After hinting at such plans for more than a year, AT&T today finally unveiled their shared family data plans, which allow users and devices in one household to pull from one shared pool of data. According to the AT&T press statement
, the new plans should arrive in August, and are broken down in detail here
(pdf) in a handy infographic. Not too surprisingly, the plans largely mirror Verizon's recently announced shared data plans
, with users paying a differnet network connection fee for each device (smartphones, standard phones, laptops and tablets) -- while being offered unlimited talk and text.
Users pay $45 per smartphone (with discounts if you sign up for larger data pools), $30 per standard phone, $20 per laptop and $10 per tablet just to attach to the network. They're then given the choice of data pools of 1, 4, 6, 10, 15 or 20 gigabytes at $40, $70, $90, $120, $160, and $200 respectively. When announced Verizon's plans only topped out at 10 GB, though users tell us they're also now able to buy buckets as large as 20 GB.
One benefit of the shift is that neither Verizon or AT&T will no longer be charging the obnoxious "because we can" fee to use your smartphone as a mobile hotspot or tethered modem. On the flip side, just like Verizon, AT&T is now charging even more for overages -- from $10 per additional gigabyte to $15. We're officially watching the death of the "voice minute" -- and are moving into the "everything is just wireless data" age -- something that was long overdue.
Somewhat surprisingly (given their great efforts to eliminate these users
), AT&T is being slightly more flexible than Verizon was in terms of having customers signing up for these plans, allowing grandfathered unlimited users to still sign up for new subsidized phones under contract. Verizon now requires all users to sign up for shared data plans if they want subsidized devices.
Verizon and AT&T largely winked and nodded at each other to ensure these pricing plans were fairly uniform, something some call good business
-- and others call predatory duopoly collusion. Both companies' plans are designed to prevent users from choosing less expensive voice and text options as voice and text become less popular -- jacking up the price of data and introducing new attachment fees to compensate for that lost revenue.
From a business standpoint it's a fairly smart way to weather the death of SMS and voice minutes, but given the duopoly power the two companies hold -- the shift comes with a large price premium attached. That's not to say it isn't possible to save money in some instances on these new plans. In the case of both AT&T and Verizon, families that use little to no data are the ones most likely to benefit, but you'll have to sit down and do the math to see if it's worth it for you and yours.