Lowdown on the AT&T data plans

John Gruber explains the good and bad regarding AT&T's new data plans. Short version: 'unlimited' is dead, but it's OK because overage rates are now reasonable. However, tethering is an extra $20, with no extra allocation, meaning they're charging you again for bandwidth you've already paid for.


  1. I can see this going to court, as a charge for ‘nothing’ — if it does AT&T will respond with 1 additional gig, and make that the ‘value-add’

  2. What a horrible company. I can’t wait to leave them, I will gladly take my business elsewhere. I’m not even sure why I was dumb enough to sign up for them in the first place.

  3. Gruber’s view is a little too optimistic. It may be true that only 2% of users go over 2GB/month, but that doesn’t mean users who stay below that figure are unaffected. People who used, say, 1.8GB/month before this change had a completely care-free experience, now they have to worry about staying below their data ceiling.

    For a little perspective on the value of AT&T’s offering, in Italy I pay €5 (around $6.50) for 3GB/month with no contract using a pre-pay SIM. Obviously there’s no additional charge for tethering, no limit on Skype usage, and watching my carrier’s streaming TV channels does not eat into my data limit.

    1. And the sad extra bit, to me at least, is that cost of living in Europe are higher than the US, so that implies to me that the Euro rates are even lower relative to ours.

      AT&T is evil. I can’t believe the regulators let them re-merge in the phoneborg. I realize that the market is very different now versus when they were broken up, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

  4. I’ve read about AT&T’s new policy all over the net and people are all thinking “oh, I’ll be okay because by checking my data usage, I’ve fallen way under the limit.”

    However, for those individuals getting the new iphone (or any new smartphone with new, data-intensive features), rumored features include video chat – which will be among those features that use up a whole lot more data than checking email. So I think people can get or already have enough information about their behavior if their lifestyles don’t change and they keep the same phone. But if they have a more feature-rich phone, they could rack up the fees no matter what.

    I think the real asshole behavior on AT&T’s part is the change in unlimited plans for ipad. I knew the plan wouldn’t last long, but I didn’t think AT&T would cut it off after 60 days.

    1. ugh, gruber went off half-cocked. we *should* all know we won’t know the whole story until tuesday when all the press releases flow freely after the apple show.

  5. I’m glad I only pay $60 a month for 500 voice minutes and unlimited text and data with T-Mobile. Is AT&T trying to drive away every customer once they lose the iPhone exclusivity?

    1. I think they are trying to cash in on their exclusivity. They do not intend to compete on service quality, as the iPhone brings them customers and the 2-year contract makes it easy to retain customers or make money on their leaving. So now AT&T are squeezing all they can from smartphone, mainly iPhone, users.

      It is simple logic: find out what the customers love and price it higher. This way the company gets more money in exchange of less of the desirable resource, in this case bandwidth.

      In the tyrannical self-centered world of absolute CEO dictatorship this is quite practical.

      Note how their bandwidth calculator allows for up to 10 minutes of streaming music per day.


      One can always hope for successful unlocking of the new iphone.

  6. Can they really tell if you’re tethering? I have a free app on my Droid that allows me to tether without a worry. Apparently, if you tell Verizon you’re going to tether they’ll throw on an extra $20 a month, but from what I’ve read there’s no way they can see that you’ve been doing it. I’ve been tethering for several months with no problems.

  7. …but it’s OK because overage rates are now reasonable.

    wait, misreading alert, that’s actually the oposite of what Gruber says:

    BAD: The overage charges for that DataPlus plan are shitty. They get charged more — $15 — for another measly 200 MB. That’s usurious. For $15, they should get an entire extra gigabyte.

    1. There’s no misreading. The overage rates are reasonable I’f you are on the 2gb plan. That “bad” refers to the rate on the 200 gb plan. The fact that there is a different rate for each plan, however, is serious bullshit.

  8. Man. That’s even worse than Rogers! How is that even possible? Rogers is gonna have to work harder to screw people.

  9. I’m thinking adding tethering to my wifes iPhone plan will be cheaper than the USB Mobile broadband thing she has from Verison at $65 a month. My math is a little weak but $20 added to her iPhone plan (and one less doodad to carry) sounds way cheaper to me.

  10. Ummm… AT&T has always charged for tethering. There’s really no way for them to tell if you unlocked that capability on your own or not, but they’ve been charging $15 for tethering for years now.

  11. What I’d really like to know is why no one is discussing how this affects anyone who texts? I just upgraded to unlimited because after the switch I’d be paying the same or more for less service…

    I could opt for the lower data plan. But I get/send over 200 texts a month. So we’re back up to $30. I’m used to avoiding data on my phone like the plague (I was on an old plan that included only a few MBs), but once I’m surfing and emailing and uploading photos I may want more… Upgrade and then I’m paying more than $30 for 1500 texts and 2 gig of data. Or paying

    I don’t mind the concept of tiers. But these new plans are terrible.

    1. … You’re paying what? I’d pay $+5/mo with my carrier for unlimited text messaging. I already get unlimited incoming texting for free with even the ultra basic hermit hates the universe package… and I’m in Canada where they screw you out of everything.

  12. So happy I jumped on the Sprint SERO plan when they opened it to everyone for a few months. $30/month for 500min and unlimited data and text = win. Only down side is you can’t get the very newest phones, but the HTC Touch Pro 2 is good enough for me.

  13. I really don’t get US pricing for mobile telephony, I live in Finland and nothing is cheap here, still I bought just a week ago a HTC legend and got some connectivity for it. I’m paying 14€/month (~$18-$19)
    for fullspeed 3G which is around 10M where the network supports it and the network usually works with speeds above 500kB/s for me so no complaints there. Included in the contract was an extra sim card for 3G usb dongle which was also included in the price.

    There are no limitations to the 3G except don’t use p2p to download loads of crap. No monthly quotas, no limitations to tethering, I’d never even heard that operators frown on tethering before the iPhone/ATT drama. Hell my 6 year old Nokia supported tethering out of the box with bluetooth and GPRS and that was what the operators expected you to use it for.

    Cheapest 3G here is these days around 5€/month for 384kbps connection with unlimited data.

    The phone was 240€ (~$300) from my operator unlocked (it was required that I buy a 12 month contract with it but it was one with no monthly fees so you could just put it in your drawer as a backup).

    I’m really wondering here what the fuck is going on, I never pay more than 25€/month for my 3G/calls/sms unless I’m abroad and paying the roaming fees. I guess a good way to compare prices here is that petrol here costs around 6€/gallon.

  14. “However, tethering is an extra $20, with no extra allocation, meaning they’re charging you again for bandwidth you’ve already paid for.”

    That’s not really true. The difference is that even for an unlimited plan, they expect you to use about $20 worth of data more, on average, when you tether your device.

    1. Seth, that argument held (some) water with the “unlimited” plans, but with service tiers at 200MB and 2GB, it really doesn’t apply any more.

      And I’ll echo what was said above. The iPad 3G was (and is…no update at apple.com) sold based on some pretty reasonable service terms: Come and go as you like, inexpensive data-only plans, friendly upgrade provisions. AT&T couldn’t actually stick to these terms for six whole weeks. Amazing.

      I’m pretty sure AT&T can’t move that fast, so at least AT&T, if not Apple, knew about this at the launch of the 3G version.

      So, I can no longer come and go as I like if I want the unlimited plan, I have to keep it active? And of course, don’t expect clarification from AT&T before it’s too late.

    2. You’re paying $25 for 2GB of data.

      It shouldn’t matter whether that data goes to your iPhone or your PC. 2GB==2GB

  15. ::Points at people using AT&T::

    Ha! Ha!

    Seriously… paying an extra $20 a month for the privilege of tethering? It would be one thing if it was unlimited data + tethering, but you are paying for the same 2gb (which you will quickly burn with a netflix movie or two). That is like charging someone for using the fourth fucking gear in their car.

    AT&T is, frankly, the fucking devil. Only Apple with its maximum security federal “pound you in the ass” prison… I mean “walled garden”… system even comes close. It is good the two managed to join up and concentrate all of the world’s evil corporatism in one place. A place to let the NSA conduct warrantless wiretaps while raiding my bank account for shinny white plastic?! Brilliant!

    Honestly, I wish Google had sold the Nexus One in stores and given it a real chance. Buying an open device outright and then getting a reasonable non-subsidized pricing plan was a great leap forward for the US market. Too bad Nexus One didn’t have Bono, or whatever overpaid douche bag is currently plugging the living crap out of Apple’s over priced junk for large wads of hot sweaty cash.

  16. I love this part from this article via PC World Mag:

    PCWorld Editor Ed Albro noted on his Twitter feed that AT&T’s new tiered data plan would have saved him $75 over the past seven months; however, PCWorld’s commenters took a different point of view. “I was thinking of going to att for the dell streak, now i think att can suck it,” said sroach23.

  17. I’m perfectly willing to believe that, as AT&T said, 98% of smartphone users never use more than 2GB of data in a month (although I suspect that the distribution would be weighted far more to the right if you looked at iPhone users only). But to me, this story isn’t about the iPhone, or about tethering (as much as the tethering charge does amount to a gratuitous screw-you from AT&T).

    No, this is about the iPad 3G. It was presented and sold as a device for streaming media, full-size web browsing, Google Maps, and the like — a replacement for a computer. And I’ve had one for a month now and, full disclosure here, I love it — I have stopped reaching for my laptop for many everyday tasks, mail, browsing, maps, etc. I believe this is what Steve Jobs was aiming at with his (eccch) “magical and revolutionary” patter.

    I can state confidently that, with an iPad, 2GB/month is a bad joke. An average user could use that much in a few days just by browsing a bunch of ad-heavy web pages, streaming an hour of high-quality video, and using Google Maps for a while – i.e. by using the iPad just for what it was designed for. Just as a test, I measured my 3G data usage in Google Maps with the satellite view on – in *ten seconds* I’d used 4.2 megabytes. At that rate, I would eat up a 2G limit simply by using Maps for less than an hour and a half. The other day on the train I tracked my progress in the satellite view for half an hour, just for fun. That was probably 500MB right there. Forget about using, say, Netflix (which was heavily featured — including the promise that it would work over 3G — during the iPad introduction).

    No, iPad 3G users who think, perhaps based on iPhone experience, that 2GB/month is plenty are in for a big shock — and, at $10/GB overage, big, big bills.

    The thing I don’t understand is how this could happen. Didn’t Apple at least secure some contractual agreement with AT&T for the 3G data plan that Steve Jobs presented so proudly in his keynote a “breakthrough deal with AT&T” (wording that, last time I looked, is still on the Apple iPad 3G web page)? The promise was: unlimited data for $30/month, 250MB for $15/month, and — crucially — the flexibility to switch at will between the plans, and even temporarily suspend the plan (e.g. when going on vacation) AT&T have utterly reneged on this deal (I’m giving Apple the benefit of the doubt here) and the new plans render the iPad 3G far less valuable. That’s going to cost Apple, a lot, and they must be fuming now.

    To me as an iPad 3G owner the crucial question is whether I am “grandfathered,” in the sense of retaining, not only the unlimited data plan, but the flexibility to turn it on and off at will that was part of the original terms under which the iPad was sold. I am getting contradictory answers from AT&T – one representative, whom a very helpful AppleCare rep. called for me, assured me that current iPad 3G accountholders will indeed keep that option, but online many are reporting that they’ve been told that they will *not* and, for example, if they let their unlimited plan lapse for even one month they will never be able to get it again.

    If this turns out to be true, I will be returning my iPad to Apple and expecting a full refund. When a company heavily advertises that their product features a flexible, unlimited data plan and a consumer, believing the advertisement, plonks down $829 for the device, it seems pretty clear to me that, when the device loses those features a mere month after purchase, it’s essentially defective. If Apple can’t remedy the defect by restoring the original feature, they owe me my money back.

  18. At $10 a gigabyte, it would cost about $10 to watch a movie on your iPad (if the iPad had Flash and could play movies). Does that sound like a reasonable price? Not to me, that is about 3 times as much as I would consider paying.

  19. I just did a couple calculations looking at the 2GB package.

    As of June 3, 9:37PM PST the main BoingBoing.net page registered a size on disk of 2.52MB

    You are allowed 2GB/mo with AT&T’s new plan.
    So 2GB*1024=2048MB, but knowing AT&T will really mean 2000MB. But I will look at it as 2048MB.

    30 Day cycle on average for a month
    2048/30 = ~68.2MB each day

    68.2 / 2.52

    You can look at 27 websites a day. If you figure for 8 hours you are using your phone that about 3-4 websites an hour. 1 website every 15 minutes. I get bored looking at a website for more than a couple of minutes.

    But that’s not including overhead or anything of that nature. Plus there is email, bits, and other fun internet applications.

    Or every day you can listen to 1hr 12minutes of a 128Kbit audio stream.

    72 emails with graphics, html, and attachments if each email is a conservative 32KB, or about 9-10 emails an hour. Ok. so this one is realistic.

    1. Boing Boing’s home page isn’t the ideal candidate if you’re going to pick a sample of one to determine the average web page size. In fact, the average is probably under 500KB, and, in any case, you don’t get to see the standard Boing Boing home page by default on an iPhone, you get served up the mobile version which weighs in at around 550KB.

      It’s also unlikely that you’ll find many users who can actually spend 8 hours/day every day of the month outside easing their boredom by looking at random web pages while outside of Wi-Fi coverage, and if you do find them you’ll probably notice they have bigger issues to deal with than AT&T’s pricing structure.

      That being said, you’ve left out one of the most common web-based activities which can easily eat up more than 2GB/month: Youtube. A standard def Youtube stream is around 500Kb/s which means you’ll get through 2GB in less than 9 hours.

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