AT&T Announces iPhone Tethering, Revamps Data Plans

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.