Now the US Has Tiered Data Plans

AT&T announced the end of the company’s ‘unlimited’ data plans starting on Monday, June 8.’a0 Now, if you’re buying a new iPhone, you’ll have the choice of a few data plans, including:

  • For $15/month, you are allowed 200 MB a month. If you go over 200MB, you’ll be charged an additional $15 for another 200 MB of data.
  • For $25/month, you are allotted 2GB per month. If you go over your 2GB limit, you’ll be charged an additional $10 for another 1 GB of data.

For current iPhone contract holders, you can hang on to your existing unlimited data plan without a contract extension.

In a related move, the AT&T will enable tethering, a feature available on other mobile carriers who feature the iPhone, as of June 8 for an additional $20/month.

For you iPad enthusiasts, AT&T is no longer offering an unlimited data plan for $29.99/month – you have to purchase the $25/month plan mentioned above.

Why is AT&T changing their data price plans?’a0 This remains unknown – perhaps the move is intended to to encourage folks to lessen their data use and otherwise relieve the heavy data load on AT&T’s 3G network. Most AT&T customers don’t use 2 GB of data – in fact, 65% of iPhone users use less than 200MB a month, so most iPhone customers stand to save money if they switch to the cheaper $15/month option.

Leveling the Playing Field

Readers of this post in Asia or Europe will wonder what all the fuss is about.’a0 In these areas, data plans are already tiered and an ‘unlimited’ option is not available.’a0 This move by AT&T makes the US on par with these other operating environments.’a0 However, I’d point out that the data prices are more than many areas, including the UK, where 3G data prices are relatively inexpensive.

Phone Makers Respond

RIM, the maker of the ever popular BlackBerry devices, has already responded to AT&T’s tiered data pricing model by emphasizing the data efficiency of their client/server push email option.’a0 According to RIM, most BlackBerry users only consume about 54MB of data per month, even though their email is updating constantly.

In the past, Nokia has also bragged about the data efficiency of their services including Nokia Maps and their Nokia Messaging email system.’a0 You see, Nokia operates in many global markets, including areas where data services are priced at a premium, so the Finnish phone makers has architeced their mobile apps and services to exchange only minimal amounts of data between the phone and the tower.

Will iPhone app developers respond in the same way, trying to minimize the data consumed by mobile customers?’a0 I believe they’ll have to.