The competitive pressure in the wireless market just keeps growing. On Monday, AT&T announced a lower price and a series of promotions and improvements for its unlimited mobile data plan, which was just made available to all customers last week.
To start, the unlimited plan will now cost $90 for the first line, a $10 price cut. The move comes as Verizon finally introduced its own unlimited plan under pressure from smaller carriers Sprint and T-Mobile, which started emphasizing cheaper unlimited plans last summer. Wireless customers have long hated the monthly data allowances, which forced them to guess in advance how much data they’d use and face hefty fees if they went over.
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AT&T had actually started offering an unlimited data plan over a year ago, before Sprint and T-Mobile, but the offer was limited to customers of the company’s DirecTV satellite service and U-Verse cable TV service. After signing up 8 million customers for that offer, AT&T last week opened the plan up to any wireless customer, dropping the video subscription requirement.
In addition to the $10 price cut, AT&T also obviously wanted to find a new way to capitalize on the synergies of owning both wireless and pay TV services. Under Monday’s new offers, anyone who subscribes to AT&T’s unlimited mobile plan will get a $25 credit toward a subscription to DirecTV satellite service, U-Verse cable, or the company’s new Internet-based DirecTV Now streaming video plan.
Even with the price cut, however, AT&T’s plan remains the most expensive among the major carriers, going from $90 for one line to $185 for four lines.
Verizon’s new plan starts at $80 for one line and goes up to $180 for four lines. Absent the occasional temporary promotion, Sprint’s unlimited plan starts at $60 per line and goes up to $150 for four lines. The carrier started a limited promotion recently, offering 5 lines for only $90 per month for the first 12 months. T-Mobile’s unlimited plan starts at $70 and goes up to $160 for four lines. Last month, T-Mobile also stopped adding surcharges and taxes as additional fees, effectively cutting its unlimited price by another 10% or more.
None of the new unlimited plans from AT&T or other carriers are truly unlimited. In the case of AT&T, for example, if a customer uses more than 22 GB on a line in one month, downloads can be slowed. Verizon (VZ) also threatens to “de-prioritize” after 22 GB, while Sprint (S) sets the level at 23 GB and T-Mobile (TMUS) at 28 GB. Still, those slowdowns are much preferable to overage fees.
AT&T (T) also on Monday decided to match a feature all its competitors offer, allowing unlimited plan users to share the Internet connection from their phone via tethering with a laptop or other device for up to 10 GB of data per month.
And the carrier introduced a second, much cheaper version of its unlimited data plan, but with speeds limited to 3 megabits per second, or less than one-tenth of the typical maximum download speeds otherwise available. Also, video streaming is reduced to DVD quality on the plan. The program, called AT&T Unlimited Choice, starts at $60 and goes up to $155 for four lines.