The U.S. wireless carrier is planning to roll out shared data plans for current and new
subscribers, beginning in August. Called AT&T Mobile Share, the new bucket data plans will enable families as well as small businesses to essentially build their own plans to fit their unique device and data usage requirements, the company said.
AT&T expects to offer the new bucket data plans in monthly allotments of 1 GB ($40), 4 GB ($70), 6 GB ($90), 10 GB ($120), 15 GB ($160) and 20 GB ($200).
There will also be an additional monthly charge for each and every 3G, HSPA+ or LTE gadget added to any of the new AT&T Mobile Share plans. Smartphones ($35) and feature phones ($30), for example, will cost more per month to use than laptop connect cards ($20), tablets ($10) and portable gaming machines ($10).
While still offering its previous voice and SMS pooling family plans as an option to all comers, "AT&T can now tout data sharing for consumers -- that for many users will look a lot cheaper than Sprint's Share Everything plans," said Bill Menezes, a principal research analyst at Gartner.
In comparison, Menezes told us, a Sprint "Share Everything" plan for two smartphones with unlimited voice, SMS and 3G data starts at about $210 retail with Sprint, and extra lines are about $90 a pop.
Buckets for SMBs
Even on their higher speed networks, the top U.S. wireless carriers estimate the average user consumes less than 2 GB a month. "AT&T estimates its top 5 percent of smartphone data users are consuming 2 to 3 GB, so for most, a 4 GB bucket is as good as unlimited," Menezes explained.
AT&T also wisely let Verizon Wireless hit the trip wire first on how the public would perceive these plans. "With overall pricing essentially equal on their multi-device plans, AT&T is leveraging the criticism that Verizon appears to be forcing new customers into the sharing structure over time, by continuing to offer its existing a la carte voice and data plans as an option for all new customers," Menezes said.
Each AT&T Mobile Share data plan will also provide participating subscribers with access to the wireless carrier's 30,000+ Wi-Fi hot spot locations across the U.S., at no additional charge. Large enterprises as well as small to medium-sized businesses can use AT&T's shared data plans.
"Up to ten devices can share data on a single AT&T Mobile Share plan," an AT&T Wireless spokesperson said Wednesday. "Companies that are interested in sharing data across more than ten devices will need to purchase additional plans."
AT&T Mobile Share customers will receive automatic alerts to help them keep track of their entire bucket's monthly data usage, to avoid having to pay $15 per GB for data use that exceeds their plans' monthly cap. And if customers want to stay on their current plan they can do that as well, noted AT&T Mobility Chief Marketing Officer David Christopher.
Expanding The Bucket's Mix
Christopher also expects that AT&T will be adding other types of wireless devices to its new bucket plans in the future. "We'll see health care monitors, connected cars, security systems and other devices in the home all connected to the mobile Internet," Christopher said.
ABI Research projects that wireless home monitoring devices for seniors will quickly grow from less than 3 million unit shipments in 2011 to more than 36 million unit shipments in 2017. Over the five-year forecast period, the wireless home-monitoring segment will almost double its share of the wearable device health market to 22 percent -- up from 12 percent in 2011.
"Healthcare providers and care-givers alike are looking for devices to improve the monitoring of seniors in their own homes as economics and demographics increasingly drive that demand," said Jonathan Collins, a principal analyst at ABI Research.