Some people are calling the new tweaks to AT&T and Verizon Wireless' pricing plans the start of a mobile price war, but for many wireless consumers, they'll actually be paying more each month.
The companies each revised pricing late last week in separate announcements. The price cuts follow new aggressive pricing from Sprint Nextel, which last year introduced plans that allow customers to call any cell phone in the U.S. for free.
AT&T's and Verizon's new plans were supposed to simplify pricing for consumers. But the fact is that the new plans are still somewhat confusing. To better explain where consumers will save money and where they'll likely pay more, CNET has put together this FAQ.
In short, where consumers can expect to save money is on voice calls. Whether they are using a smartphone, quick-messaging/multimedia device, or a basic feature phone, the companies have lowered the price of their unlimited voice plans. But where many customers will likely pay more is on accessing the mobile Internet.
In fact, both AT&T and Verizon Wireless are extending data plans to a whole slew of customers who formerly were not subscribing to any data plans. And it is likely these are the customers who will see a bigger phone bill when they upgrade their phones or renew their contracts.
So before you sign another contract or agree to a new phone, take a look at this FAQ to make sure you know what the changes mean for you.
Let's start with voice pricing. What has changed for AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers with respect to voice pricing?
AT&T and Verizon have each reduced the price on their unlimited voice plans. The plans have dropped from $99.99 to $69.99 per month for individuals. Verizon's Nationwide Unlimited Talk Family SharePlan and AT&T's family talk plan will now each cost $119.99 per month with two lines included. Additional voice lines from Verizon can be added for $9.99 a piece. AT&T said additional lines can be added to its plans, but prices will vary depending on the type of plan that users subscribe to.
Do the changes in voice plan pricing also apply to smartphone customers?
Yes, they do. All AT&T and Verizon Wireless subscribers can sign up for the new voice plans.
If I am an existing customer paying a higher fee for my voice service, can I switch to the all-you-can-talk plan without being penalized?
Yes, AT&T and Verizon Wireless representatives say all you have to do is call a customer service agent to change your plan. You will not be charged any kind of fee for switching. And you will not extend your existing contract by switching to the lower cost plan.
What about text messaging rates? Has that changed for either AT&T or Verizon Wireless?
The plans have not changed for Verizon Wireless customers. Customers can either choose to pay 20 cents for each outgoing or incoming text message or they can subscribe to a texting plan. The unlimited texting plan is $20 a month. Verizon's new Talk and Text plan costs $89.99 per month. This plan used to cost $119.99. The Nationwide Unlimited Talk & Text Family SharePlan is now $149.99 per month.
For AT&T wireless customers, the unlimited texting plans remain $20 a month for individuals or $30 a month for the Family Talk plan. Customers who have a basic phone can still pay per text message, which is 20 cents for incoming and outgoing SMS messages.
How have the new data plans changed?
The main change is that AT&T and Verizon are now requiring customers with midrange phones, which they consider multimedia or quick messaging, to subscribe to some kind of data and/or text messaging plan.
Verizon Wireless is now requiring all newly activated 3G multimedia phones to subscribe to a data plan. They can either sign up for a $9.99, 25 megabyte per month data plan for data services. Or they can sign up for a $29.99 unlimited data plan. Texting plans are still priced separately.
This means that a customer with a multimedia phone could sign up for the unlimited Talk and Text plan for $89.99 and get unlimited data for $29.99. The total package would cost $119.98, the same price that a smartphone user would pay for the same unlimited services.
Are data plans now required for some phones on AT&T and Verizon's networks?
Yes, AT&T and Verizon are each requiring midrange cell phone owners to subscribe to data services as part of their cell phone purchase.
Last year, Verizon started requiring these data packages for the LG EnV Touch and the Samsung Rogue. Now the list of phones that require this plan has grown and includes new activations of the LG Chocolate Touch, LG EnV, LG VX8360, Motorola Entice W766, Nokia 7705 Twist, and Samsung Alias2.
That said, Verizon Wireless customers using basic phones will continue to pay $1.99 per megabyte if they don't pick a data plan.
AT&T is now requiring its quick-messaging customers, or customers with phones such as the LG Neon or the Samsung Propel, to spend $20 a month on top of their voice service for either a texting or a data plan, or they can spend $20 on a combination of plans. AT&T offers texting plans for either $5, $15, or $20 a month. And its data plan costs $15 for unlimited access on quick-messaging devices only.
This means that customers with a quick-messaging device who want an unlimited plan, can get unlimited voice, text, and data for a total of $105 per month. Previously, a similar offering from AT&T would cost $135 a month.
What about data plans for smartphone customers? Will those plans change, and how much will they cost?
Whether smartphone customers are subscribing to AT&T or Verizon Wireless, the price of data services will not change. For Verizon, this means customers buying a Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, or Android phone will still pay $29.99 per month for unlimited data.
AT&T subscribers with an Apple iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia smartphone, or Windows Mobile device will also pay $29.99 a month for data.
For example, how much will it cost a Motorola Droid customer on Verizon's network or an Apple iPhone customer on AT&T's network to get unlimited voice, text messaging, and data?
Each of these plans will cost about $120 a month. Unlimited texting and voice is about $90 a month. And the data service is an additional $30 a month. The price of unlimited voice, text, and data from these carriers previously was about $150, because the unlimited voice service was $30 more expensive.
Are the data plans really unlimited or is there a 5 gigabyte limit?
AT&T and Verizon Wireless say their data plans are unlimited for all phone customers. The 5GB limit only applies to customers using their 3G broadband service for laptops.
Do either AT&T or Verizon Wireless allow tethering phones to laptops for Internet service? How much does this cost?
AT&T and Verizon Wireless each allow attaching phones to a laptop to get 3G wireless service. Verizon allows tethering on most devices, but not all. For smartphone customers with a voice and data plan, the tethering plan costs an additional $30 per month. For customers wanting to connect their laptops to a feature phone, the tethering plan will cost about $49.99 if you use the new plans. In either scenario, customers are subject to the 5GB limit for tethering usage with 5 cents per MB for overage.
For AT&T customers, tethering is available for most smartphone users and it costs an additional $30 a month, according to Mark Siegel, an AT&T spokesman.
Does tethering work with the Apple iPhone or the Motorola Droid?
At this time, neither the Motorola Droid on Verizon Wireless' network nor the Apple iPhone on AT&T's network allow tethering.
How do plans from Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA stack up against the plans offered by AT&T and Verizon Wireless?
Sprint's Simply Everything plan costs $99.99 and includes unlimited voice, texting, and data. This is still $20 cheaper than a comparable unlimited plan for an AT&T smartphone or any Verizon phone. These equivalent unlimited plans offer unlimited voice, text, and data for about $120 a month. And it is $5 cheaper than unlimited plans for AT&T quick-messaging devices, which cost about $105 per month.
Its family plan is $189.98 per month. AT&T's unlimited voice and data plan is $179.99 and unlimited texting is $30 a month more for a total of $210. Verizon Wireless doesn't offer a Family Share plan for data.
Sprint also offers its Everything Data with Any Mobile, Anytime plans. These plans offer value to customers who mostly call other cell phones. These plans are priced as low $69.99 for 450 minutes of talk time to landline phones. This particular plan includes unlimited calls to all cell phones in the U.S., as well as unlimited texting and data. The $89.99 plan offers 900 minutes of talk time to landline phones and includes unlimited cell phone calling, texting, and data.
T-Mobile USA offers an unlimited voice, text, and data plan for $79.99 a month, which is $40 less than the new equivalent plans from AT&T for smartphone devices and Verizon Wireless. These plans cost about $120 per month. An unlimited plan for AT&T's smart messaging devices, which includes unlimited voice, text and data is about $105 per month. T-Mobile's family plan is $139.99.