. That surprised him, he said, because he sends and receives a lot of e-mail and watches online video now and then.
Now he figures he can save $30 per month by switching himself and his wife to the $15 plan.
For the iPad, the tablet computer Apple released a few months ago, the new $25-per-month plan will replace the $30 unlimited plan. IPad owners can keep the old unlimited plan as long as they keep paying $30 per month, AT&T said.