AT&T offers double data for family plans, but read the fine print carefully

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AT&T is doubling down on its smartphone data deals, literally. The carrier announced on Sunday that some customers can double the amount of data they receive on Mobile Share Value plans for the same price they're paying now.

A family currently on AT&T's $160 monthly plan that offers 15GB of shared data for two smartphones, for example, can now double that to 30GB. The deal is not automatic, however, and existing customers must proactively sign-up for the deal before October 31.

The good news is there's no expiration date on the deal once you've got it. In other words, our example family can continue to pay $160 for 30GB of shared data plus unlimited talk and text unless they need to up their data allotment beyond 30GB. 

The story behind the story: AT&T's data doubling is only the latest salvo in the ongoing battle between U.S. carriers to offer the most attractive packages for new and existing smartphone customers. The data skirmishes have been going on for more than a year ever since T-Mobile declared itself the Uncarrier. But the data deals have really picked up the pace in recent months. T-Mobile dropped pricing on its family data plans for a limited time in July, followed by a Sprint deal in August. Verizon also recently changed its data offers with a new single line plan.

Breaking down the deal

double data chart

AT&T's limited time deals for Mobile Share Value plans.

Besides the fact that you must sign-up for AT&T's new deal by October 31, AT&T is only extending this deal to people on family deals that start with 15GB (now 30GB) of shared data on up to 10 lines. Family shares at the 10GB tier are ineligible.

On top of the shared data charges, as seen in the chart above, you have to pay an extra $15 per line for your smartphones if you're on AT&T Next, the company's early upgrade service. Anyone on a traditional two-year contract will be forking over $40 monthly access charge per-line.

A family that wanted to share 30GB between four phones, for example, would be paying $190 every month if all four phones were on AT&T Next, $290 if on two-year contracts.

The lowest anyone could pay would be $160 for unlimited talk and text, and 30GB of data shared between two smartphones. AT&T requires a minimum two smartphone lines to be eligible for its Mobile Share Value plans.

Any family with more voracious data needs can get up to 100GB while only paying AT&T's 50GB monthly pricing tier of $375—not including the per line monthly charge.

Lining up with the competition

Any family thinking about jumping ship to another carrier has a few choices among the major carriers. If we assume we're shopping for a family of two with smartphones on the early upgrade track, on Sprint we'd be looking at paying $130 for 20GB of data and unlimited talk and text. If you sign up by September 30 (Tuesday), Sprint will add an extra 2GB per line bringing our hypothetical couple up to 24GB per month of shared data.

T-Mobile offers unlimited talk and text, plus unlimited 4G LTE data for $110 per month. But only the primary phone on a two-line plan gets truly unlimited data. The second line gets just 1GB of LTE data and speeds are throttled after the first gigabyte. 

Verizon's family deal, the More Everything plan, is not even worth talking about. Deal hunters will want to stick with AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile.

Compared to many other family plans, AT&T's family share plan looks pretty good if you find your plan lacking on data—but you only have until Halloween to take advantage of AT&T's latest deal.

This story, "AT&T offers double data for family plans, but read the fine print carefully" was originally published by TechHive.

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