AT&T made headlines this week with their announcement of shared data plans. Marketed as "Mobile Share" plans, the telecom giant will allow customers to access a "bucket of data" for both a monthly fee and a fee per device in August 2012. AT&T's shared data plans are intended to mimic Verizon's recent move in the same direction.
While some customers may hope to breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of quelling seemingly out-of-control data charges, it's important to realize bundling data usage gets expensive — fast. The value for individuals and families will largely depend on the consistent amount of data used each month and the convenience of sharing data across multiple devices.
One of the first things we noticed about AT&T's Mobile Share plans is the cost. Customers are required to have one smartphone tied to the shared plan — which of course has its monthly data fee — and each additional device — phones, laptops and tablets — comes with its own monthly fee. And you have yet to pay for the shared data.
The least expensive plan is a smartphone and a tablet device sharing 1GB of data. That will run you $95/month: $45 fee for the initial smartphone access, a $10 fee to attach the tablet to the shared plan and $40 for actual 1GB of data. Sharing data across laptops will run you a $20/month access fee and the most common — sharing data across other phones — is a whopping $30/month access fee — again this is just for adding devices to your "bucket of data."
As customers purchase larger shared data plans, the fee for the initial smartphone drops significantly. However it will still cost you a minimum of $30/month to attach your smartphone to the largest data plan. AT&T has a nice chart that shows the costs of the data and device breakdown.
Analysts over at Wired found that AT&T's shared plans are actually a poor cost-saving solution for many customers. Looking strictly at device per usage, they write it is often more expensive to bundle data on one contract. The value is in the appeal of simplifying data usage charges for customers with the need or desire to include additional devices on one account.
In a press release on Tuesday, AT&T commented on the convenience factor as a major selling point. "Mobile Share plans give customers more control over how, where and on what device they use data — which has become more important as people use more data services. You can choose to use more of your data bucket on your tablet, for example, or tap into your data bucket only when needed for devices you use occasionally. And by consolidating data plans, you can take advantage of any data you currently have unused each month by efficiently sharing it across devices."
If you have a family or want to attach multiple devices to one wireless bill, AT&T's Mobile Share may be the right move for you. You can upgrade to Mobile Share without extending your contract — perhaps the silver lining. However, we recommend carefully scrutinizing past bills to get a good grasp on how much data you really need. Chances are Mobile Share might end up costing you more than it's worth.
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