AT&T is making significant changes to its wireless data plans, adding support for tethering but also eliminating the unlimited data plan.
Tethering at Last
Many iPhone owners should be happy to learn that they will soon be able to use their smartphone as a wireless modem for other devices, such as laptops. This oft-requested feature will be available when iPhone OS 4.0 is released this summer, and will cost $20 on top of any other voice and data plan.
The plan will also be available to anyone who has a device that supports tethering, which is most Android OS, BlackBerry OS, or Windows Mobile smartphones.
There was no mention of whether this plan will enable an iPhone to provide data access for an iPad.
UPDATE: Because the iPad’s software doesn’t support being tethered, this tablet computer can’t get wireless service from an iPhone.
No More ‘All You Can Eat’
Many of AT&T’s customers will be less pleased at the carrier’s other change: its $30 unlimited data plan is being phased out. This is being replaced with a slightly less expensive plan that offers 2 gigabytes (GB) of data a month, which AT&T says is enough for 98% of its customers.
Still, this move is likely to be controversial, as some iPhone users have grown accustomed to AT&T’s “all you can eat” plan which allowed them to constantly use services that take up high amounts of bandwidth, such as listening to streaming music.
The 2 GB DataPro plan will cost $25 a month, and AT&T says it is enough to send/receive 10,000 emails (no attachments), plus send/receive 1,500 emails with attachments, plus view 4,000 Web pages, plus post 500 photos to social media sites, plus watch 200 minutes of streaming video.
Any customer who exceeds 2 GB during a billing cycle will automatically receive an additional 1 GB of data for $10.
Those who are interested in using their smartphone for tethering will have to choose the DataPro plan, and be carful about running over even the extended 3 GB limit — laptops typically run through far more data than smartphones do.
Those who whose data needs are smaller can choose the DataPlus plan, which provides 200 MB of data a month for $15. According to AT&T, this is enough for enough to send/receive 1,000 emails (no attachments), plus send/receive 150 emails with attachments, plus view 400 Web pages, plus post 50 photos on social media sites, plus watch 20 minutes of streaming video.
If a customer exceeds their 200 MB allotment in a monthly billing cycle, they will receive an additional 200 MB of data for $15.
Both of these plans come with unlimited access to the 20,000 AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots around the U.S.
Coming Next Week
This change will go into affect next Monday, the day the next-generation iPhone is expected to be announced.
Current smartphone users are not required to switch to the new plans, but can choose to do so without a contract extension. However, when they renew their contract — something that’s going to be required when buying a new device like an iPhone with a subsidy — customers will have to switch to the new plans.