I’m one of those people who was grandfathered in to AT&T’s unlimited smartphone data plans, and for a long time I was quietly determined not to let go of it. It was partly the principle of the thing. (“My mobile digital lifestyle shall know no bounds!”) It was also the vision of all those wireless devices, including many yet to be invented, that I’ll no doubt want to incorporate into my life in the years ahead. (“Someday I’m going to need 50GB a month!”)

Today, after doing the research, I officially gave up my status as a holdout and switched my family to one of AT&T’s newly launched Mobile Share plans. On average we’ve been only using about 1GB a month of data between our two smartphones. Unlimited data was complete overkill. Based on the 4GB/month Mobile Share plan, we’ll be saving around $34/month, or more than $400/year.

Not exactly on the level of refinancing the mortgage, but enough that it was difficult to ignore.

For me, the sweetener was the ability to use my phone as a hotspot for my computer at no extra charge. I’ve been paying about $25/month for data on a prepaid laptop stick with another carrier. That’s one reason I was comfortable going with the 4GB/month plan on AT&T, to give myself plenty of data to play with, although it would have been nice if there were a 2GB or 3GB option. (AT&T’s plans jump from 1GB to 4GB, then 6, 10, 15 and 20.)

AT&T’s new shared data plans launched last week. AT&T is following Verizon’s lead by moving away from limits for individual phones — shifting instead to a shared data pool that can be accessed by up to 10 devices. T-Mobile USA is taking a different approach by launching a new unlimited data plan.

I contemplated switching to Verizon, which tends to have better coverage in my neighborhood, but the cost of new phones, compatible with Verizon’s network, would have wiped out any savings.

This is not the right decision for everyone. It depends on how much data you use and how many devices you have. In my case, for example, my data usage is lighter than it once was because I’m no longer making a long daily commute on public transit. (I live relatively close to the office now.)

Check your billing history, use this online calculator from AT&T or this one from Verizon, and talk it through with a customer service rep.

Did I make the right decision? Ask me 3-5 years from now when I’m using gobs of data for all those yet-to-be invented devices. In the meantime, I’m happy to pocket that $400/year in savings.

Have you gone through a similar exercise? If so, where did you end up?

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • misswireless

    Glad to hear you are liking the new Mobile Share plans! Like you said in your article it is nice to have another affordable option provided by AT&T, even if it isn’t a good fit for everyone. Different people have different needs. Unlike other carriers that have shared data plans, AT&T is still giving their customers more options instead of forcing their customers to change their plan when they upgrade phones. P.S. Unlimited data is overrated when you can’t use your phone as a hotspot!!

    • AdamElteto

      “P.S. Unlimited data is overrated when you can’t use your phone as a hotspot!!”

      Depends. If your phone has a decent enough sized screen, it can be used for various multimedia functions, such as listening to streaming radio while commuting, exercising or waiting in line at a store or for an appointment. Use a SIP app to voice communicate internationally, or video conference. Even try to calm a child in the baby seat down by quickly handing over your phone with streaming cartoons or online games. Just random examples, but considering the power and multipurpose usefulness of today’s smart phones, an unlimited data connection can be very valuable, even without tethering.

      I think it comes down to that magic number in screen size inches, something that is probably an individual preference, whether one really wants to go through the steps of enabling hotspot on the phone and connect a tablet or a laptop.

      • Tyler Spieth

        I’m still granfathered into unlimited data on my iphone5 with 4g network :p

  • Joe d’Coder

    I’m gf’d into Verizon’s unlimited plan and recently went through the analysis of my family plan and it’s a $30/month lose for me. We use so few voice minutes that the new plan forces me to buy minutes we will never, ever use. Especially since most of the people I talk to on the phone have verizon phones and those minutes don’t count.

  • http://twitter.com/ColinAC Colin Christianson

    I am in the same position with T-Mobile and am grandfathered into the unlimited data plan with free tethering option. Although I was very annoyed when they began throttling my connection after I pass the 5GB mark. I use up lots of data since I at times use my mobile phone to stream live broadcasts through when the venue I am working at doesn’t have a solid connection while my phone does! The other big upset was when T-mobile tried to take away my free tethering option and force me to pay to continue doing what I had been doing for a year already. I called them to dispute it and they treated me like I had a broken phone that wasn’t suppose to have a free option to tether haha. I am still using the phone and can still tether it. It seems like they backed off the walls to force me to pay for it.

    I am personally excited about the new option for unlimited data for T-mobile. I was considering switching to a provider that had that option since It’s about time for a new phone. We will see how the competitive field plays out over the next month and I will make my decision.

    Thanks for posting this article Todd! Nice to hear an opinion from another person that was grandfathered into an unlimited data plan!

    • Bri

      I am glad to hear it also as this is my dilemma right now to get rid of it or buy the phone out right at a much higher price.

  • http://www.facebook.com/buzzmodo Buzz Bruggeman

    I was given a Windows Mobile Phone, e.g. Lumina 900. But truly did not want to deal with A T & T. And stumbled on to http://www.straightalk.com, a MNVO. The deal is you prepay, need to get a “mini-sim”, but the monthly cost for theoretically unlimited data/text/voice is $45 a month. I haven’t tried tethering yet, just haven’t had time, but it appears that for openers it will be 1/2 what I was paying T-Mo. Since it was my only phone, I was using a lot of minutes, and about 2 GB’s of data monthly. I was on San Juan Island over the weekend. Phone worked flawlessly. Too early to give a complete review, but so far, so good, and you have got to love the cost!

  • AdamElteto

    A number of prepaid carriers now offer unlimited plans (of course, with throttling after a specific number of gigabytes) and devices that may not be the latest and the greatest, but are powerful and functional enough for most users. As long as customers can learn to focus on the coverage, function and the plan instead of the device itself, they can get better deals with these prepaid carriers. Of course, too many consumers want the coolness factor of a specific phone, and they are willing to pay significantly more to sign a contract with a carrier that offers that phone. And for what? That device will be obsolete by the time the shipping protector is peeled off its screen. Considering that Android 4.0 and iPhone device are now all available with prepaid plans, contract carriers should seriously evaluate how much money they think they can squeeze out of customers. The disturbing trend of contract carriers stopping to offer unlimited plans is insulting to consumers. Even including the non-discounted price of a prepaid plan device, savings with such plans can save hundreds of dollars in even the first year.

  • Billy Idol

    Can’t understand how the shared 4GB plan is cheaper when ATT charges $40 for each smartphone. We pay $30 each phone for our unlimited usage.

    • http://twitter.com/OhSnapItsDante Danté

      This is exactly the problem with this article. I would switch if this was factual, but the additional $35 fee per phone means that there is no savings. I’m guessing the editor has not actually switched the plans yet or is ill-informed because the math doesn’t add up.

      • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

        Thanks for the number I’ve spent a lot of time going through the math on this and talking with AT&T customer service, and here’s how the numbers work out for my family.

        Under our past plan, we paid $183.98/month for talk, messaging and unlimited data for two iPhones.

        With the 4GB Mobile Share plan, the base charge will be $70 for talk, text and 4GB of data. We then pay $40 for each phone per month. That’s $150 total on the new plan, or a savings of about $34/month compared with the previous plan.

        I’m not counting the extra taxes or fees in either number; it’s an apples-to-apples comparison.

        You can see how it works out on this AT&T page. https://www.att.com/shop/wireless/data-plans.html#fbid=ROpnlo0W4ZT

        Hope that helps. As I mentioned above, this isn’t the right decision for everyone. It depends on how much data you use and how many devices you have, and you just have to work through the numbers for your situation.

        • http://twitter.com/OhSnapItsDante Danté

          I see what you are saying. It seems to me that this will only save you money if you need the 700 minute talk plan ($60 plus 9.99/month for additional line) and unlimited texts. Personally, with free nights/weekends/mobile to mobile/rollover minutes, my family never gets close to that. For that kind of usage, it’s cheaper to stick with the minute plans… Plus, you can keep your unlimited data.

  • PepesDad

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news; you’ll kick yourself for forfeiting the unlimited data plan. Take a moment to check eBay’s completed auctions using the search terms: AT&T unlimited. Those prices don’t include an iPad, just the SIM card and AT&T login credentials for accounts that have grandfathered unlimited plans. Selling my 1st generation 3G iPad and the SIM card separately will net me enough to buy the latest iPad or approximately all the money I have paid AT&T over the past 27 months for the unlimited data plan.

    • pezcore

      I know this is old, but this is a stupid idea. You are giving up your account login information as well as your phone number. If the person doesn’t pay their bill it’s YOUR credit that gets messed up. Again, I know this is old but people that search will still see this article and these comments. My advice, don’t “sell” your wireless account. This isn’t WoW.

  • roadtodd@aol.com

    they have now f’ed me out of mine!! 8 years i have had this loptop data card and the just flat f em me!! i paid for this card for almost two years an could not even use it at my new home, and i didnot travelas i use to, cuz i did not want to loose it!! the fixed the tower in june of 2012 and i could start useing my internet at hime again only to find out the out a 5 gig lime on my unlimyerde card i have tried to be nice ..i have a facebook page telling of all the details ” at&t, why not? is the page. today the almost had me sent to jail as i was in front of their troy, mo store telling peps what the did to me!! i have some of the phone calls recorded and ,,.,,,, hell i am just pissed to no end!!!

  • dilligan

    and how much were u paid by at$t to write this

  • Michael

    Hi Todd,

    I realize that this is an old thread, however that serves a purpose in this case. Now that you’ve had plenty of time on the shared plan, are you still happy with the choice you made, or do you regret giving up your unlimited? I’m considering doing the same for the advantage of included tethering for our wifi only iPads.


    • Cjamke

      Michael, please don’t make the move!!! Go over just once….and it will happen, you will get hosed financially! The savings Todd talks of aren’t didn’t come from switching to a set gigabyte plan but rather getting a lower cost current family plan which I did all the while keeping my unlimited text and unlimited mobile to mobile to any mobile phone carrier with 700 minutes shared. I worked for att and they will have you believing that changing the data plan is good but trust me it’s not!!!

      • GR

        Have to agree with you. I keep going back to check the numbers if I gave up my unlimited data plan and my wife’s tiered plan (200mb/month) and two old quick-texting phones (kids) and found my bill would go up another $45-$60 per month. Thanks but no thanks.

  • Steve

    That’s a bunch of made up crap to try to get people grandfathered in with unlimited data to relinquish it. Shame on you. Never give it up. They hate it. And should offer it like every other server has.

  • notatechguru

    If you read this and think it’s ok to relinquish your unlimited data plan for mobile hoyspot capability, please don’t. If you have a smart phone go to YouTube root or jailbreak your phone and download a free hotspot app. Now you have the ability to probide every single device you own or friends unlimited data. You don’t need to be tech savy to realize that this person didn’t bother to do some research.

    • Steve Dolphin

      I switched because I would save money and have a tether option legitimately. (not everyone likesjailbreak the phone and hassle with all that). Start adding tablets and smart phones for the kids and then see which plan is cheaper. With 5 phones and 2 tablets, paying for individual smart devices would break the bank.

  • Sov

    Wow old thread indeed!
    I just got tired of paying for my grandfathered unlimited because it cost us 30% more a month!
    I was only using 400mb a month and my wife 1.4GB so we ended up saving big time with anew shared 2GB plan with unlimited text and voice. We now pay $45/month each plus $13 tax a month. Used to pay $151 with $5 trxt overage fees. Go suck an egg att and if my rates dont drop by another 30% in 12 months, im going to Rebublic Wireless.

    • Steve Dolphin

      Republic? lol. I travel a bit and enjoy surfing while we take vacations to florida, so I can only use Verizon or ATT since the others have zero service outside the cities.

  • floo bloo

    AT&T cannot prevent you from using your phone’s Internet access from another device, regardless of what plan you have. On ANY Android phone (Android 2.x gingerbread and up, no rooting or unlocking required), and on any jailbroken iPhone, it is ALWAYS possible to to so – any carrier, any device.

  • far snar

    I have a grandfathered AT&T unlimited plan, and I will NEVER voluntarily give it up. If they switch it mid-contract – I will consider them to have broken the contract and tell them I consider the service cancelled. If I go to switch devices and am told I have to give up the unlimited plan, I’ll walk out of the store. I will NEVER move to ANY plan which either charges me more for “going over”, or which cuts me off completely at any point. A softcap which slows me down (which is what the unlimited really is) is fine and is the ONLY thing that makes sense.

    • Steve Dolphin

      Once your married and have some kids, then you’ll give it up as the family share plan for 5 smart phones and 2 tablets is cheaper by a mile.

  • mfresh

    FIRST of all ATT was the first to limit the DATA to their consumers and since Verizons Data is way faster the followed. just clearing the lie up

  • uberfu

    You had my attention until the 3rd paragraph where the tradeoff was being able to use your phone as a mobile hotspot. This entails you hooking up a laptop or other non-networked device to connect to the Intenet. Usually something larger and more capable than a phone is – otherwise you would not have bothered mentioning the hotspot option.

    That being said – you will immeditately use more data as a result of constantly conencting to a hotspot – let’s say with the old tried and true laptop option. You pull up dozens of webpages. Open a mail client – pull down a ton of attachments – unless you barely get any email these days.

    Back to the webpages – in a desktop browser – you are pulling a ton of extra code over to generate any given page. Even with Ad Blockers and the like – the code is still being pushed to your computer – whether you realize it or not. You also might end up accessing other bandwidth required services and options that mobile devices are not privy to.

    On this page alone there are 16 advertisements being piped in from 3rd party locations and 2 iterations of code pulling in social media counts – that my friend is a live script doing that.

    Which means that even after the page load GeekWire is still pushing data across a user’s open page. And that person’s ISP is paying attention.

    • Steve Dolphin

      I love my tether and use it with my Mac Air every day. I switched from an unlimited plan to a 10gb plan and the price is the same with 5 devices as it was with 3 unlimited phones. But for me it was the tether option that won me over as I got sick of surfing on my phone at work and airports. (airports use boingo and charge a lot). My usage is around 6gb per month right now and that’s using the laptop every day. Bottom line is video uses a lot of bandwidth, but websites don’t.
      And since I was able to add 2 more devices for the same price my two sons now have smart phones, so everyone in the family is a little happier. (they weren’t getting a smart phone at $25 or more per month). Each tablet cost $10 to add and each phone $15, but with taxes it’s about $4 more than that. For a single person it makes no sense to give up an unlimited plan, but for a family of 5 it’s cheaper being on a family share plan.

    • Steve Dolphin

      You have no idea what your talking about in terms of usage as my laptop usage has up’ed my total by about 1 gb and that’s using it every day for an hour at lunch. (In my car or lunch room too, so I no longer have to sit at my desk and surf during my lunch break)

  • Steve Dolphin

    I also switched to a 10gb family plan and it was a wash since I have 3 users. But I love the tether capability and would never go back. Now at work I can use my own laptop and not my tiny little phone screen to surf at Lunch or do a quick purchase that I don’t want to do on the company network.

  • Dustin Shifflett

    I know this article is well old, but they’re gonna have to pry my unlimited plan from my cold, dead, web surfing fingers.

Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.