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AT&T Changes Its Data Plans; Enables Tethering

As of June 7, AT&T offers new data plans for iPhones, iPads, and all their other smartphones. For the iPhone, you can choose between two plans:

  • $15 per month for 200 MB of data (DataPlus)
  • $25 per month for 2GB of data (DataPro)

These changes also affect the iPad, but with one exception: the $15 per month iPad plan remains at 250 MB. With the iPad, you can still enable or disable either plan on a monthly basis; there is no required contract.

For iPhones, you must always be subscribed to one of the plans (at least that’s the way it appears for now); you can however switch between the two plans at any time.

There is no rollover feature. Any portion of your data allowance left over at the end of the month is lost.

The former $30 per month “unlimited” options are completely gone. For the iPad, “unlimited” vanishes only a month after it arrived! However, if you were enrolled in an unlimited plan prior to June 7, you can retain it indefinitely. For the iPad, you lose this option if you ever drop the plan for even one month. For the iPhone, you can keep the “unlimited” option as long as you renew your contract, even if you upgrade to new hardware.

AT&T also will enable Internet Tethering for the iPhone (at last!) whenever iPhone OS 4.0 comes out. Tethering costs an extra $20 per month and is available only for DataPro subscribers. If you choose to retain your existing iPhone's $30/month "unlimited" plan, you can't use tethering; you must shift to DataPro. There is no additional data allowance associated with the $20 fee. Data used while tethering is deducted from your 2 GB cap. You can turn tethering on or off on a month-to-month basis. I believe tethering will not be available for the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G (even after it is updated to OS 4.0).

That’s a summary of the facts. Here's what it all means:

  • Almost all users will save money under the new plans. This is because almost all users currently use less than 2 GB per month. This means what used to cost $30 per month will now cost $25 per month or (for some users) only $15 per month.

  • Before you get too happy about saving this money, bear in mind that your usage patterns may increase going forward. As data networks improve and get faster, and as more iPhone Internet features are added (such as video conferencing), your bandwidth usage is certain to go up. The day will likely come when you will want more than 2 GB per month. I believe that anticipating such shifts was a primary motivation behind AT&T’s new plans.

  • The new plans amount to a bait-and-switch for early iPad buyers. If you purchased an iPad Wi-Fi + 3G rather than a iPad Wi-Fi—based on the “unlimited” plan offered at the time of sale, you are right to feel snookered. As Dan Frakes argues, Apple and AT&T should permit these early adopters to retain the original $30 per month plan—even if they drop it temporarily and then renew. Don’t bet on this happening however.

  • If you exceed your plan’s limits, DataPlus users pay another $15 for an additional 200 MB while DataPro users pay $10 for an additional 1 GB. Clearly, if you expect to exceed 200 MB, even by a little bit, you are much better off as a DataPro subscriber.

  • AT&T’s tethering policy is absurd. That’s the kindest way I can describe it. For $20 per month, you get…nothing except permission to use tethering. Whatever data you use while tethered is deducted from the 2 GB total for which you already paid $25. This amounts to double-billing for the same data. It would have been far preferable to have a low hourly rate for tethering—with a separate data allowance—and available for both DataPlus and DataPro users. Otherwise, AT&T should include tethering with the DataPro plan at no additional charge. It’s true that, even with the $20 surcharge, AT&T’s tethering is cheaper than what is available from some other carriers. Regardless, AT&T’s price structure discourages occasional tethering. As an extreme example, a DataPlus subscriber, who wanted to use tethering for one afternoon over the course of a month, would need to pay $35 to do so ($15 to upgrade to DataPro and $20 for tethering). Actually, I am not certain that a switch to DataPro takes effect immediately. It may be that this sort of spontaneous action cannot be done!

  • Perhaps you were thinking of using your iPhone to create a tethered connection to your iPad—for those occasions when no Wi-Fi access is available. Think again. According to AT&T, you will not be able to do this. Current hardware and software include all that is needed to successfully tether an iPad to an iPhone via either Bluetooth or the USB port add-on included as part of the iPad’s Camera Connection Kit. However, Apple (possibly in agreement with AT&T) will not permit it to work. There is an alternative: You can jailbreak your iPhone—easily done via Spirit. Having done this, install MiWi. With this app, you can tether your iPhone via USB, Bluetooth, or even Wi-Fi (allowing your iPhone to act as a MiFi-like hotspot). Of course, none of this is sanctioned by Apple or AT&T.

Still have more questions? Check out the articles from TidBITS, Macworld, and TUAW. They will likely have the answers.

—Posted by Ted Landau on June 4, 2010

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