AT&T (s T) yesterday announced a package that combines wired broadband with mobile broadband via the carrier’s 3G cellular network and 20,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. Customers in Atlanta and Philadelphia can now sign up for plans that offer 200 MB or 5 GB per month of mobile data for $40 and $60 respectively. The bundle is a good first step in making it easier for customers to add mobile broadband to their list of personal communications services, although some of our readers are upset over the high price, especially for the smaller plan.
The cheaper plan costs 20 cents per megabyte while the pricier plan charges 1.2 cents per megabyte — quite a difference. Looking at the price differential between the two plans and the large middle ground between them, it’s clear that carriers win if they can keep forcing consumers to make this choice between paying more for a lot of data or paying a lot for a little.
However, there’s hope. I chatted today with In-Stat analyst Daryl Schoolar about bundled broadband packages, and he said one carrier in the U.S. is thinking about a prepaid bundle of bytes, where a carrier charges a consumer a certain amount for 5 GB of data to be used over time. When the customer is done, they just come back for a refill. A prepaid option, or even some more variety in packages, would drive greater adoption of mobile broadband. As 4G networks arrive with more capacity a carrier needs to fill, more consumer-friendly pricing will occur.
In the meantime, a home/mobile pricing package remains one of the key demands of consumers when evaluating mobile providers, according to a note out today by Schoolar. In that note he found that 80 percent of survey respondents said they had some level of willingness to switch from their current broadband provider to one that combines both home and on-the-go service. He also found that 40 percent would pay $10-15 more a month for such a package.
He also bolstered my argument that network performance will matter when consumers evaluate these services. He noted that over 40 percent of both Wi-Fi hotspot and 3G laptop data users said they had been discouraged from using wireless broadband in the past due to poor or slow network performance.