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AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

AT&T is introducing new mobile data usage price plans that, it says, are all about making smartphone packages more affordable for more people. (See AT&T Unveils Mobile Data Plans.)

But the real deal about the operator's new monthly mobile data packages -- announced very late Tuesday -- is that its $30-per-month, unlimited data usage plan currently on offer to its smartphone users will no longer be available to new customers from June 7.

Instead, new subscribers hooking up to AT&T's wireless networks from that date will be limited to a certain level of data usage as part of their monthly fees, after which they will have to pay for any additional bytes downloaded.

The move, which comes only days before the expected unveiling of the latest iPhone at the Apple developers' conference and in the midst of a consumer clamor for the iPad, looks like the latest attempt by AT&T to control the volumes of data flooding across its mobile network, which buckled under the weight of increasing non-voice application usage last year. (See Bye, Bye Unlimited iPad Data Plan, International Sales Push iPad Over 2M Mark, iPhone: Could Multitasking Increase 3G Woes?, and Is AT&T Ready for the 3G iPad?)

The operator is also investing an additional $2 billion this year to bolster its mobile infrastructure and avoid the outages it suffered in New York City and San Francisco. (See AT&T Plots Widescale HSPA+ Rollout , AT&T to Spend $2B More on Wireless in 2010, and AT&T Mobile Boss: NYC & San Fran Are 'Underperforming'.)

The new prices certainly lower the entry level, with the cheapest package, called DataPlus, starting at $15 per month. That deal includes 200 Mbytes of data -- enough, says AT&T, to send or receive 1,000 emails or view 400 Web pages. Currently, 65 percent of the operator's smartphone users use less than 200 Mbytes of data per month, according to AT&T. An extra 200 Mbytes of data can be bought for an additional $15.

That means anyone on that tariff who uses 201 Mbytes in any given billing month will be charged $30. AT&T says it will text customers when they are approaching their data limits. In addition, customers, if they're using an iPhone or other "select devices," can monitor their data usage using the AT&T myWireless application.

The $15 data offer means a customer can get a voice and data package for $55 per month (before taxes and other variable fees). Currently, the entry level price is $70 per month.

For those who want more data, a 2-Gbyte package, called DataPro, is available for $25 per month. Those who go over that limit can get an extra 1 Gbyte for $10. AT&T says 98 percent of its current smartphone customers use less than 2 Gbytes of data per month. DataPro customers will also be able to use their mobile devices as wireless modems to connect other devices, such as laptops, to the AT&T mobile network for an extra $20 per month.

The shift away from unlimited mobile data usage had been expected, and was hinted at during a keynote session at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona involving AT&T's John Stankey, president of the carrier's Operations group.

But as industry analysts have suggested, this should only be the start of a broader strategy to fully realize the financial potential of mobile data applications. (See Optimize or Monetize Mobile Network Investments?)

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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wentriken 12/5/2012 | 4:34:11 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

>> The operator is also investing an additional $2 billion this year to bolster its mobile infrastructure and avoid the outages it suffered in New York City and San Francisco.


I like how suffered is used in the past tense here!

digits 12/5/2012 | 4:34:11 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

So AT&T wants to attract more folk by offering a low cost $15 entry fee, and then, if any of those users go 1 Kbyte over the 200 Mbyte monthly limit, they are charged another $15 - a 100% surcharge.


If I lived in the US, there's no way I'd sign up with AT&T - that's totally outrageous.

kalvie 12/5/2012 | 4:34:10 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

US Internet is strangely expensive compared to Europe. I have heard tales of 20 MB (MegaBYTE) download speeds in Sweden, all for the low low price of, like, half what I pay here for my little 1 MB.


So, what's your story, @Ray? 


Let's put some context in this bandwidth discussion... Where are you? London and ...? How much bandwidth (land line and mobile) do you get for your Pound?

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 4:34:09 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

To hear about that 20 Mbit/s service in Sweden listen in to the keynote from Johan Wickman, Head of R&D, in the mobility division at TeliaSonera at our Virtual LTE event tomorrow. (9:15 EST/ 15:15 CET)


Register here: http://bit.ly/dptmBw 


 


 

ycurrent 12/5/2012 | 4:34:07 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

if 98% of AT&T smartphone users consume less than 2Gb/month, then "smart" smartphone users should switch to $25/month!  AT&T stands to lose significant ARPU to manage the heavy usage of 2%.  That's not outrageous, it's bad business modeling!

Stevery 12/5/2012 | 4:34:07 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

At least they're making the decision to go elsewhere pretty simple.

fgoldstein 12/5/2012 | 4:34:07 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

Or is that $25/month atop the $15 entry plan?  That's what it looks like to me.  So you have:


 


$15 - 200MB


$30 - 400 MB (if you don't prepay)


$40 - 2GB (if you prepay)


plus overages.

[email protected] 12/5/2012 | 4:34:06 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

Ray,  You are correct about the AT&T outrage. At a time when 4G carriers are in nearly every major US market with fixed-cost plans that support multiple devices for $40-$50 per month, AT&T still believes that it's collection of exclusive handsets and dominance in GSM in the USA is enough to hold customers. Funny how they are complaining about the iPhones because without those, we would have migrated to another carrier even earlier to get better data service performance for a better price.


AT&T's pricing structure is all about the gotcha. Use a smartphone in any way, even with the 3G data function turned OFF (to force it to WiFi only) and they will still detect that usage and zing you for a full data plan charge at their whim.


Our response has been to pull the SIM chips out of our iPhones and move those to WiFi only including a 4G carrier when in the field via portable router. Our next move is to different smart phones that also serve as mobile hot spots. 


AT&T is sinking their own ship with 3G pricing from the past, and an attitude that customers will allow themselves to be endlessly milked no matter how outrageous the mobile data costs.

kalvie 12/5/2012 | 4:34:05 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps

@Mark


"AT&T's pricing structure is all about the gotcha. Use a smartphone in any way, even with the 3G data function turned OFF (to force it to WiFi only) and they will still detect that usage and zing you for a full data plan charge at their whim."


 


Any idea how they do that? Is there a contractual obligation to pay for data with any 3g phone? And, more big-brotherly, how does the network communicate with the billing system that there is a data-ready phone on it?


 

kalvie 12/5/2012 | 4:34:05 PM
re: AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps




Wow! 14Mbit for less than I spend on cable internet. But on lower plans, I would have to curtail online radio and movie streaming, as that 5 gig limit gives me, what? maybe 4 movies and a week of radio?


As you say, it may be impossible to run a network without data caps, but I can't see consumers going for it. Content is only getting fatter and easier to find, and customers increasingly want a mobile device that is Internet first and phone second.


Cell providers are going to have to incent us to use the network on non-peak times, pre-downloading content for local playback later, or offer some other choice for capturing content in a way that doesn't max out their infrastructure.


Re: removing the SIM cards from iPhones: We did a lot of testing on a Nokia n95 as a wifi phone with two-way video and were impressed. With enough hotspot coverage, I suppose, we could have deployed a real solution to avoid high cellular data fees, but coverage here is just too spotty and inconsistent. And it didn't address the market need for a freaking iPhone.


When that handset finally cuts the umbilicus to AT&T I bet we'll see a lot of innovation, both by AT&T to stem the attrition and competitiors to capture the huge masses of customers who had languished in the AT&T C/S queue.

 




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