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AT&T and Sprint Expand Unlimited Data Offerings

Once Verizon Wireless brought back an unlimited data plan (see “Verizon Wireless Brings Back “Unlimited” Data,” 13 February 2017), it was, as they say, “on like Donkey Kong.” T-Mobile almost immediately announced improvements to its unlimited T-Mobile ONE plan, including unlimited HD video streaming and up to 10 GB of high-speed mobile hotspot data per month. Now AT&T and Sprint are following suit by improving their unlimited games.

Unlimited plans aren’t new to AT&T — the company brought them back months ago, but made them available only to DirecTV and U-verse TV customers. Now AT&T is opening them up to everyone. The price is $100 per month for a single line, with each additional line costing an additional $40 per month. That includes unlimited talk and text, as well as unlimited calls to Canada and Mexico and unlimited texts to 120 countries. There’s also a free add-on that allows unlimited talk, text, and data in Canada and Mexico.

The main thing that’s not included in AT&T’s unlimited offerings is tethered data — apparently, iOS’s Personal Hotspot option simply doesn’t appear. If you want to share your cellular Internet connection with a Wi-Fi-only iPad or MacBook, you’ll need to stick with one of AT&T’s capped Mobile Share plans. That may be an easy decision, since the 16 GB and 25 GB Mobile Share plans can end up cheaper than the unlimited plan, depending on how many lines you need.

Shockingly, AT&T is much more expensive than Verizon for a single line. However, the carriers approach parity with multiple lines:

  • 1 line: AT&T $100, Verizon $80
  • 2 lines: AT&T $140, Verizon $140
  • 3 lines: AT&T $180, Verizon $162
  • 4 lines: AT&T $180, Verizon $180

That four-line price for AT&T looks wrong, but includes an inscrutable $40 credit. It’s actually $220 per month until the credit starts, which takes two billing cycles. Why does AT&T complicate things like this? Like Verizon, AT&T may reprioritize your data speed after you’ve used 22 GB.

AT&T has also introduced a T-Mobile-esque feature called Stream Saver that automatically downgrades video to DVD quality, thus using less data on your plan.

Sprint, not to be outdone, has improved its unlimited data plan offering, with unlimited data for $50 per month with auto pay, and up to four additional lines for a flat $90 per month for the next year (after which the cost of additional lines climbs significantly). That also includes unlimited talk and text, HD-quality video streaming, and 10 GB of mobile hotspot data.

Which unlimited plan is best for you? Gizmodo’s Christina Warren compared them, and found that T-Mobile is tough to beat. However, for most users, the best choice comes down to a combination of coverage, price, and features. When taken together, Verizon is hard to beat at the moment.

So what prompted this rapid change in the cellular space? T-Mobile is rapidly stealing customers from Verizon, a trend that spiked in the first quarter of 2017. T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s maverick “Un-carrier” strategy is working, and it’s changing the wireless industry.

 

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