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AT&T To Stop Offering Unlimited Data Plans

Smartphone use is on the rise, and along with it, consumers’ appetites for mobile data services are growing exponentially.   Hoping to profit from the growth, and to stave off potential profit stifling network load, AT&T announced on Wednesday it will cease offering unlimited data plans to mobile customers.

Existing customers will be grandfathered in to their prior plans but begging Monday (the same day a new iPhone is expected to debut) new AT&T mobile customers will have to choose between two data plans.

On the pricier side, AT&T will offer a 2 GB “Plus” plan for $25 a month.   Overages will cost another $10 per month for each gigabyte of added usage.

For the more frugal (data or dollars), a second plan will offer 200mb of data service for $15 a month.  Additional 200mb increments will cost $15 each.

Customers will be able to change between plans pro-actively, AT&T says, but it’s a manual (not automatic process). That means, if in the middle of a billing cycle an overage is expected, a customer can jump from the basic to plus service to avoid excessive fees.  At the end of the month, they can log in and switch back as needed.

Failure to manually make the switch could prove expensive, however.  Especially if you downgrade for a month of expected light usage and don’t switch back.   In some cases, a basic user could end up paying more money for less service than a premium customer.

AT&T is holding to the line that the changes will not impact most customers.  The company says, on average, 65% of its customers use less than 200mb of data per month and 98% of its customers use less than 2GB.

That won’t stop  people from questioning the plans, in particular new iPhone customers who are, for the near term at least, stuck with AT&T as their only option.

For iPhone users the new plpans may seem like a tax on the very features they chose their phone for in the first place. 

According to Nielsen, the average iPhone user currently tallies about 400mb per month of data.   But heavy use of certain service like Skype over 3G,  streamed content (music or video), or heavy use of Google maps, could push customers close to the limits of the new plans.

AT&T promises all smartphone users will get text/email warnings as they approach their plans limits so there will be no surprises.     That may be true but the changes could spur customer interest in other carriers if the marketing (and disclosure) on the new plans isn’t handled carefully.

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