AT&T Replaces Single Data Plan With Tiered Pricing Menu

AT&T has revamped its data plan for mobile customers into two choices for low- and high-volume users, offering subscribers who don't consume as much data on their smartphones a chance to pay less.

At the same time, the company announced plans to offer tethering, the option of using a smartphone as a modem for the laptop to access the Internet. AT&T (NYSE: T) customers, particularly iPhone users, have been clamoring for the tethering feature for months, but availability has been delayed because AT&T's network was already plenty congested.

"To give more people the opportunity to experience these benefits, we’re breaking free from the traditional 'one-size-fits-all' pricing model and making the mobile Internet more affordable to a greater number of people," Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T's Mobility and Consumer Markets division, said in a statement.

If you are an existing customer with a smartphone plan, AT&T is not throwing you off. The existing unlimited plan will be grandfathered in to the new program. Customers who don't wish to change don't have to take any action.

For new customers effective June 7, the unlimited monthly $29.99 data plan is gone. It's replaced with either DataPlus or DataPro, and existing customers will have to contact AT&T to request the change. For $15 per month, DataPlus customers get 200MB of download data. AT&T estimates 65 percent of its customers use less than that on a monthly basis. If a customer exceeds the limit for the month, they get another 200MB for another $15.

The DataPro plan has a 2GB limit, with an additional 1GB for $10 if the customer exceeds that limit. DataPro is required for customers who want to use tethering, and then that will cost them an additional $20 per month. The overage limits and charges also apply to tethering.

Each plan includes unlimited access at no extra charge to AT&T's 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in the U.S. Customers can also use unlimited Wi-Fi at home, in the office or elsewhere if available.

The new pricing plans are a smart move, according to Avi Greengart, research manager for mobile devices at Current Analysis.

"They need to move away from unlimited data plans because it's unsupportable," he told InternetNews.com. "They can't even deliver unlimited on their network and most consumers don't need it. The way they are doing this is very consumer friendly. What they are doing is lowering the price for everybody."

In addition, Greengart believes this will open up smartphones to a much broader crowd.

"A lot of potential smartphone customers have been sitting on the sidelines because of the high cost of data plans. $15 for 200MB is enough if you want to check occasional e-mail or a Web page. For that class of user you will be able to stay within the limitations of the data plan. I think it will drive a lot of smartphone adoption," he said.

For new iPad customers, the $25 per month/2GB plan will replace the existing $29.99 unlimited plan. iPad customers will continue to prepay for their wireless data plan and no contract is required. Existing iPad customers who have the $29.99 per month unlimited plan can keep that plan or switch to the new $25 per month plan with 2GB of data.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

TAGS:

wireless, iPhone, smartphone, AT&T, data plan

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