Running the Numbers on AT&T’s New Shared Data Plans

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REUTERS / RICK WILKING

AT&T will launch shared data plans this August, following the path of its rival Verizon Wireless.

Just like Verizon’s “Share Everything” plans, AT&T’s “Mobile Share” plans will let users buy a bucket of data to share across several phones, tablets and mobile hotspots.

AT&T’s pricing structure is a bit different from Verizon’s, in that the monthly cost for each smartphone on AT&T depends on the size of the data bucket. A 1 GB shared plan, for instance, costs $40 for the data plus $45 per phone, while a 20 GB plan costs $200 plus $30 per phone.

(MORE: AT&T to Introduce Shared Data Plans)

Otherwise, the pricing is the same as Verizon. All plans include unlimited voice minutes and text messages, and smartphones may be used as mobile hotspots for no extra charge. Each tablet that draws from the data bucket costs $10 per month, and each mobile hotspot or USB stick costs $20 per month. Basic and messaging phones cost $30 per month with unlimited talk and text.

Unlike Verizon, AT&T isn’t phasing out its existing plans. New customers can still sign up for individual or family packages without shared data, and existing users can keep buying subsidized phones without losing their unlimited data plans.

To see how AT&T’s shared data plans stack up, I’ve created a couple charts that compare prices for a handful of scenarios:

Jared Newman / TIME.com

Some thoughts:

  • As with Verizon’s shared data plans, AT&T’s basic individual and family plans are always cheaper than comparable shared data plans. I didn’t even show AT&T’s $20 per month, 300 MB smartphone data plans, which could save you even more money compared to the shared data plans.
  • Shared data only makes sense if you’re willing to sacrifice gigabytes in exchange for voice minutes or text messages, or if you already spend a lot on talk and text to begin with. (As social networks and services like iMessage supplant calls and text messages, I suspect this trade-off is becoming less worthwhile.)
  • Standalone mobile hotspots were always a huge ripoff because AT&T required at least a 5 GB plan. They’re now more palatable on a shared data plan, but you’re still better off using your phone as a hotspot instead, especially because it’s free.
  • The fact that AT&T and Verizon charge $10 per month  for each connected tablet continues to be the most frustrating thing about these plans. The extra charge isn’t justified by the service provided; it only slows the adoption of new connected devices, and defeats the purpose of offering a unified bucket of data in the first place.

At least AT&T is allowing new customers to avoid these plans. If you’re signing up with AT&T and want more than the bare minimum voice minutes and text messages, head to the carrier’s Mobile Share website, and run the math compared to its individual and family plans.

MORE: Verizon’s New ‘Share Everything’ Plans- Good Deal or Total Ripoff

4 comments
Gura
Gura

This morning I received a text message from ATT telling me I had used 65% of my data allowance. One minute later I received another text saying I had use 95%. One minute after that I got another message saying I had gone over the limit and they were going to charge me extra. All in three minutes!!!

I barely use my phone to go online! I use it to check if I have an email (which is twice a day (the most). I don't use my cell phone to search the web nor I use it to watch videos. 

This is nothing else but a rip off, a scam.

I want out! I will be looking for a Verizon or anyone else today. I can't wait to get this gangsters off my back!

Gregg L. DesElms
Gregg L. DesElms

To my utter astonishment, it seems that we will actually save $30 per month over our existing ATamp;T "Family" plan versus ATamp;T's equivalent new "Share Mobile" plan.  Seriously, I can't believe it.  We're talking about ATamp;T, here.  Why, in the name of all that either is or isn't holy, would ATamp;T want to actually reduce our monthly bill (what with it having roped us into paying what we're not paying in the first place)?

The precise plan we have isn't exactly available anymore, but here's what he now have:  Last November (of 2011) when we signed-up for our current two-year "Family" plan (as part of an upgrade of both our phones), we got 1,400 monthly shared (between us) minutes of talk time on calls to any non-celluar phones (with rollover of unused minutes for future use); plus we paid a flat fee for the two of us to get unlimited text, plus unlimited talk minutes to any cell phone on any network; plus 2GB of Internet data for each of our phones (4GB, total, between us) for a grand total of $180 per month.  Since then, it appears the 2GB Internet data plans have gone away, and have been replaced by 3GB plans for $5/mo more than we're now paying for 2GB; so that means if we signed-up for the same plan today that we did last November, it would cost us $5 more per month, each, for a grand total of $190/mo.  But we're currently committed until November of 2013 to $180/month with 2GB/mo of Internet data per phone.

And that's where we would likely have stayed until this new ATamp;T "Share Mobile" thing came along... again, to my utter astonishment.

From my today's reading of the ATamp;T website page which warns that the new "Share Mobile" plans are coming (and where one can sign-up to receive an email message when it's finally available in August, which I did), it looks as if we can get pretty much exactly what we now have, but for $30/month less... for $150/month instead of the $180/month that we're now paying.

Acccording to the table on that website, 4GB of shared Internet data (which is, effectively, what we now have between our two phones, except that it's allocated as a fixed, discreet 2GB per phone instead of a share 4GB between us) will cost $70 per month.  Then, beyond that, it will cost $40 per month for each of our phones, each of which will get unlimited talk to any phone (both landlines and cell phones), plus unlimited text (which is kinda' what we now have since we rarely use-up our 1,400 monthly minutes, and have gazillions of rollover minutes just waiting to be used; plus we have now unlimited text, and unlimited talk to at least cell phones on any network).

So, though we'd go from shared talk minutes and text, and discreet data...

...to shared data and discreet talk minutes and text, the bottom line cost under the new "Shared Mobile" plan will be $30 per month LESS than the $180 per month that we're now paying.

But, wait, it gets even potentially better:  According to that same table on the ATamp;T webstie, for only $10/month more ($160/month), we can goose our Internet data up to 6GB (50% more than our current 4GB) by paying $90/month for the 6GB of shared data, then $35/month for each of our phones = $160 per month.

But, wait, it gets even potentially better:  For the exact same $180/month that we're now paying, that same table on the ATamp;T website suggests that we could goose our Internet data up to a whopping 10GB/month (250% of our current 4GB/mo) by our paying $120/month for the 10GB/month, plus $30/month for each of our phones = $180 per month.

Of course we don't want to keep paying $180/month, so we'll not be going with that plan.  But it's just amazing that for exactly the same $180/month as we're now paying on our ATamp;T "Family" plan, we could, on a new ATamp;T "Shared Mobile" plan, increase our Internet data to 250% of what we now have; and we could eliminate having to worry, any more, about whether or not we've used-up our 1,400 monthly talk minutes.

What's not to like?  But, more importantly, why is ATamp;T willing to do that?  It's an effective price reduction, at least for us... which is highly uncharacteristic of the normally-money-grubbing ATamp;T.  That's why I'm having trouble believing it; and am wondering what's the catch?

Granted, under the new "Share Mobile" plans, the cost-per-gigabyte is 50% more, at $15-per-gigabyte, than the $10-per-gigabyte that we now pay for using more than each of our phone's allocated 2GB/month.  But that can't possibly be the catch; ATamp;T can't possibly only want that little flesh from me in exchange for a $30/month -- a roughly 17% -- reduction in our monthly smartphone costs.

Of course, if we went with the 6GB plan (which, at $160/month would still save us $20/month versus the $180/month that we're now paying; an 11% savings); and with my wife barely even using half of her current 2GB/month allocation, it's difficult to imagine even ME using-up the remaining 5GB in any given month; which means that we'd likely never have to pay the $15-per-gigabyte overage charge (and I've paid a couple of $10-per-gigabyte overage fees already, so I have been known to go over the monthly limit now and then; though, that said, I've learned that, surprisingly, it's actually kinda' hard to use-up a whole 2GB of Internet data each month on a smartphone as long as one doesn't stream a lot of music and/or videos, and as long as one either turns off or vastly decreases the amount that one's phone auto-syncs anything... but now I digress... sorry).

So, the bottom line is that we're thinking, seriously, about going with the 6GB "Shared Mobile" plan for $160/month in August, when it becomes available.  Given our history of usage, it's actually a better deal than we now have.  I realize that there are ATamp;T customers out there for whom such may not be true, but I'm just sayin' that for us, it seems like a boon!

But, again, I keep wondering what is the catch; why ATamp;T would be okay with our being able to reduce our monthly bill by from 11% to 17%, and get an overall better kind of service, to boot (one which, if we went with the 6GB plan, would reduce my marginal propensity for going over on my data in any given month to about 0%)!

I'm sorry, but I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Let's see what the REAL and OFFICIAL plans will be when they're actually rolled-out in August.

There is, however, an interesting article in today's Fierce Broadband Wireless's website's email newsletter, by Editor Tammy Parker, which talks about how smart ATamp;T was to stand back and let Verizon be the first to introduce its version of ATamp;T's "Shared Moble" plan (called "Share Everything").  Apparently ATamp;T was champing at the bit to roll-out its "Shared Mobile" plans a long time ago; but it sat back and let Verizon be the guinea pig...

...and according to what Parker writes in her article, ATamp;T says it learned a lot from watching all the fireworks.  ATamp;T apparently believes that Verizon's biggest mistake was forcing its users into one or another of its new "Share Everything" plans; and so ATamp;T is not similarly forcing its customers into its new "Shared Mobile" plans.  That, too, is a surprise, given what a bully about such things ATamp;T normally is.

The second mistake Verizon made, according to ATamp;T, is convoluting how much the customer is charged if s/he goes over his/her monthly data allowance.  Verizon apparently has a confusing two-tiered system, whereas ATamp;T just fixed the price, no matter what, at $15-per-gigabyte of overage.

To my "waiting for the other shoe to drop" comment:  Even Parker's article says that many ATamp;T customers will actually benefit from the new "Shared Mobile" plans; and so maybe there IS no other shoe.  Maybe we just happen to be two of those who will so benefit.

What that says about my negotiating skills, back when we signed-up for this $180/month plan, is another matter, altogether.  Thank goodness, then, that we're about to get a $20 to $30 per month reprieve starting in August.

_____________________________

Gregg L. DesElms

Napa, California USA

gregg at greggdeselms dot com

KellyCupp
KellyCupp

@Gura yea same deal here Gura.  My daughter had iphone 4 and I samsung s5 and a tablet on our 10 data plan.  Use to have 4 and never went over our data while having a shared plan with two phones.  Got tablet Got alot more data just for tablet use.  However Dont use tablet and now all of a sudden that last two bills my daughters went over our 10 data half way thru the billing cycle.  she used 9 out of the ten.  Got herself a new but not the latest in technology motorola phone and it happened just as you sd above.  I am on my phone on net downloading stuff playing music tons of apps 3xs what she has and yet her phone sucking data and how 65% to 95% to overage in 3 minutes on that crap phone she has it is impossible for it do anything that fast lol.