Leave AT&T's unlimited plan and save

Many AT&T subscribers could save $120 a year by switching to the 300MB data plan, since that's more than the amount of data they actually use monthly.

My average data usage was much less than 300MB per month except for the "trial" month of February.
My average data usage was much less than 300MB per month except for the "trial" month of February.Photo by Dong Ngo/CNET

It may seem like those who pay for AT&T's unlimited data plan don't necessarily get their money's worth of service, but by how much and how many of them? As it turns out the numbers are quite substantial.

According to a report published today by Consumer Reports, almost half of the carrier's unlimited subscribers use just 300MB or less, effectively wasting $10 a month. This is similar to my personal experience.

You can check on your data usage and change the data plan via MyAT&T.
You can check on your data usage and change the data plan via MyAT&T.Photo by Dong Ngo/CNET

Being one of those who got grandfathered in with the $30 unlimited data plan, I was quite happy since I don't have to worry about ever going over the limit. However, I found out recently that I actually never used more than 200MB per month.

This is mostly because when at home or at work, or even at airports, I use Wi-Fi, which is much faster to get online with.

I decided to do some testing last month by using the phone exclusively over 3G and still ended up using just 388.7MB for the entire billing period. Note that though I use the phone a lot, it's mostly for light activities, like maps, directions, traffic information, gaming, e-mail, and social networking. I didn't use it for anything data-intensive, such as streaming or downloading apps or music, simply because the 3G connection is just too slow for that.

For this reason, I have now personally opted for a $20 plan giving 300MB per month. Note, however, that once you move on from the unlimited data plan, you lose the grandfathered status and can never get back on it. But what's good about a status that doesn't offer you much benefit while costing more?

Consumer Reports says its findings were based on usage data provided by Validas, a company that tracks wireless data coverage. The data shows that about 48 percent of AT&T unlimited-plan subscribers use 300MB or less per billing period. Since AT&T's 300MB monthly plan costs $20, by switching, they'll save $120 a year.

Note that the report only shows data usage by the unlimited-data subscribers; those who currently use the 3GB data plan, which also costs $30 per month, should check their actual data usage, too. It's quite easy to do so by logging in at AT&T's Web site or via the MyAT&T app (iPhone | Android).

The Web site and the app also let you change your data plan on the fly in case you want to upgrade for months when you know you'll use a lot of cellular data.