AT&T's unlimited data plan is back, with strings attached.
The Dallas telecom giant said Monday it will once again offer unlimited wireless data, though only for customers who also subscribe to its DirecTV or U-Verse TV services. Enrollment begins Tuesday.
The limited-time offer comes at a time when most wireless carriers have either eliminated or raised the price of unlimited data plans. Sprint and T-Mobile, the only two carriers that still offer unlimited data to new customers, have bumped up prices. So have Verizon and AT&T, which stopped offering such plans years ago but have customers who have clung to their grandfathered buckets of unlimited data.
To help you understand how this new deal works, CNET has assembled an FAQ.
I've heard AT&T throttles or slows down service for its customers. Does this plan really offer unlimited data?
AT&T clarified its policy last year. It will only slow the connection for any customer who is in a data-congested area and who in a given month exceeds 22 gigabytes of data. To put this in perspective, this is equivalent to someone streaming 50 hours of video and 250 hours of music and then spending another 220 hours on the Internet each month.
One thing to keep in mind is that like its "grandfathered" unlimited plans, customers won't be able to turn their phones into hotspots to create Internet access for tablets or laptops.
How much does it cost? Can existing customers get this deal?
The monthly cost for the data is $60, plus $40 for each line. The fourth line is free. This means one line costs $100 a month, two lines are $140, and then three or four lines cost $180. You can connect up to 10 lines to the service. TV subscriptions start at $19.99 for DirecTV satellite service with 145 channels. But when you bundle wireless and TV on one bill, there is a $10 discount for combined billing.
In short, a customer can get unlimited wireless data with one line and the TV service for $110 per month. For two lines, it would be $150 and so on. The new unlimited data plan also includes unlimited voice and texting.
Keep in mind that the DirecTV subscription increases to $50 a month after the first year. There is also a $7 fee per month for each set-top box.
Existing AT&T Wireless, U-Verse and DirecTV customers can take advantage of this offer. Even the grandfathered unlimited-data customers can sign up. With a $20 DirecTV package, plus the $10 discount for combining service on their bill, these grandfathered customers can get their unlimited data plan plus TV service for $45 a month. (Note: The grandfathered customers also must pay for the voice and texting plans they subscribe to.)
Do I have to live in AT&T's U-Verse territory to get the service?
No, DirecTV is a satellite TV provider and it's available nationwide. If you live within AT&T's U-Verse territory, you can also subscribe to its U-Verse TV and Internet service.
How long can I expect AT&T to offer this deal? Will they change the plan in a few months?
AT&T has said it's offering the deal temporarily. For customers who sign up for the service, a spokesman said the company will honor it as long as you're an AT&T customer, just as it has for its existing unlimited data customers.
Who should get this plan?
This is a pretty good deal for anyone who needs a paid TV service and is a heavy user of wireless data. Specifically, it's best for individuals who use more than 10GB to 15GB of data per month. Keep in mind that the average wireless customer in the US uses between 2.5GB to 3GB, so it's clearly not for everyone.
Two of AT&T's competitors also offer unlimited data at a lower price and without the requirement of buying TV service. Sprint offers an unlimited data plan for $70 a month, and T-Mobile offers one for $95. Neither Sprint nor T-Mobile has the nationwide footprint of AT&T, though.
Adding people to the plan adds cost, so customers should do the math and compare prices before they purchase. The unlimited offer starts to become more expensive than AT&T's traditional offers when customers are added and share data. On AT&T's traditional plans, customers can add additional lines to plans with 15GB of data or more for $15 a month. A total of three lines on a 15GB plan costs $145 a month, meanwhile three lines under the new plan would cost $180.
Pricing for the unlimited plan looks much more attractive as you add more data and more lines. For instance, a 25GB plan costs $220 for three lines. Three lines on the unlimited plan, again, is $180 a month.