Lower AT&T Fees: A Boon For iPhone 4 Sales?

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As behemoth retailers Best Buy, Radio Shack, and Wal-Mart announce plans to carry the iPhone 4 starting June 24, there's little doubt that Apple's latest smartphone will be a commercial success. One factor that may lure new customers to the iPhone is AT&T's $15-per-month data plan, a lower-priced option that reduces the overall cost of smartphone ownership--that is, provided you use the device sparingly.

AT&T recently announced new tiered data plans that replace its unlimited $30-per-month offering. The $15-per-month DataPlus plan looks great on paper, particularly to cost-conscious consumers who've avoided smartphones because of the high carrier fees.

So what's new? Well, an iPhone 4 buyer who combines DataPlus with AT&T's $40/month Nation 450 voice plan will get a monthly wireless bill of $55--plus those annoying taxes and fees. Of course, the phone itself costs $200 with a 2-year wireless contract.

Hey, $55 per month sounds pretty darn good, particularly when you've heard that monthly smartphone bills can easily run north of $100. There's a catch, however. AT&T's lowball price won't meet the needs of a lot of users, particularly those fond of Web browsing.

DataPlus offers only 200 MB of data per month, enough to send/receive 1,000 emails without attachments and 150 emails with attachments, view 400 Web pages, post 50 photos on social media sites, and watch 20 minutes of streaming video, AT&T says.

The $55/month plan that I configured at AT&T's site is pretty stingy. Text messages, for instance, cost an additional 20 cents each. One option is to buy 200 texts for an extra $5/month.

AT&T is targeting value-seekers with its cut-rate data plan. "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," said Ralph de la Vega, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets president and CEO, in a prepared statement.

Yes, and you get what you pay for. It's likely that a lot of new iPhone customers who sign up for DataPlus will soon upgrade to the $25-per-month DataPro plan. It includes 2 GB of data, enough to send/receive 10,000 emails without attachments and 1,500 emails with attachments, view 4,000 Web pages, post 500 photos to social media sites, and watch 200 minutes of streaming video.

In other words, the total cost of iPhone ownership (or any smartphone, for that matter) is still quite high, particularly if you plan to use the device as nature and Steve Jobs intended.

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