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Smart-phone shoppers: Calculate MB use before you pick a plan

Consumer Reports News: June 04, 2010 12:23 PM

Cell phone carriers are pushing consumers toward trendy, sexy, high-tech smart phones, like AT&T's Apple iPhone, Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G, T-Mobile’s Nexus G1, and Verizon’s Droid, so they can replace declining revenue from the sale of voice minutes, which are fast becoming a cheap commodity, with revenue from data services, a growing moneymaker from Internet access, games, streaming music and video, and anything else that can be digitized.

Until now, smart phone owners paid a flat monthly rate for unlimited data service. But, as the Consumer Reports Electronics Blog reported, AT&T is revising its pricing of data plans for smart phones, which may foreshadow the death of unlimited wireless data.

Under the new plans, smart phone users can buy 200 MB of data service for $15 or 2 GB for $25. Our Electronics Blog team estimates that msot iPhone users are likely to pay the same or less , under the new pricing scheme, if current usage patterns and the new price plans stay the same. 

Good news in AT&T’s new plans: If you go over your monthly plan data allotment, you won’t get hit with big overage fees, as is still the case in voice minutes; rather, you can buy another bundle of data at the same rate you paid for the first one, or you can switch mid-billing-cycle from the 200 MB to the 2 GB plan. AT&T will also send text alerts when the customer uses 65, 90, and 100 percent of his monthly data limit, an idea we advocated only last week.

If limits become a fact of smart phone life, you’re going to need better information about how many MBs your various activities—Web surfing, social media posts with photos, streaming video and music, games, etc.—eat up, because the price you pay will be based on how much data you use.

AT&T's phones will tell you on an ongoing basis how many MB's you've consumed. But if you haven't yet purchased a phone or want to switch, check out AT&T's online data calculator, to get a better sense of how your daily usage translates into monthly MBs.—Jeff Blyskal

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