Wednesday, June 2, 2010

ATT Kills Unlimited Data Plan, But Unveils Cheaper Data Plans

In an interesting move, ATT has killed their unlimited data plan for smartphones (which really means iPhones, as in general other devices except Android pale in comparison regarding data usage).  I suspect the reasoning is because their system has proven it can't handle the load of a lot of devices all consuming tons of data.  I'm hoping this move will improve ATT's service for all.  And let's face it, Verizon and Sprint can say they have better service, but they also don't have million+ iPhone users sucking down data left and right.  It's easy to be "better" when your system isn't being overloaded.

The New Plans
The plans at a glance (from TUAW and Engadget):
$15 - gets you 200MB a month of data, which is about 1000 emails with no attachments or 20 minutes of streaming video
$25 - gets you 2GB a month of data, which is 10 times as much as the cheaper plan

In each plan, if you get to 65%, 90% and 100% usage, you'll get a free txt message from ATT letting you know.  If you are on the cheaper plan, you have the option to upgrade, either for the whole month or  prorated for the month.  That's actually pretty amazing for a cell phone company, which typically gouges its customers with fees.  If you are on the bigger plan, the only option is to pay for overage, which will be $10 per gig.  Not terrible, considering that's cheaper than the original monthly fee cost for a gig ($12.50 v. $10).

So which plan?
I'm a big 3G data user.  I rarely use WiFi on my iPhone because I don't usually need it.  As a caveat, I don't stream audio for long periods of time and I don't stream video very often.  I do both, but not frequently. I do however view web sites, send and receive emails and view photos quite frequently.  Using ATT's nifty historical data usage chart, I discovered I use about 200-500MB of data a month.  More than the $15 plan, but significantly less than the 2GB cap.  So even if I tether a device, I would likely not go over the 2GB cap.  That saves me $5 from the $30 unlimited plan I have currently.  Although I'm so close to the 200MB cap with the cheaper plan, it's a little annoying.

iPhone users: to find out how much data you consume per month, log in to your ATT Wireless account and look for the past data usage link.

Further Thoughts
This is still an interesting move.  It will reduce the cost for a good number of iPhone users supposedly and may help sell more iPhones to those that feel they just don't use that much data (or who have trouble justifying or affording $30 a month just for data on their cell phone).  However, as pointed out by @ckoontz, the 2GB cap is significantly less than the cap Verizon and Sprint have.  Why the significantly different size? Obviously ATT has looked at the data usage on it's system.  What's curious is what would limiting the data plan to 3 or 4 or 5GB have meant?  Is it that those 2% of people that use over 2GB use still less than 5GB? Will be interesting to see how this plays out in marketing and in the industry.  Will Verizon and Sprint lower their caps as well?  Or will ATT be ridiculed? Does it matter?  As long as ATT has a lock on the iPhone, it may not matter.  And once Vz and Sprint get the iPhone, I suspect they'll experience similar issues and end up lowering their data caps as well.  And will this affect the Android v. iPhone decision that consumers face?  My suspicion is the 2% of huge data users may be prompted to move to Android and thus the larger data caps, or will just look for wifi hotspots.  However this makes the iPhone cheaper for the average user and thus more attractive than an Android device that's possibly on their current carrier.

I'm not thrilled with the killing of the unlimited data plan, but there could be benefits.  And if that benefit is improved service, then I may not mind at all.

Some interesting links regarding the news:

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