AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) finally joined the other three major U.S. mobile carriers this morning, resuscitating an offer for unlimited data it made more than a year ago to its DirecTV and U-Verse cable subscribers. The company cut $10 off the price of its first line, to $90 a month, and sweetened the deal by offering new subscribers a $25 credit toward a DirecTV subscription, U-Verse cable plan or the new DirecTV Now streaming video plan. The company calls the new plan Unlimited Plus.
The new offer is not the cheapest; in fact, it remains the most expensive, with four phone lines costing $185 a month compared with the Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) offer of four lines for $180 a month. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) offers a basic plan that costs $60 for the first line and $150 for four lines, while T-Mobile US Inc. (NYSE: TMUS) begins at $70 for the first line and costs $160 for four lines.
Unlimited data, in all four cases, really means sort-of unlimited. Every carrier slows down or chokes or “de-prioritizes” data speed once a customer reaches a pre-defined usage limit.
For AT&T and Verizon, data speeds are slowed once a subscriber reaches 22 gigabytes (GB) in a month. For Sprint the limit is 23 GB and for T-Mobile the limit is 28 GB. The benefit to subscribers is that there are no more high fees for using more data than your monthly plan calls for.
AT&T also initiated another, cheaper option, the Unlimited Choice plan, which starts at $60 for one line and costs $155 for four lines. Data transfer speed is limited to 3 megabits per second, about a tenth the maximum speed available under its pricier plans.
Another recent offer from AT&T is its “buy one, get one free” deal for new phones.
AT&T had no choice but to introduce its own version of an unlimited data plan following Verizon’s decision to do so last week. Unfortunately, Verizon made all the noise and got all the press coverage. A me-too offer is, unfortunately for AT&T, just that.