AT&T Announces iPhone Tethering, Revamps Data Plans

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AT&T surprised iPhone users early Wednesday morning with the announcement that tethering support is finally coming with when iPhone OS 4 ships. The company also announced new 3G data plans for iPhone and iPad users that do away with unlimited usage in favor of a 2GB per month cap.

Apple introduced tethering, or the ability to share your iPhone’s 3G data connection with your computer, with iPhone OS 3, but AT&T never enabled support for the feature. With the release of iPhone OS 4, due out this summer, users will finally be able to take advantage of tethering for an additional US$20 a month.

AT&T’s new wireless data plans do away with the one-size-fits-all package that’s currently available in favor of a two-tier capped scheme. The DataPlus plan tops out at 200MB a month for $15, and the DataPro plan is capped at 2GB a month for $25. The new data plans will apply to iPad owners, too.

The current $30 a month data plan iPhone users pay for included unlimited data, so at least a few subscribers will feel the pinch when they sign up for a new contract. In reality, however, most users are unlikely to regularly hit the 2GB a month cap.

AT&T will also continue to offer iPhone and iPad data plan subscribers unlimited access to its Wi-Fi hotspots around the U.S. for no additional charge.

The tethering option requires the DataPro plan, so the actual cost to take advantage of the feature is $45 a month, and it looks like tethering counts against your monthly 2GB cap, too.

Subscribers that climb over their 200MB monthly data cap will automatically be billed $15 for an additional 200MB, and users that jump over their 2GB limit will be automatically charged $10 for an extra 1GB of data. The company will also send out notifications to users that are approaching their monthly data limit, just like it does for current iPad 3G data subscriptions.

For subscribers that need some help figuring out about how much data they use every month, AT&T offers a data calculator tool on its Web site.

AT&T said in a statement “Customers can pick the new data plan that best meets their needs — either a $15 per month entry plan or a $25 per month plan with 10 times more data. Current smartphone customers are not required to switch to the new plans, but can choose to do so without a contract extension.”

Based on the difference between unlimited and 2GB a month, it’s a little hard to see how the change equates to “10 times more data.”

The new data plans go into effect on June 7, the same day that Apple CEO Steve Jobs takes the stage at the company’s World Wide Developer Conference. Mr. Jobs is expected to show off the next generation iPhone along with more features from iPhone OS 4, so it’s no surprise that new data plans will go into effect at the same time.

iPhone and iPad users with current contracts will be able to continue using their current plans, although iPad users that stop their 3G service — even for a single month — will switch to the new capped data plans.

While the new data plans will put a strain on some iPhone and iPad users, the lower price for the 200MB a month plan can offer significant savings for many users.

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28 Comments Leave Your Own

joelgs23

“Bait N’ Switch” ~ Someone tell me if this earns class action status in court, I’d love to participate! ~ I’ve been anti AT&T for years, this adds to it.

Substance

Oh boy, this is going to make for some happy AT&T iPhone owners this morning. :-o

jimothy

Based on the difference between unlimited and 2GB a month, it?s a little hard to see how the change equates to ?10 times more data.?

Come on. Obviously, AT&T is referring to the increase from the new $15/month plan, not from the existing plan. That’s not hard at all to see.

Mikuro

2GB is really not a lot these days. You can easily hit that limit with a little time on YouTube.

Here’s a fun tip: you can monitor your network activity in Activity Monitor. Under the Network tab, it will display how much data you’ve sent and how much you’ve received since the last time you booted your Mac. Note: Prior to 10.5 or 10.6 (I can’t remember which), the numbers would reset to 0 every time they hit 4GB.

Take a look and see how much bandwidth you typically use and judge for yourself how bad the limit would be for you.

Lee Dronick

“For subscribers that need some help figuring out about how much data they use every month, AT&T offers a data calculator tool on its Web site.”

For existing subscribers is it too much to have them tell us our monthly data usage? I can find how many call minutes I have used, but not text and data. Now of course it is the beginning of the month and my cycle starts on the 2nd so I do not yet have any data usage. However, in the past when I wanted to check my data and text usage at the end of the cycle it told me “unlimited”

AT&T may or may not have the best cell service around, but they probably have the worst website. Not just for mobile accounts, but AT&T overall seems clunky and poorly laid out.

demjones

I just dumped ATT today because of lousy connectivity. Although I’d love to own an iPhone, Apple’s tie to ATT is a non-starter.

Intruder

Wow. The iPad $30 unlimited plan lasted a whole month!

vasic

?Bait N? Switch? ~ Someone tell me if this earns class action status in court, I?d love to participate!

I’ve been trying to figure out where is AT&T baiting and how is it switching?

Whoever has an iPhone today can continue to pay $30 as long as they have that phone. Nobody is forcing them to switch (certainly not AT&T—read the text: “iPhone and iPad users with current contracts will be able to continue using their current plans”...)

There are many iPhone owners who don’t download more than 200MB worth of data in any single month. Halving the cost for data use will be wonderful news for them. Even those that exceed 200MB (but don’t reach the 2GB limit) will still save a little.

As for tethering, this is the typical carrier highway robbery. If tethering usage comes out of your data cap, what specific aspect of tethering is actually worth $240 per year??? That is simply obscene. With data caps, tethering ought to be free (as it has been in other markets, where carriers have data caps on iPhone plans, like they do in Canada, for example).

Aaron

So are they going to have roll-over data? What happens when you hit the limit? Do you get cut off or charged per MB? Are they going to give you a warning and offer to bump up your plan? This article doesn’t provide much detail. I’m sticking with my current iPhone unlimited plan. I really wanted to use tethering to my iPad but an extra $20 for a limited plan is ridiculous!

jimothy

For existing subscribers is it too much to have them tell us our monthly data usage? I can find how many call minutes I have used, but not text and data. Now of course it is the beginning of the month and my cycle starts on the 2nd so I do not yet have any data usage. However, in the past when I wanted to check my data and text usage at the end of the cycle it told me ?unlimited?

The attwireless.com website provides this info. Log on, then look for the “View Past Data Usage” link under “My Current Usage”. It’ll bring up a bar graph showing your last six months of data.

Incidentally, the most I’ve every used in one month was around 535MB, and most months under 300MB, so this means I’ll save $5 per month and still be comfortably within my data limits. I’m good with that!

J

I’m more interested in what happens if you go over the 200mb cost wise?  Or why they can’t have a rollover for the data plan like they do for the mobile plan.  Who uses a smart phone to actually talk on the phone anymore?

I agree charging for Tethering and having a data plan gap is stupid.

Lee Dronick

Thanks jimothy

I don’t ever remember seeing that past usage button, but I stopped visiting the site over a year ago. Instead I have been using the My Wireless app to check my account. Looks like they started keeping, or at least providing data usage, from Nov 09; I couldn’t get an numbers before that. Anyway, The most I have used is 142MB, the most that my wife used is 53MB

geoduck

I’m surprised that nobody has said “There’s an App for that”.

I’m not a programmer so here’s a concept for anyone who is:

An app. You enter the day of the month your billing period starts. It then displays how much you’ve uploaded and downloaded and will automatically zero at the start of your cycle.

Code it up, stick .99 for a price and I suspect you’ll sell a lot of them.

MOSiX Man

Gee… I wonder why AT&T almost doubled their fee for early-termination of a service contract, this month. Oh, yeah! They were building a bigger barrier for us cattle customers to have to jump over, to be able to jump ship when this news came out. There really isn’t any need to jump ship, since existing customers can’t keep the status quo if they so choose, but for some this will be the thing that finally drives them away from AT&T.

Mind you, this will be good news for a lot of customers - probably mostly iPhone users and users of other similar ‘smart phones’ - that don’t rely very heavily on their data plan. However, as others have said, those people who really need their ‘smart phone’ to be the ultimate portable web-access tool that such devices have been touted as, this is going to really suck.

I wonder how this will affect Droid users. Don’t Droids and other Android phones sync all their data up to ‘the cloud’? Does anybody here know if that chews into 3G data usage in any significant way?

jfbiii

So what’s the $20 a month FOR? Tethering that’s already built into the OS? For a whole year now? What is that $20 actually paying for? You’re already paying to get data delivered to your phone. How does what your phone does with it create additional costs for AT&T, which has already delivered the data requested?

joelgs23

vasic - I?ve been trying to figure out where is AT&T baiting and how is it switching?

Hm, I bought an iPad 1 month ago for unlimited pay as I go, no contract 3G for when I travel, now it get’s capped to 2 Gb. If I don’t maintain my $360 a year service EVERY month, I lose it for the 2 Gb cap. Since I had only planned to use the unlimited about 4 months a year ($120), that forces me to their new service or into spending hundreds more than I expected. THUS . . . . bait (I bought) and switch (they changed it).

doogie

Jeff, you should post a survey to see where TMO users will fall into the new pricing categories.  I personally was surprised to see that my peak usage in the last six months was only 175Mb.  I’m almost always on Wi-Fi.

Separately:
I agree with the poster that charging an additional fee for tethering is absurd, but no more absurd than charging an additional fee for text messages.  They do it because they can.  They will continue to do so until somebody offers something more attractive and it costs them more in lost revenue due to defections.

Zarko

This move makes apple look bad.  After specally negotiating with AT&T for the special pricing and structure of the iPad plans, the unlimited option goes away.  Apple touted these data plans, and some iPad owners are likely to blame apple when their plan changes.  It verges on false advertising (although I’m sure there was a fine-print disclaimer about the data plans changing).  I suspect this change was made without consulting apple, and it wouldn’t surprise me if AT&T backpedals or Apple drops AT&T’s exclusivity.

This makes the WiFi iPad + MiFi look more compelling than the 3G iPad.

vasic

Apple has very unambiguously advertised iPad as an unlocked 3G device. You can take ANY SIM card (the small-size version, that is), from ANY GSM carrier (in US, that means T-Mobile), and use it with whatever plans they offer, even pre-paid, or pay-as-you-go SIM cards.

kevinlane

Whew!  Just checked my data usage for the last 6 months.  High was 371 and low was 136 - and I consider myself to be a fairly heavy user of 3G data, mostly with streaming audio (Pandora).  The 2GB plan should be ok for me, if/when I upgrade to either 4.0 or the $99.00 3Gs.

webjprgm

So what?s the $20 a month FOR? Tethering that?s already built into the OS? For a whole year now? What is that $20 actually paying for? You?re already paying to get data delivered to your phone. How does what your phone does with it create additional costs for AT&T, which has already delivered the data requested?

Capitalist economy.  Supply and demand.  AT&T’s network, as everyone is fond of saying, can’t quite handle all the traffic it gets at the best of speeds.  So, bandwidth is a limited resource.  Tethering means that the 3G network will be used with the browsing habits of a desktop, which for most users means a lot more data usage.  So they put the $20/month tethering premium to reduce the demand for extra bandwidth to better match the supply that they have.  The caps for iPhone/iPad data plans also fall into strategy to manage the data usage on their limited networks.

BTW, I just checked on AT&T’s web site and noticed that I never use more than 27MB per month.  The $15/month plan would be perfect for me.  I have been waiting for other carriers to have the iPhone so I could see price competition in the data plans, since $30 is too much for me (as I knew I didn’t use it much).  Now I’ll switch to the $15 plan and have no reason to leave AT&T even if other carriers start offering the iPhone.

Since I’m paying $30/mo now, it wouldn’t make me too mad if I accidentally went over 200MB one month and was charged the extra $15, making the charge for that month be $30.  I could then decide if the increased data usage represents the new habit and upgrade plans for the next month.  This is how I handle text messaging plans, moving between them to match whatever my average messaging usages have been.  Currently I use 5-10 text messages per month, so I have no texting plan (this average varies based on what friends and co-workers I deal with frequently, since some people are texting fiends).  I imaging I’ll mostly stick with the small data plan too.

Jeff Gamet

Jeff, you should post a survey to see where TMO users will fall into the new pricing categories.? I personally was surprised to see that my peak usage in the last six months was only 175Mb.? I?m almost always on Wi-Fi.

Hey, doogie, great idea! Here’s the TMO forum poll asking how much wireless data you use each month. Head on over and let us know how much AT&T bandwidth you eat each month.

MrCairo

I wonder what this new plan will have on iPad 3G sales?  I don’t think Apple would have advertised the unlimited knowing that it was going to be just for a month.  I think this is AT&T freaking out that iPad 3G’s were selling like hotcakes and needed to do something to slow things down.  If, according to AT&T, 95% of all mobile users are below 2 GIG anyhow, why cap it?  Its just devaluates the product even if I never use a huge amount of data.  Does AT&T stand to loose so much by just 5% of their customer base?

Are they afraid of Tethering or the iPad or both?  Call me crazy but I for one don’t plan to throw $20 at AT&T just to change a setting on my iPhone for no other benefit of service other than to make my iPhone a WiFi hot spot.

Lee Dronick

I wonder what this new plan will have on iPad 3G sales??

Do we know the percentage of iPads and iPad 3Gs sold? My wife and I for one, well two, held off buying an iPad until the 3G models went on sale. Not so much that the 3G would be used by us a lot, but that it can not be added later.

computerbandgeek

Am I the only one who instantly thought “AT&T is getting ready for the competition (sprint or verizon) and wants some good iPhone press before everyone jumps ship in a few weeks!”?

Lee Dronick

Am I the only one who instantly thought ?AT&T is getting ready for the competition (sprint or verizon) and wants some good iPhone press before everyone jumps ship in a few weeks!??

I would be very surprised if Apple offers a CDMA iPhone. At the D8 Conference Steve Jobs said

?We choose what tech horses to ride, we look for tech that has a future and is headed up.”

Maybe there will be a Verizon and/or Sprint iPhones this year, but I would think Apple would wait until the 4G system is more widespread.

computerbandgeek

?We choose what tech horses to ride, we look for tech that has a future and is headed up.?

Maybe there will be a Verizon and/or Sprint iPhones this year, but I would think Apple would wait until the 4G system is more widespread.

This is a good application of this quote that I didn’t think of wink. Also as somebody who couldn’t imagine not having a SIM card, I almost agree with Apple’s decision. However, they may have run the numbers on how many sales they are losing by not offering a CDMA version and decided to remedy that situation. We shall see in a few weeks!

Herkenham

If you drive to and from work, 30 minutes each day, and you stream audio through your 3G connection on your iPhone during that drive time, assuming you work 22 days per month, you are going to use up over 1/2 GB of data during the month for ONLY THAT ONE PURPOSE.  Obviously, not everybody listens to podcasts or Pandora or audio books or whatever while they are driving, but it seems like a completely legitimate use case.  Given updates for apps, the occasional youtube video, etc, it isn’t difficult to see how some people are going to be pushing up against or over that 2GB limit every month if they use their phone routinely for more than just phone calls.  Please don’t argue that you can do all that at home and load it to your phone ahead of time, so that you won’t need to use 3G to do it.  That is obvious, but not a desirable approach, because it introduces more time spent using your home PC to managing the data you plan to consume on the phone, and it introduces a time lag between breaking news and consumption of content that is at least 24 hours for most people.  Furthermore, it is irritating to get messages about needing to be connected to wifi to download something over 20 megabytes to your phone, especially when you know you can stream 100 megabytes or more of audio if you need to.  I have no idea why AT&T wants to try to make life difficult for early adopters of habits that many people will be trying to use in the future, instead of investing in their network to handle the load.  Maybe I just don’t understand the technical limits.  Regardless if the limits are dictated by technology or just by greedy business practices, I find myself constantly impatient with the hobbles that AT&T puts on my phone.

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