Making Sense of the New AT&T Data Plans

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AT&T is at it again. In June of 2010, AT&T pulled the plug on its unlimited data plans and switched to tiered bandwidth plans. Now, AT&T is switching things up again – giving customers more megabytes per dollar, but charging more money in the process. So, which AT&T data plan is right for you?

Currently, AT&T offers basically three data plan options. You can get 200MB per month for $15, 2GB per month for $25, or add the ability to do hotspot tethering from a smartphone with an additional 2GB of bandwidth to bring it to 4GB for $45 per month. If you exceed the 200MB plan, you will be charged an additional $15 for another 200MB, while going over the limit on the 2GB plan results in an additional 1GB of bandwidth for $10.

Some AT&T customers may benefit with more megabytes per dollar on the new data plans.
At the time that AT&T rolled out these plans, it framed it as an altruistic move designed to somehow save customers money. AT&T claimed that 98 percent of its customers use less than 2GB, and 65 percent stayed under 200MB, so instead of paying $30 a month for unlimited access they didn’t need, they could switch to the $15 or $25 plans as appropriate. Fair enough.

As of this Sunday--January 22--AT&T will no longer offer those plans for new customers. Now, customers will get 300MB of data for $20 per month, 3GB of data for $30 per month, and the hotspot tethering plan will include 5GB of bandwidth for $50 per month.

Apparently things have changed, though, since those initial tiers were introduced. If 98 percent of customers use less than 2GB of data, then upping the ante to a 3GB data plan seems silly.

Existing AT&T customers can hang on to their current data plans if they choose. But--as with every other time that a wireless provider switches things up--once you change, you can’t go back to the plans that are no longer offered. So, does it make sense to jump to one of the new plans?

For many AT&T customers, the answer may very well be “yes”. In terms of megabytes per dollar, the new plans are actually a better value than the previous ones. Customers who have the 200MB plan, and consistently go over end up paying $30 per month for 400MB of data. But, if they’re going over by less than 100MB, those customers will benefit from choosing the 300MB plan and saving $10 per month.

A similar scenario applies for customers on the 2GB plan. Customers that go over the 2GB plan end up with an additional 1GB for $10, bringing the total to $35 per month for 3GB. Those customers can actually save $5 a month by just embracing the 3GB plan for $30 in the first place. Likewise, customers on the 4GB plan who go over end up spending $55 for 5GB, and can save $5 per month by switching to the new 5GB plan.

I have the 4GB plan just so I can use my iPhone 4S as a Wi-Fi hotspot when I need to. But, I don’t think I’ve ever come close to exceeding the 4GB allotment, so it makes sense for me to stick with the $45 plan I already have. However, I ended up bumping my wife to the 2GB plan because she consistently exceeded 200MB, but she doesn’t really need anywhere near that much, and the 300MB plan will be perfect for her.

Your mileage may vary. You can log in to the AT&T site and review your data usage month to month to examine how much you use on average, and choose the new data plan that works best for you…or stick with the existing data plan you’re already using.

AT&T has not responded to a request for information relative to the number of customers that might benefit from the change to a 300MB or 3GB plan.

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