A few months ago, AT&T changed its wireless data rates, essentially killing unlimited data on smartphones. That rate change has had a direct effect on the usage of my iPhone and the amount of money I’m paying each month.


Updated: We were one of the first tech blogs to cover AT&T’s change to wireless data rates, essentially killing unlimited data on smartphones and making way for a 250MB 200MB plan and a 2GB plan. Of course, those plans were cheaper than the existing unlimited 3G data and AT&T’s argument was that most users never use anywhere near 2GB of data.

The downside of this new plan is that if you go over your 2GB cap, you’ll be charged $10 for every GB you go over. Those of us already on AT&T data contracts were grandfathered in to unlimited plans for the foreseeable future as long as we didn’t cancel our plans.

I wasn’t in a current plan. When I left my job last month, they had taken over my iPhone bill into their contract so, when I left for a new job, I had to setup a new plan even though I could get my old number back. It didn’t hit me that I was screwed until the Apple employee showed me the screen saying, “Choose a data plan” and the two options were 250MB 200 MB or 2GB. I sighed and chose the larger plan but I didn’t get tethering because I already own an unlimited 3G data card from AT&T. Update: I also want to add that the previous “unlimited” plan was actually somewhere around 5GB The iPhone didn’t have a 5 GB limit, however most data cards do have a 5GB limit on “unlimited” plans. Most carriers that say their data is unlimited are lying to you. Don’t be surprised if you download 10 movies from iTunes on your “unlimited” 3G data card and Verizon calls you up with some harsh words.

Eight days later I received a text message from AT&T:

Oh dear. Well, there was nothing I could do except simply turn off 3G data via iPhone’s system settings, which basically makes my iPhone an iPod touch where Wi-Fi is the only option. I wasn’t going to do that. For the sake of our readers, I chose to wait it out. First, let’s talk about what I do on my iPhone.

The No. 1 thing I do is use Twitter for iPhone. In my three years on the service, I’ve tweeted over 60,000 times and sent nearly twice as many direct messages. The second thing I do is email sending, receiving and moving messages around all day on an average of once every 10 minutes from 7AM to midnight. After that, I use eight different location based services to check in and “share” my location anytime I go somewhere and finally, I use apps for weather, video, news and Safari to get information on the go. This month, I also bought and downloaded the new Pearl Jam album via iTunes on my iPhone over 3G.

This line of service was created on August 21 and as I’m writing this it’s September 5. In 16 days with my iPhone 4, here is my current data usage.

At this rate, I will have to pay the 2GB monthly plan price of $25 plus an addition $10 for each GB I go over. It looks like I’ll be paying $20 extra this month for being a data hog. AT&T’s choice to limit us to 2GB of data is simply ridiculous and I have to remind everyone reading that I did not opt for tethering, so my iPhone data would have been above and beyond what I’ve shown above if that was the case. I did a test and in the three hours I’ve been sitting in this café syncing Twitter, email, RSS and uploading images to this blog, I’ve used 75MB of data in and 22MB out. If I was doing that tethered to my iPhone and not on the café’s Wi-Fi connection, it would count against that 2GB cap. The completely lame part of AT&T’s iPhone tethering is that it charges you $20 more just to tether your iPhone but doesn’t allow you more data. You’re still capped at 2GB. I’d happily pay $50 for 5GB of data with tethering on an iPhone but this isn’t an option.

This is mostly a rant but it shows that the choice to limit data bandwidth at a time when mobile phones are demanding more was a poor choice on one of the nation’s largest carriers and I’m paying for it by being a “data hog.”

What are your data usage rates like?

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Metered Mobile Data Is Coming and Here’s How

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. This is precisely why I kept my unlimited data plan. The future use of data is murky, but looks to only increase over time.

  2. I’m at day 16 of 31. Data usage: 65.97MB. I’m one of those typical people AT&T talks about I guess.

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more on your points. I just recently upgraded my wife’s phone to an iPhone 4, and looked at possibly adding tethering to my 3GS. It was sad to learn that I can’t keep my unlimited data plan and just add tethering. The support rep offered to look at my data usage to see if I was likely to go over (as if my current usage is at all indicative of what I would do with tethering.) I wonder how many people they have tricked with that ploy.

    1. There is no trick or ploy. We just need to rely on wifi. It’s everywhere.

  4. You have to be doing way more with data usage than what your telling us. I use pandora in my car about a total 30 hours a month. Email is on push, surf the web, weather updates, twitter, facebook and my data usage is between 600 and 700 mb.

  5. To ask a ridiculous question: where are you seeing that “Individual” data usage screen? I don’t have that in Settings (perhaps it’s because I have a grandfathered u/l plan, or because I have a 3GS instead of a 4, or both).

    I sent 171 MB and received 1.4 GB since the end of June, and I use my iPhone quite a lot (e-mail all the time, frequently downloading songs and podcasts, etc.). Is it possible you’ve got one particular application that’s a real network hog?

    1. That screen’s from “myWireless” att app. It allows for bill pay, billing cycle usage check and adding features to your plan from your iPhone. You can also use it to locate att wifi in your area.

      1.4 GB over 2 and a half months isn’t that bad at all. Downloading songs and podcasts over 3G can start to add up, but you’re still no where near 2GB a month. If you do get close to that however, I would recommend trying to plan ahead and only download with itunes on your computer then sync to your phone or waiting till you’re on wifi

  6. alkali: Use the AT&T app to see individual usage.

    Does anyone know if you lose your unlimited status if you just sign a new 2 year contract to get the iPhone 4? I have the 3GS now with unlimited data.

    1. No, you can continue to use the unlimited. I upgraded from a 3gs to a 4 and kept my unlimited plan.

  7. I stuck with the unlimited data plan for exactly the same reason, Gregory. It’s not worth the $5/month savings to lose the security of unlimited data. Of course, if bandwidth-sucking media streaming becomes more of a norm, they’ll cut out the “grandfather” deal anyway, I’m sure. But at least then I’ll have an out from my contract and be able (hopefully, by that time) to switch to a carrier that actually gets service in the places I go.

    I haven’t come close to hitting 2GB in data in any given billing cycle, but I suspect that’s largely because I spend a great deal of my time near WiFi. If the caps make it so that you can’t use the data, then you’re totally right that you might as well have an iPod touch instead.

  8. Of the three phones on my plan, at day 25 of the billing cycle, we’re at 120MB, 130MB, and 250MB. That last one usually gets up around 500-600MB, but I guess I’ve been spending more time around 802.11 this month.

  9. I got my 3g when atnt had the choice for unlimited data. and i dont talk on the phone so all i have is the lowest min plan, ulim text and data. I want to tether but i dont want the cap so i jailbroke my phone and i can tether all i want on atnt unlimited plan :)

  10. ATT has done everything for you. You just had to “Learn More.”

Comments have been disabled for this post