Verizon Wireless’s Lowell McAdam keeps saying that the wireless industry will move towards “buckets” of data rather than unlimited pricing. AT&T Wireless is proving his point today: The company is going to phase out its current $30-a-month unlimited data for smartphones in favor of new, cheaper pricing plans with monthly caps on data usage and a tethering option (yes, even for iPhones).
Starting next Monday, two new plans will be available, both of which involve base fees which cost less than the current plan and reasonably -priced additional “buckets” of data:
- $25 a month for 2GB
- Additional 1GB buckets are $10 apiece
- For new iPad buyers, this plan replaces the current $29.99 unlimited plan
- AT&T says 98 percent of its customers wouldn’t reach the 2GB cap
- $15 a month for 200MB
- Additional 200MB buckets are $15 apiece
- AT&T says 65 percent of its customers wouldn’t reach the 200MB cap
Both plans include unlimited free WiFi at 20,000 AT&T hotspots. And seeking out these hotspots may be more tempting now, since using them will help you conserve your monthly allotment of 3G data.
Current AT&T customers are grandfathered into their current plans, so they won’t lose their unlimited data–but they can switch to one of the new plans if they want.
The other big news: AT&T is offering a tethering option for $2o a month which will let you use your phone as a wireless modem, sharing your data allowance between handset and laptop. And once iPhone OS 4 arrives this summer, iPhone owners will finally get the tethering that AT&T Wireless’s Ralph De La Vega said was arriving “soon” back in November of 2008.
I’m probably not going to sign up for tethering for my iPhone–I have a Verizon MiFi mobile hotspot, generally use well over 2GB of data a month, and am locked into a contract. But the new data plans will cut my phone bill a bit. In months when I’m all iPhone–I also have a Verizon Droid–I tend to use between 200MB and 500MB of data. That’s more than the DataPlus plan’s 200MB allotment, but far less than DataPro’s 2GB. My logical move will presumably be to switch to DataPro, for a savings of $5 a month or $60 a year. And since I won’t come anywhere near the 2GB cap, I won’t have to be paranoid about keeping tabs on my usage.
I’m also thinking ahead to the LTE 4G data network which AT&T plans to start rolling out next year. Once truly high-speed wireless is a reality, data-intensive applications like streaming TV and videoconferencing are going to get a lot more exciting. S0 I figure my data usage is only going to go up in the years to come, and opting for a limited data plan now will prevent me from gorging on mobile broadband in the years to come. Which presumably helps to explain why AT&T is moving away from unlimited pricing now even though the new plans will let nearly all customers save $5-$10 a month.
Of course, by the time LTE is available, AT&T may tweak pricing plans further. (Sprint already charges $10 a month extra for 4G data on the EVO 4G, its first WiMax phone.) It’s not a given that refusing to give up the $30/month unlimited plan today guarantees that you won’t need to switch plans sooner or later.
In the end, AT&T’s shift is mildly good news for almost everybody in the short term, but the long-term message is the same one that Verizon’s McAdam has been harping on: the days of consuming massive amounts of wireless data at a low fixed price are coming to an end, just when consuming massive amounts of data is about to get interesting.