Report: 44% of AT&T customers are on unlimited plans that haven’t been available since 2010

28 Comments

Credit: Mike Mozart

People with a cellular plan that works for them tend to stick with it for a while, according to a new report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (via Business Insider). But for AT&T at least, no plan is proving as sticky as unlimited data. 44% of AT&T(s t) customers are on grandfathered unlimited plans — that haven’t been offered since 2010.

The report uses data from a survey of 500 people to estimate what proportion of subscribers to the big four carriers are on unlimited data plans. CISP’s survey, however, contradicts AT&T’s own numbers which state that “81% of smartphones are on metered plans.”  Aside from AT&T, of course, Sprint(s s) and T-Mobile(s tmus), both of which highlight unlimited data in their marketing, have 78% of their customers on unlimited plans. Verizon(s v) has the smallest proportion of unlimited plans at 22% of its customers, partially due to a less forgiving grandfathering policy which requires subscribers to give up their unlimited data when upgrading their device.

According to the report, Verizon makes the most money per subscriber because it has the highest proportion of its customers on shared data plans. CRIP states Verizon is presumably is able to charge more for the same amount of data across several devices, as evidenced by its estimated 14 percent of Verizon subscribers paying over $200 per month. But this is an oversimplification: Neither T-Mobile nor Sprint have traditional shared capped data plans — subscribers can add secondary data devices to their voice plan, but those devices often tap into a unlimited bucket of data. If Verizon is making more money per subscriber, it is because it is charging more for data, not because of how many devices that data can be used on.

But what the report makes clear is that once a consumer finds a preferred wireless provider, he or she tends to stick to it, especially if it has a perk like grandfathered unlimited data. Although AT&T’s official policy allows customers to upgrade their devices without forfeiting unlimited data, it does prefer to remove grandfathered data when a user upgrades to an LTE phone — so customers trading up their old 3G iPhones for the two most recent 4G models are presumably pushed to shed their unlimited plans. AT&T also reserves the right to migrate customers from the unlimited data plan to a tiered data plan as long as they provide one billing cycle of notice.

But AT&T generally lets its customers keep their grandfathered data. Even the 44 percent number is not unbelievable: there’s at least two Gigaom employees in the New York office currently carrying phones on a grandfathered unlimited plan. For AT&T, turning a blind eye to grandfathered data could be a great way to keep subscribers loyal in the face of innovative new pricing schemes from carriers like T-Mobile.

This story has been updated at 4:30 PM ET to include AT&T’s publicly announced numbers regarding devices on unlimited plans. 

28 Comments

Tigress

Heh, the AT&T rep today tried to tell me you couldn’t upgrade your phone and keep your unlimited unless you paid for your phone outright (no getting a subsidized phone). I immediately looked it up, found stuff contrary, and he found some way of backtracking and find some way of reasoning why he was wrong without looking bad. And I just let him cause as long as I keep my plan, he can lie about why that is all he wants and I didn’t want to get in an argument when I was getting what I wanted anyways. It’s obvious either AT&T is pushing their reps by metrics on trying to get people off (you have to change this many people onto a tiered plan) or by extra incentives for changing people off.

tom M

This is all temporary and where Internet was back in the old day where you got 10 hrs per month from AOL. Eventually it went to unlimited access for a fee and speed was what drove the price. The survivors will have unlimited talk, text, data….everything really…and charge a premium for speed. That’s where it will end up and these crappy data packages will just go away. The cellphone industry has the most confusing and unintelligible rules and plans people don’t want to deal with it. As soon as someone dives in, either att or Verizon, they will be top dog. Until they they will try to squeeze the orange dry.

harrydevlin

I wonder how much data those 44% actually use. The average U.S. smart phone user uses well under 1GB per month.

It’s in AT&T’s best interest to just keep quiet and let customers that want to pay for unlimited data continue to do so. A few will use mass quantities but they can be throttled; most will continue to pay for far more data than they ever use.

There’s also the danger that if consumers realize how little data they are using that they’ll switch to a less costly AT&T MVNO like H20 or Consumer Cellular which are far less expensive, and offer identical coverage to AT&T (though H2O does not offer LTE data). With so much free Wi-Fi around it’s very easy to cut back on 3G and LTE data without a lot of effort.

Amy

I’m paying Verizon $202 a month for two phones on a grandfathered unlimited plan with a mobile hotspot(which I could remove to get my bill down another $30). My service is 4G on both devices, I used roughly 25-30 gigs a month because the hotspot is my home internet as well and I’m a student so I use a lot of bandwidth for streamed video class content. I don’t get throttled regularly but back in December and January they blocked my ability to stream online video content until I contacted the FCC and complained. I let them know what I pay and what it’s used for and within 3 days the block was off. Recently my phone updated to KitKat and won’t stay on 4G, among other catastrophic ailments which Verizon takes no responsibility for even though I personally am not responsible for the damage it’s done to my phone. I tried to deny the update but the phone did it anyway while I was asleep. Seems fishy but not surprising. So big red tells me that I will have to upgrade and change my plan or pay upwards of $650 for a new phone. I knew this but it doesn’t make it right that they can tamper with a customer’s personal possession like that with no ramifications so I complained to the FTC this time. Motorola, who is the manufacturer, is doing nothing either. I have owned this device outright since day one, paying full retail for it at the time. If I bought a car and took it to an authorized dealer for repair and they broke it, I would expect to be and get compensated. This is no different(other than the value of the item).

Richard

That is true, I was in that same category until a very nice representative mentioned it to me. now we are saving almost $175 a month over what we were paying before the switch. And you can upgrade earlier as well and still come out ahead

Jim

Watch out Commercial Property owners. AT&T is putting new equipment in your buildings and not telling you that they will be using your power to run their equipment. They tried it will me but I caught them. Their response to me was they were providing me a service and I should pay for the electrical use. I told them they aren’t supplying me with nothing they are providing their customers this service and making the money on it not me. They still refused to pay for the electrical use so I told them to get their equipment out of my building. I am telling you AT&T will screw you every opportunity they get. Watch out they will get you. They are screwing everyone in all kid of ways! AT@T is the biggest rip off of all phone carriers!!!!!!!!

mike

Watch out Commercial Property owners. AT&T is putting new equipment in your buildings and not telling you that they will be using your power to run their equipment. They tried it will me but I caught them. Their response to me was they were providing me a service and I should pay for the electrical use. I told them they aren’t supplying me with nothing they are providing their customers this service and making the money on it not me. They still refused to pay for the electrical use so I told them to get their equipment out of my building. I am telling you AT&T will screw you every opportunity they get. Watch out they will get you. They are screwing everyone in all kid of ways! AT@T is the biggest rip off of all phone carriers!!!!!!!!

Titoknows

$60.00 a Month is a LOT to spend on Something YOU can’t even use PRIVATELY!!!!!

Zachary Franklin

You ATT tools. Grandfathered what a bunch of shit. T mobile and Sprint have unlimited LTE

Zachary Franklin

You ATT tools. Grandfathered what a bunch of shit. T mobile and Sprint have unliimted LTE

Legos27

AT&T unlimited… You can’t even use your phone as a personal hotspot. They will throttle u after 5gb, and tell you to slow down or they will move you to the 5gb plan. T-mobile the real unlimited data so far…

guest

The US is now once again, dominated by monopolies in the telecommunications industry. We pay more and get less.

Read: Captive Audience by Susan Crawford.
I’ve not yet read the book, as I am afraid it will make me angry.

Years ago the saying was: As Goes GM, So Goes the Nation.
Well, this adage can be applied to the telecommunications industry now.
As Goes the Internet, So Goes the Nation.
We are now being throttled in the Global Economy by the corporations that are supposed to serve us; this is become just another corporate machine taking us down.
ALL Americans should be served fairly and equally when it comes to communications and we should be outraged that it is not.

josephmw55

I HAVE read Captive Audience and anyone who has a cell phone, internet connection or cable service–even fiber-op needs to do the same. Really eye opening.
You’re being ripped off–to the tune of $100 BILLION a year and it’s all tax free, under the table windfall profit.
The key is the video codec used by the providers, content owners, device manufacturers and the monopoly created by the malicious destruction of the only viable competitor to MPEG-LA by killing their stock price throughout the anti-regulation/anti-enforcement regime of the Bushits, including the Cox SEC.

SPLF

Barry Wich

Because anyone not on the grandfathered unlimited plan has no reason not to dump ATT like a hot potato.

Roland Ochoa

I upgraded my iphone 4s to an iPhone 5 and was grandfathered into my unlimited data plan from 4g to 4gLTE. it caps out @ 5gb then its throttled. its similar to edge data speeds or 3g at the least.

Roland Ochoa

The only downfall with being grandfathered in through AT&T is you cannot change anything about your data plan or you will lose the Unlimited data. So adding a hotspot is out of the question.

Madlyb

I had stuck with Sprint for years because of their Unlimited Program, but finally realized that an unreliable and heavily congested network was the equivalent of being on a limited plan, so I started looking and realized just how overpriced Unlimited Plans are these days.

Sprint was $110/month unlimited and Verizon is $80 for 8GB. The really funny thing is Sprint’s network was so bad, I was constantly chasing down Wi-Fi down to connect and was rarely using 2-3GB the last year on their network, but I am back in my normal 5-6GB range again with Verizon and quite happy.

Like @henrymin, I quickly found that there is no such thing as a free lunch in mobile data these days and it pays to do the math.

saykredcow

Weren’t there reports though that at&t throttles grandfathered unlimited plan users after 3-5GB? Sprint also announced throttling when ‘too much’ network is being used. T-Mobile US has the most consumer friendly unlimited plans with no reports of anyone being throttled yet.

Kif Leswing

Yes, AT&T typically throttles after 5GB, I believe, but if someone said it happened at 3GB it wouldn’t surprise me.

branson42

5GB for LTE users, 3GB for 3G speed users (ex. iPhone 4S). Throttled speeds for 3G users are equivalent to 2G speeds, for LTE users, down to 3G speeds.

Jim

As a monthly Throttlee.. I can confirm this. They throttle me to .5GPS once i hit 5GB of data. Its 4GB with a 4G phone and 5GB a month with an LTE phone. And I can also say that part of this article is wrong. They don’t make you switch plans when moving to an LTE phone.

guest

When I was on T-Mobile they throttled me after just 2GB. They also restricted the ability to make your phone a hotspot – making you pay a monthly charge if you wanted this option. It has been a year or so since I left them.

r00fus

Though they are up-front the 2GB throttling (now 3GB) – at least I don’t try to rip me off with overage.

I pay nothing for a hotspot either – not sure what plan you’re on. Simple Choice = hotspot for free.

henrymin

I was one of the 44%! At least up until a month ago. My expense policy changed so I was no longer able to expense up to $100 p/mo. I finally took the time to look at the amount of data I was actually using. Till this very moment, I blindly assumed that by being “grandfathered” into a plan meant that I didn’t have to worry and check-in on data usage or overages. I personally believe ATT plays this up, which is probably why 44% just keep going with the same old thing vs bothering to take a closer look. My bill went from $110 avg p/mo to $60. My new plan is based on the amount of data I actually use. I’m definitely guilty of not paying attention, but I’m glad I took the time to pick the plan that best fit me. Fortunately, ATT will gladly go over this with you on the phone but be careful because they will remind you about how you can never get back into the “unlimited” plan. I bet if the rest of the 44% club take the time, I bet they can find real savings moving forward.

r00fus

Why stop at just looking at your ATT plan? Look at other carriers. I have 5 lines on TMO for $130, and two have individual 3GB data pools each, with the others at 1GB. I never run over, and if I do, I get throttled back to 2G speeds for those few days until the month resets – no overage.

Plus I’ll be taking advantage of free overseas roaming this summer when we go to Europe – just checked, will have LTE speeds (throttled down to 2G for free, or @LTE speeds if I pay) and free texts and calls at $.20/min.

This whole “grandfathered unlimited” is so overrated – they do throttle you after a certain amount (5GB), and for most users they will never reach even 1GB or 3GB – why pay for the extra that you won’t use?

Closingracer

Because T-mobile Coverage is pretty bad depending on where you live and travel…. I typically don’t travel and live in NYC so T-mobile is fine for me. But I went to CT for a few days and on the way I had little to no service for about 20% of the Ride on commuter rail

r00fus

Unfortunate. I get LTE everywhere I go in San Jose. Also I got service in Las Vegas where my colleagues’ ATT and VZ data service was weak. Surprised me.

South Oregon for TMO in 2013 was pretty bad, though I have to agree. If you have solid coverage where you expect to be and don’t travel to non-coverage zones much, TMO is a great choice, but YMMV.

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