AT&T, data plans and Australia

Last week, AT&T changed its iPhone and iPad data plans here in the US. The previous single plan for the iPhone had been an unlimited one at $30 a month. The iPad had that too but it also had 250MB at $15 a month. By the way, that latter one did not have some penalty rate that we see in Australia if you go over but the option to buy another 250MB or switch to the unlimited plan. All pretty civilised. I used the cheaper iPad plan and stayed within its limit for the month.

Those plans have now gone — well, unless you already have them, that is. The iPhone plans offer a new menu with 200MB for $15, 2GB for $25 but no unlimited plan. That said, you can still upgrade within the month if you need more data. So the effective data rate is 1.25 cents. That is still pretty cheap compared with Australian ‘out of plan’ data charges although I gather that iPad competition has made these more reasonable.

Here is my usage when I had unlimited data.

Notice that it exceeds 200MB but is well below 2GB. That said, I am going to keep my option of an unlimited plan a while longer. As the only way to have such a plan on either the iPhone or iPad is to keep it now, it as an option value. This is especially the case since the free iPhone tethering I used in Australia is an extra charge without extra benefit.

As I understand it, after years of insanity some Australian providers are moving to what must be considered a sensible model — they will allow you to buy usage without having to buy a usage rate. That is you pay for 2GB regardless of how long it takes you to use it. Now this isn’t quite a match with marginal cost as it also matters for the costs of mobile networks whether there is congestion on the network. It may be better to pay for peak and off-peak usage or something like that. But the principle that mobile carriers should not care about when you use data but if you use it is progress in Australia that has not occurred here in the US. It is nice to see us moving ahead of the game.

Oh yes, and the AT&T iPad changes are a classic bait and switch. So much so that they are offering unlimited plans for the next couple of days even if you can’t get your hands on a scarce iPad. Again, I upgraded to the unlimited plan as an option so their gaming has already extorted $15 from me.

By the way, the AT&T phone network is as crappy as everyone says. In Australia, I hardly ever had a call drop out on Optus. Here, it happens all of the time. Apple really blew it going exclusive with them.

3 thoughts on “AT&T, data plans and Australia”

  1. My ISP here in Canberra is now advertising 2GB per month mobile internet (i.e. on a laptop) for $30. Given this, how do Australian hotels get away with charging nearly $30 per day for internet service (and never wireless). How did charges in Australia at hotels get this high in the first place compared to other countries?


  2. I think the quality of the network depends where you are in the country.  When I visit the US and want to use my GSM phone with a local SIM, the only options are AT&T and T-Mobile (the rest are CDMA).  T-Mobile gets zero reception in my company’s building in California.  In fact, when I walk out at the end of the day, I would sometimes get text messages which were queued up for up to 8 hours.  On the other hand, I can happily use an AT&T SIM while sitting at my desk.  I understand T-Mobile is better in the northeast.
    The proprietary networks in the US provide an interesting case of where mandated standards are superior to competition.  Any technical advantages of CDMA must be far outweighed by the fact that most phones are physically unable to work on other networks.  This only serves to hinder competition.


  3. David Stern: Hotels can charge ridiculous prices for Internet access for exactly the same reason that they can charge ridiculous prices for phone calls, in-room movies, room-delivered food and tiny bottles of Jack Daniels: Because they know that a business traveller is unlikely to baulk at the charges, since they’re on the company dime and not their own.  They merely have to keep the charges below the level at which the businesses feel such pain that they enact policies like “No room service meals.”


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