Mobile data plan shake-up: T-Mobile, Leap, AT&T (iPad)

shakeupYesterday, we discussed T-Mobile dropping its 5Gb mobile data cap, after which users won’t be charged more but may see their bandwidth throttled. More activity on that front again today, with operators experimenting with data plans and their impact on usage.

Leap Wireless, for instance, is reportedly following in T-Mobile’s footsteps, testing plan tiers, starting with a $40 basic package, $50 more plan and $60 premium plan, each with a bandwidth consumption cap after which the user isn’t charged but throttled.

Also playing around with pricing is AT&T, which revealed new details on the 3G pricing for the Apple iPad, due to be released Friday. As previously announced the 3G iPad offers include $14.99 a month for 250 MB of data and $29.99 a month for unlimited data. A key new detail is that on the 250 MB plan, AT&T will send users alerts at 20%, 10% and 0% left under the cap — with an option to purchase another 250 MB of data or upgrade to the unlimited plan.

fitchardiconConnected Planet’s take,
Kevin Fitchard:

We’re finally starting to see a shake-up in mobile broadband pricing. I think carriers are realizing they can’t sell broadband access the same they sell voice minutes — a bundle of GB each month coupled with overage charges.

Most intriguing perhaps is AT&T’s low-end iPad plan, which deviate from its netbook and UBS card plans in that it requires no contract and provides all sorts of options to add capacity once a customer hits a limit. According to PCWorld, If you hit the 250 MB cap, you can simple add another 250 MB for the same $15 monthly price, essentially starting a new monthly billing cycle, or you can upgrade to the unlimited plan. Since there’s no contract, you can upgrade or downgrade between plans month to month or just add 250 MB increments as you go. Now if AT&T would apply this kind of flexibility to its laptop plans, I think it would create a much more consumer-friendly service — one that would ultimately encourage more customers to sign up for the service.

Leap’s 10 GB will be a very interesting experiment. All operators, with the exception of Clearwire, have capped usage at 5 GB, either throttling down speeds or charging overage fees for any excess. Even with unlimited plans like Clearwire’s, though, consumers are only using an average of 7 GB of month, so it will take some work for a Leap customer to exceed the 10 GB on Leap’s slower 3G network, and even if they manage to top it, their data speeds will only be slowed. I doubt there will be a rush for customers to sign up for 10 GB plans at the get-go, but for the first time there’s actually an option to do so, destroying this notion that 5 GB is all customers are allowed to buy each month on a mobile broadband service.

That’s our take on this. Let us know what you think in the comments section below:

3 Responses to “Mobile data plan shake-up: T-Mobile, Leap, AT&T (iPad)”

  1. Michael Lafferty says:

    Realistically, T-Mobile has only imposed this cap on data plans sold with USB or PC slot card devices. Data plan add-ons with conventional data-capable mobile handsets and smartphones have been truly unlimited: there have been no caps imposed. And, while T-Mobile does not actively support data connection with non-smart phones, tethering is easily accomplished and creates no added costs based upon consumption. It is just one of the carrier policy decisions that makes T-Mobile a generally measurably better choice, in my view, for business users.

    This adaptation of the provision of what has long been termed unlimited data to add-on modem users seems a reasonable compromise, leaving only an enforcement mechanism in place to limit the outliers who use much more bandwidth than most, while preserving low cost data access for others.

  2. David A. Taylor says:

    Touching the statement about the AT&T Unlimited plan is not really unlimited. Look at their site, The At&t unlimited plan is really 2Gbs and afterworths you plan an additional fee. My wife has this trashy plan and they explain to her that it is referred to as unlimited because according to the stats of their customers, no one uses more than 2gbs in a month. Well I have tmobile and I use a avg of 7gb a month and my wife uses 3-4 Gbs a month.

  3. Hi David,

    Actually this story was written in April, when AT&T was still offering unlimited plans. It introduced the new tiered plans in June for all new subscribers. Customers locked into a contract before the switchover were allowed to keep their unlimited plans in place, but any new customer or new phone or tablet activation has to choose from the 200 MB of 2 GB plan.

    Kevin Fitchard

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