AT&T Hangs Up on Unlimited Wireless Data Plans


AT&T (T) is gearing up to put data hogs on a diet, announcing Wednesday that new customers will no longer have the option of an unlimited wireless plan for their snazzy new iPad, iPhone or any of their other smartphones, starting June 7.

The move to restrict its all-you-can-eat wireless data plans comes as Apple is touting the fast adoption rate of its iPad tablet computer -- 2 million have been sold so far -- and expectations that a new-generation iPhone will be announced next week at Apple's (AAPL) Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). AT&T is the exclusive carrier for the iPhone and iPad.

The iPad, with its larger screen, provides a more enticing option for watching streaming videos on the go than, say, an iPhone or other smartphone. But streaming media is a data hog for any carrier.

New Customers Get Different Options

Addressing the shift away from the unlimited data plan, Ralph de la Vega, AT&T's Mobility and Consumer Markets CEO, issued this statement: "To give more people the opportunity to experience [mobile computing] benefits, we're breaking free from the traditional 'one-size-fits-all' pricing model and making the mobile Internet more affordable to a greater number of people."

Under the revised service plan for new customers coming aboard Monday, new iPad owners will no longer be offered the $29.99 unlimited service plan. That will change to a $25 per month 2 gigabyte plan. Existing iPad owners can retain their unlimited deal or switch over to the new plan.

New smartphone customers will no longer have the option of an unlimited data plan for $30 monthly. In its place, AT&T will be rolling out two options.

AT&T's DataPlus plan users will receive 200 megabytes of data for $15 a month. If they exceed that allotment, they will receive an additional 200 megabytes for another $15 -- basically, $30 for 400 megabytes under the new service vs. $30 for unlimited under the old.

The DataPro plan offers 2 gigabytes (or 2,000 megabytes) for $25 per month. If they exceed that level, new customers will receive an additional 1 gigabyte for $10.

Little Impact on Profits This Year

AT&T notes that 98% of its smartphone customers currently use less than 2 gigabytes per month on average and that accessing the Internet over the company's Wi-Fi hot spots at places like Starbucks and other locations won't carry additional charges.

The carrier notes it doesn't expect these new data plans to have a huge effect on its revenues and profits for the year, but it has yet to be seen what may come in the following years should AT&T hold onto its exclusive contract with Apple.