Both the iPhone and iPad are a big part of my digital life. To put it mildly, I was a bit upset when AT&T announced yesterday that – effective next week – they are doing away with their unlimited data plan options across all of their smartphones and devices.
From that point on, the closest option they will offer is what they call their ‘DataPro’ plan:
DataPro: Provides 2 gigabytes (GB) of data – for example, enough to send/receive 10,000 emails (no attachments), plus send/receive 1,500 emails with attachments, plus view 4,000 Web pages, plus post 500 photos to social media sites, plus watch 200 minutes of streaming video – for $25 per month. Should a customer exceed 2 GB during a billing cycle, they will receive an additional 1 GB of data for $10 for use in the cycle. Currently, 98% of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 2 GB of data a month on average.
While 98% of AT&T smartphone users may actually use less that 2GB of data per month, I am sure that the percentage of iPhone users that fall in to that camp will be considerably smaller. Smaller still will be the number of new iPad users that can fit within that 2GB limit. The people crossing this threshold aren’t doing anything crazy. They are simply using the mobile web the way people expect to use it – doing normal things like:
- listening to Pandora on the iPhone
- downloading a digital version of Wired magazine (at 500MB per issue)
- buying a movie before boarding a plane (at ~1.3GB per movie)
- using any cloud storage application (like MobileMe)
- sending emails with attached presentations or documents
There is nothing noble going on here with AT&T. They are simply trying to take away the promise of the iPhone and iPad under the guise of lowering prices and protecting their users from that “2% Club” of real data hogs. And while AT&T is going to grandfather anyone that already has an unlimited data plan (good for current iPhone users), this will effectively do away with the month to month nature of the iPad data plan. (If you stop paying that $30 each month for the unlimited 3G service, the only options available to you when you light it up again will be limited plans.)
The real question in my mind though is why is AT&T doing this now?
The easy, obvious answer is that they are trying to get a handle on the increasing load being placed on their network, and this is the best way to make that happen. While I have no doubt that this is part of the reason for AT&T’s move, I believe there is something else going on here.
Steve Job’s went out of his way to highlight that Apple had worked with AT&T to offer two attractive month to month data plans, the main one being an unlimited plan at $29.95/mo. The iPad 3G has been shipping for less than 2 months, and now that plan is being killed. The only way I can see that happening is if AT&T was told that something else was being killed as well.
I’m guessing that AT&T agreed to those data plans contingent on remaining the sole carrier with the iPhone, and that they will be free to retool their pricing once that changes. Is it coincidence that he new plan takes effect this coming Monday -the same day that Apple’s WWDC 2010 begins? The same day Steve Jobs is expected to announce the next generation iPhone? And maybe some other type of phone or device?
Let’s see what happens.