AT&T yesterday announced three new “unlimited” data plans. Keeping track of all the different limits on AT&T’s unlimited mobile plans is just as difficult as ever, but there’s some good news for customers who use lots of smartphone data.
Buying AT&T’s cheapest unlimited plan still comes with the risk of getting your data throttled to speeds slower than those provided to other customers when the network is congested. The possible throttling can be imposed at any time, even if a customer hasn’t used much data that month. But while upgrading to pricier plans currently only gives AT&T customers 22GB a month before possible throttling, the plans coming out soon have options for at least 50GB or 100GB of un-throttled use.
AT&T’s current entry-level plan is called “Unlimited & More.” It costs $70 per month for one line (not including taxes and fees), with the per-line prices descending with each additional line you buy. Each line costs $40 a month if you buy four lines.
It comes with a big restriction. “On AT&T Unlimited & More, for all data usage, customer[s] may temporarily experience reduced speeds on these line(s) during times of network congestion,” AT&T says. Customers aren’t throttled to the same speed each time. Instead, these customers get slower speeds than customers who bought other plans when they’re in a congested network area. Speeds are returned to normal if the network congestion clears up or if the customer moves to an un-congested location.
The Unlimited & More plan also only includes SD video quality as video streams are throttled to 1.5Mbps, and mobile-hotspot usage is not allowed.
Starting November 3, AT&T will offer a new “Unlimited Starter” plan as the entry-level edition at prices of $65 per month for a single line or $35 for each line when you buy four lines.
“You’ll get unlimited calls, texts, and data, with the catch that AT&T can throttle you whenever it decides that the network is too congested,” The Verge reported yesterday. “Unlike the other plans, there’s no guaranteed pool of data before deprioritizing starts. You’re also limited to SD-quality video, and there’s no option to share your Internet by using your phone as a mobile hotspot.”
The throttling details weren’t mentioned in AT&T’s press release, but AT&T confirmed to Ars that the above details are correct.
New premium options
If you want mobile-hotspot usage, HD video streaming, and a guaranteed amount of data before you can be throttled, you have to pay more. With the current “Unlimited & More Premium” plan that will soon be replaced, data can be throttled after you use 22GB in a month. This plan costs $80 per month for a single line and $48 per line if you buy four lines. The plan allows 15GB of high-speed mobile-hotspot use and HD streaming in 1080p.
Going forward, there will be two premium options instead. AT&T Unlimited Extra, available November 3, will be $75 a month for a single line or $40 per line with four lines. The plan includes at least 50GB of data per month before you can be throttled during times of congestion, as well as 15GB of high-speed mobile-hotspot data. However, video is limited to SD.
The new top-level plan is Unlimited Elite, and AT&T said it will launch “in the coming weeks” but did not reveal a specific release date. This one is $85 a month for a single line or $50 per line with four lines, and it comes with 100GB of data before any potential throttling. Unlimited Elite also has 30GB of high-speed mobile-hotspot data and HD-quality streaming video.
There are also changes in which video services come bundled with unlimited plans. Both of AT&T’s current unlimited plans come with AT&T’s WatchTV service, which has 35 channels of live TV. Unlimited & More Premium also lets customers choose one of the following services: HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, Pandora Premium, Spotify Premium, and VRV.
The new unlimited plans will not include WatchTV and will not give customers a choice of entertainment services. However, Unlimited Elite will include HBO and HBO Max when it is released in May 2020.
AT&T settlement with FTC is pending
AT&T’s throttling of unlimited data plans used to be a lot more restrictive. Until a change in 2015, AT&T customers who used 5GB of LTE data in a single monthly billing period were throttled for the rest of the month at all times, regardless of whether they were in a congested network area.
The Federal Trade Commission sued AT&T in October 2014, saying it misled consumers by promising unlimited data while imposing draconian throttling policies. The FTC and AT&T recently reached a tentative settlement, but details of the deal haven’t been made public yet. AT&T is also facing a class-action lawsuit over the practice.