Barely one month after the iPad 3G went on sale promising users unlimited 3G data for a reasonable price, AT&T has now decided that data caps make more sense and has done away with the $29 unlimited plan.
As of June 7th, the company will offer 2 data-capped plans for all smartphones, the $15 DataPlus plan which comes with 200MB of transfer per month, and the $25 DataPro plan which comes with 2GB of transfer per month. Overage charges for each plan are $15 per 200MB or $10 per 1GB, respectively.
These same data plans also apply to new iPhone contracts, existing users of both iPhone and iPad data plans will be allowed to keep the unlimited option even if they buy a new iPhone (for now), but new iPhone and iPad users will choose between the 2 new capped plans.
The silver lining of sorts is that these plans can be shared between an iPhone and an iPad if users have both devices, so you don’t end up paying twice even though you do get less for your money.editor: we can no longer find a source for this statement
AT&T also says the new plans should be a great deal for most customers, saying that only 2% of their customers would not be covered by a 2GB data cap, while 65% of customers would come in under the 200MB line and would therefor only need to pay $15 per month. Note that those numbers aren’t specific to iPhone and iPad users, but all AT&T customers, so it is quite likely that a large number of iPhone and iPad users are in that top 2% that will be hit by the data cap even on a 2GB plan.
In what may be seen as more of a slap in the face than an additional capability, starting this summer with iPhone OS 4.0, users can now pay $20 extra per month for the ability to tether an iPhone to a laptop for 3G data access. However, you don’t get a higher data cap for shelling out more money, you simply get the ability to use the data you’re already paying for on another device like a laptop. Note that the $20 tethering option is only available with the DataPro plan.
The change comes after both Apple and AT&T heavily promoted the unlimited data plan during the original iPad announcement, Apple called it a “breakthrough deal”, and AT&T said in no uncertain terms that the plan would be truly unlimited, and that they could handle the additional load generated by the data-heavy device.
Apple’s website is still promoting the unlimited plan to sell the 3G model, with the same “breakthrough deal” language, but that will probably be removed soon:
So what changed? Apple did sell 2 million iPads in the last 2 months, but most of those were the Wi-Fi only model. According to the New York Times, although AT&T was willing to provide unlimited 3G data to iPad users, the company “largely expects the iPad to be used in coffee shops and at home, where users can rely on Wi-Fi, as opposed to dragging down the company’s 3G network.”. They never expected anyone to actually use the 3G connection very often.