AT&T’s 2GB Cap is Costing Me Money


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 (s vz) 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



That data usage is amazing. I use my iPhone all the time, 4 email accounts, some websurfing, updating apps, maps, facebook etc and using it for videos. I normally see about 500MB a month. You’re burning through on average 200kB / minute, don’t you sleep?

2048+830 = 2878MB / 10 days / 24 hours / 60 minutes = .1998MB/minute

If you want to use that much data, don’t be shocked when you have to pay more for it on a mobile device. Switch to Verizon, us at&t users will all be better off. By they way, I suggest you get some sleep, and put down the phone for 8 hours a day. And with those data rates, it might be cost effective to put in WiFi where you sleep.


Good grief. Read the data that was posted on LifeHacker. SEVENTY percent of smart phone users use less than 200 mgb per month. My bill is half what it used to be.

Kathleen McDonnell

I am so glad someone else is complaining about this ridiculous data limitation. I intend to give up my iPhone mid contract because of this and despite the fact that I absolutely love my iPhone I cannot be hobbled as a smartphone’s true value is in its ability to move data. Sprint or Verizon, here I come.


See, this is why I don’t understand AT&T’s “logic.” If only 2% of users will go over the cap, then why have a cap in the first place? I believe AT&T thinks that by placing a cap, people who would’ve never gone over the limit would start watching their data, and use less of the data.

Brian Hogg

If the author of this article is any indication, the phone companies are doing it to get $70/month in overage charges from that 2%. most people won’t know about this or care, as it won’t affect them.

For that 2%, they’re going to grumble, but they’re still going to pay.


Because this 2% of the people is using a much, much higher percentage of data.

Consider me and you. If I use 3GB of data, and you use 300MB: only half of us is going over the limit. But between the two of us, I’ve used 90% of the data.


Call me crazy, but I use exactly 0% of my data plan. Wait, scratch that… I don’t have a data plan. I pay 20¢ per text message, which sounds expensive until you realize I’ve never actually sent a text message.

Frankly, I’m considering letting my service lapse again. For as little use as I have for a cell phone, even the $8.92/month I’m currently paying seems a bit excessive. Of course, if I could get unlimited voice and data for $50/month or less, I think I’d go for it.

Tom Reestman

Counter point:

Bottom line is I took my household’s three iPhones off unlimited plans and save $35 a month. That’s huge.

AT&T says people using over 2GB a month represent 2% of their customers. I’m sorry the author is one of them, but for people like me (a geek and heavy data user myself), it’s a huge savings.



Keep using. That’s the fun of these amazing devices.

I have more good news for you! $10 for each extra GB is CHEAP! I travel to Canada monthly and pay International rates of $25 for 25MB.

I my iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch nonstop, but I can hardly ever hit 1GB. I think with WiFi at home and most businesses where I work, it’s not a big deal for most people.

I have been trained to find WiFi by the fact that my home city is still EDGE cell service.


I don’t understand how you can generate that much traffic! Then again, I tend to use email for text, I wonder if the email you are working with is image heavy and HTML based?

I have managed to clock up 2GB of usage on my iPad in two months – and I am using the iPad for all my personal stuff while at the office.


So choose a different phone on a different carrier! AT&T told you up front the limits and you chose to sign. You exceeded your limits before you reached 30 days. SInce you signed up as a new customer you could have returned your iPhone and cancelled your AT&T service without any early termination fee, then chosen a new phone and plan from another provider. Since you left your job the tweeting, texting, email and eight (!?!) location-based services running aren’t work related so tweet less, text less, check your email at home and turn off location based services. (And stop the streaming, because none of the things you mentioned would burn the data you’re consuming.) I am sick to death of people who buy thing that aren’t what they want then complain that they didn’t get what they wanted. AT&T told you up front that the data was limited to 2GB and it was $10/GB after that. Your billing history tells you how much data you used in the past every month. Where’s the problem here?


Holy crap, I think it’s time to put down the phone for a while. I can’t even imagine reaching 1GB and I use my iPhone quite a bit. Even when I am away from the computer for extended periods I don’t use that much with 4 push e-mail accounts, regular Twitter and Facebook checking among other things.


“After that, I use eight different location based services to check in and “share” my location anytime I go somewhere”

So, maybe I am too old to understand this (30) but do you ever go somewhere and one of you friends shows up to see you purely based on the fact that you broadcast your location constantly? Wouldn’t it be easy for someone to break in to your house because they know you are not home?


Typically, people shouldn’t know where you live. (If you’ve added your house to the location-based network and check in there, then you are dumb, and yeah, someone could use that information to rob you.)


So choose a different phone on a different carrier! AT&T told you up front the limits and you chose to sign. You exceeded your limits before you reached 30 days. SInce you signed up as a new customer you could have returned your iPhone and cancelled your AT&T service without any early termination fee, then chosen a new phone and plan from another provider. Since you left your job the tweeting, texting, email and eight (!?!) location-based services running aren’t work related so tweet less, text less, check your email at home and turn off location based services. I am sick to death of people who buy thing that aren’t what they want then complain that they didn’t get what they wanted. AT&T told you up front that the data was limited to 2GB and it was $10/GB after that. Your billing history tells you how much data you used in the past every month. Where’s the problem here?


Huh?! There are no “other phones” once you have an iPhone. People will pay more to have the phone that all other phones aspire to.


I agree with this. I kept my unlimited plan when the switch happened just in case, but I rarely come close to 2GB. Still, I feel for an extra $5/month, it’s worth it. However, if AT&T’s data plan doesn’t serve you well, you don’t need to stay with them. As spooky said, this wasn’t a termination fee/stuck in your contract issue. You had every opportunity to switch, if for no other reason than to protest AT&T’s rates by taking your money elsewhere. If more people opposed this change with their wallets, AT&T would be forced to change it.

I have no sympathy for people who have a false sense of entitlement. Wireless data is not a right, it’s a privilege. I agree that the wireless companies probably need to be reigned in, but that’s not what’s at issue here. This just sounds like the immature ravings of a spoiled brat who wants a shiny new toy and doesn’t care how much it costs because he isn’t paying for it.


“Wireless data is not a right, it’s a privilege.”

Joe, you are wrong.

Wireless data is a “service” that we pay good money for. To expect the best/most service for the good money you outlay is a fundamental axiom. People can always switch but it is clearly not a privilege???



You have the right to choose any carrier you wish. You have the privilege to use that service in accordance to the terms and conditions.
You have responsibility and may endure consequences from either a right or a privilege.
AT&T has informed you of the data plan, and the overages. They sent you texts as you moved close to the allowance for the given service for data. You blew past it, and now you’re complaining? You are now seeing the consequence, due to the lack of your responsibility to manage your usage in accordance with your expectations. AT&T now has the right to bill you more, and it’s the privilege of having you as a customer that they can expect that you will pay your bill, in accordance to the agreement for which you freely entered. If you don’t, they have the right to slam your credit, if you don’t meet your legal obligation.
Seems fairly simple.


Well, I am going to come right out and say this – I think you are lying about your usage.

There is just no way I believe that you’ve used 3 gb in 16 days only using the phone for email, twitter, foursquare/facebook/etc, and normal web browsing. And no, the one album from iTunes doesn’t explain it either.

No, I’m afraid you aren’t being forthcoming with what else you do with your phone that used up all that data. I use my phone *a lot*. Usually this involves a lot of web browsing (just refreshing the usual tech blogs etc), facebook, twitter, emailing photos (usually size “large”), and the occasional Pandora streaming internet radio in the background (but not all that often). I do end up on wifi quite a bit, but I don’t go out of my way to restrict 3g usage. I have wifi at my house, so obviously I will use that (the phone automatically connects to it anyways), and it will usually pick up the wifi at the coffee shops, etc.

In the last year, I have only gone over 200mb 3 times, and significantly less than 2gb each time. I would accept twice or even three times that data as a “heavier data user”, but not 4gb/mo with that kind of usage. Not unless you are doing things to prove a point.


I agree. Things just don’t add up. I use my phone quite a bit as well, and I incur no where near this data usage.


I don’t have wifi in my dorm room, so my 3G usage is a lot higher when I’m back on campus. Right now, I’m doing 6GB per month – lucky I’m grandfathered into unlimited data.


If you’re only using 18MB, you’re only checking email. Why did you spend all that money on an iPhone if you aren’t going to use it?

You may not be subsidizing heavy use, but you’re paying 3 times as much for a device and only getting 5% of its functionality.

Well done.


Maybe he is on WiFi all the time? Maybe most of the use he has of the phone doesn’t require the data network? How do you know he is only getting 5% of the functionality?

You don’t.


My wife and I both are on the 200MB per month plan, now paying HALF what we paid before. We don’t turn off 3G on our iPhones 4. Since wifi is almost everywhere, we find open sites and work off those. ATT has the world’s largest wifi network. It works for face time, and it works for most other data consumption. My wife is traveling between 3 different jobs, using 3G more than I do. I watched carefully, and she used 30% of her 200MB, while I used just 10%. We did everything we wanted to do, just making sure we got onto wifi first, just like ATT said…

Merry Prankster

I use my iPad to read email and surf the web. That’s it. My data plan reset three days ago and I’ve already used 1.8GB. If I was restricted to 2GB I’d be able to use my iPad for about week.

Here’s the part no one talks about: Most of my data allotment was used to deliver the advertising on the web pages I visit. In a half hour surfing session, I downloaded 48MB of data. Out of that 48MB, 44MB was the advertising on the websites. Only 4MB was used to send me the actual content I was interested in (and that includes graphical things like the page headers).

So, when I have to start paying for the data I use, why should I be using my money to pay for ads to be delivered to me. Paying for data usage is going to be the end of online advertising.

Bring on the AD blockers.


This is the best point I’ve heard on this. Thanks for bringing up the ad content issue.

My prediction is that this will go one of two ways:

1) Wireless providers will stop limiting data usage or will raise the limits to a reasonable level again…or…

2) Devices like the Droid and iPhone will see a severe drop in market share. These are data devices…there is no point in owning one if it is going to cost a bunch of cash each month to use its intended functions. If all I can do with my data plan is email, why wouldn’t I go back to a Blackberry?


Merry Prankster? Sorry, but I don’t believe you. The iPad (like all iOS devices) doesn’t allow for flash based ads so most ads (with exception of iAds, but those are still rare) are very simple and have a small footprint… Things that have a big footprint are uncompressed high quality photos, HD video (streaming or downloads) and high quality audio (streaming or downloads) – stuff that Ads typically don’t use because it would slow down their add and disinterest potential clickers.


iAds are downloaded once, with the app, so they don’t continue to consume data when clicked on. They also work inside the app, not on a browser.



So my backgammon game, which uses iAd, downloads the “full” ad for Nissan even if I never tap the ad?

Maybe that’s where the bandwidth is going…


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 :)

Phillip Howell

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.


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.


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.


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?


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


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.

Steve Spencer

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.


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


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


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

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