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iPhone Voice, Data Plans Reasonably Priced, but Missing Wi-Fi

A few days before the iPhone went on sale, Apple and AT&T announced service plans, with offerings for individual accounts costing $60, $80, and $100 per month for 450, 900, and 1,350 peak voice minutes; unlimited cellular data; and 200 SMS text messages. These plans also include rollover minutes, allowing unused minutes to be banked for up to 12 months, and unmetered calling within AT&T’s cellular network, as well as visual voicemail.

The cheapest plan includes 5,000 night and weekend minutes; the two higher-priced plans have no limit on night and weekend calling. (5000 minutes is over 83 hours, so only teenagers and insomniacs calling each other at 2:00 AM will exceed that number.)

Family plans for two or more lines cost $80, $100, and $120 for 700, 1,400, and 2,100 peak minutes, while the second and subsequent iPhones cost $30 per month each. AT&T charges $10 per month for regular phones in their family plans, a fact that’s not generally noted in iPhone coverage. Family plans all include the same features as the two higher-priced single-line services.

Higher numbers of minutes (2,000, 4,000 and 6,000 for individuals, and 3,000, 4,000, and 5,000 for family plans) are also available.

Existing AT&T customers can add iPhone service for $20 per month for the same package of SMS messages and unlimited data; 1,500 SMS messages will run $30 additional per month, while unlimited text messages adds $40 per month.

SMS messages may be of great interest for iPhone users, as Apple – at least initially – has included no iChat or other instant messaging support. SMS would be the likely replacement, and text message counts climb quickly when used for even short back-and-forth conversations.

Unlike other cellular phones, the iPhone doesn’t need to be activated at an Apple Store or AT&T Store. Instead, you walk out with a box, and then use iTunes to enable the phone using Mac OS X 10.4.10, Windows XP SP2 (Home or Professional), or Vista (all but Basic). Existing AT&T customers can transfer current phone numbers to the iPhone. Portability of other carriers’ numbers is possible (it’s a federal requirement), but specifics of doing so are not available online. That may require a return visit to an AT&T Store. Gizmodo asked AT&T that question and
got no reply.

These prices are in parity with similar offerings from AT&T for other slow cell data handsets that use the EDGE standard, and with T-Mobile, which provides unlimited EDGE for $20 a month on top of voice plans. (AT&T and T-Mobile are the two U.S. carriers that employ the worldwide GSM standard, which includes EDGE for data in the United States, and UMTS and HSDPA for faster data elsewhere in the world.)

What’s interesting, and so far unclear, is whether AT&T plans to leverage its own Wi-Fi hot spot network of 10,000 locations between its own contracted venues and roaming partners. This network costs either nothing or $2 per month for AT&T’s DSL customers; higher-speed subscribers get the service for free starting today.

Because the iPhone has a real browser built in, it should be possible for the phone’s users to connect to a Wi-Fi hot spot network and view the gateway page from which they can agree to terms of usage (for free networks that require this), pay for service, or log into an existing account.

But that’s a far cry from seamless roaming from EDGE to Wi-Fi. That will obviously work for open, free networks and for home and office networks that can be pre-configured. I was expecting (and still expect) more from AT&T on this front. Why build a huge national network and not use it for a flagship product?

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