AT&T Promises Sponsored Data Services in Coming Months

AT&T promises sponsored data services in coming months
By Sinead Carew

NEW YORK -- AT&T plans to give cash-strapped consumers options to save money on mobile data fees as soon as this quarter while offering sponsors a new way to entice consumers to use their services.

The company said it will announce details Monday at AT&T's developer conference at the Consumer Electronics Show. The offering will let sponsors subsidize consumer's data fees, which have gradually gotten more expensive in recent years as phone companies charge for mobile web-surfing based on how much data their customers download.

AT&T (T), the No. 2 U.S. cellphone service provider, compared the offering to 1-800 telephone services where businesses such as florists pay for inbound calls with a view to attracting more consumers.

It will start with deals from companies including a health insurer, an advertiser and a software firm but may expand to businesses ranging from media companies to retailers.

AT&T and its rival Verizon Wireless (VZ) (VOD) have both talked about the idea of offering sponsored data for two years, but the plans have been slow to materialize as the operators sought partners and worked out how best to offer the service.

AT&T's first partners include insurer UnitedHealth Group (UNH), Boston-based advertising start-up Aquto and Orlando-based mobile software developer Kony Solutions.

It said the offering could also work well for retail, media, entertainment and financial services customers or could be used by employers aiming to sponsor their own workers' data usage for certain corporate applications.

Under the new service, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%AT&T said data charges from use of sponsored content would be billed directly to the sponsor and will appear on the consumer's invoice as sponsored data.

For example AT&T said that UnitedHealth customers could view health care information or videos from their insurer without incurring data or customers using Aquto's service could watch ads without incurring data fees.

Kony customers, which include hoteliers, could potentially use its reservation systems to let customers book hotel rooms while on the go without having to pay AT&T for the airtime.

Mark Collins, AT&T senior vice president for voice and data products, said the service would complement existing data services for cost-conscious customers.

Collins declined to disclose financial arrangements for the service but said that agreements would differ between sponsors depending on their agreements and that some companies will engage in revenue-sharing deals with the operator.

ReconAnalytics analyst Roger Entner said UnitedHealth was a good launch partner for AT&T because it could provide an important service by giving lower-income consumers easier access to key health information.

"Consumers will like it. Americans always like 'free,' " Entner said.

Jan Dawson, analyst at Jackdaw Research worried that unless AT&T provides strong safeguards there could be a potential for fraud if providers of bandwidth-hungry applications falsely claim to be offering sponsored data.

But he said that the service was an important milestone since it would mark the first time an operator would charge someone other than its customers for its data services.

"It will have the biggest impact for applications involving video, since that's the biggest driver of bandwidth consumption, but it will be useful for other services, too," Dawson said.

AT&T said sponsored data will be delivered at the same speed as any non-sponsored content. It will provide more details along with executives from the three sponsors it named to an audience of developers and media at the CES show in Las Vegas.

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AT&T Promises Sponsored Data Services in Coming Months

Mint made the Mac App Store's Best of 2012 list for a reason. This simple, clean app shows how much you are spending in each category of your budget by monitoring all of your transactions. We love signing in and getting a quick, dirty rundown of where our money has gone over the last week, and using their personalized budget tools to stay on track. We highly recommend adjusting your budgets for summer months. You might spend less on transportation when the weather is nice, and chances are you could use that extra cash to flesh out that restaurant tab, right?

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If you're a heavy traveler, Toshl is an excellent expense and budget tracker. It works with any currency and lets you separate your travel budget from your day-to-day expenses. It comes with all the trappings of a regular money management app, too, such as bill organizer and alerts, and can be synced across all your devices.

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Next time you organize a group activity, Tricount will split up the expenses for you. Create the expense report on your phone and organize by person, how much they owe, and then share via email so everyone knows their share. With options for expenses, balance, share, and configuration, the app does all of the math for you.

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Make and share payments with friends. This app uses the same technology to pay as LivingSocial, Uber and Airbnb. Pay with your debit card or transfer funds from a linked bank account, right to a friend's Venmo account. It is Verisign Certified.

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