Are the New iPhone Data Plans Worth the Switch?

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AT&T just announced new data plan packages for the iPhone, and also announced that users of these plans can purchase data tethering for their phones. Should you switch?

The new iPhone data plans

Before the new plans, every iPhone user was required to buy a $30/month, unlimited data plan. Now, there are two options. For $15/month you get 200 megabytes per month. If you go over, you pay $15 for each additional 200 megabytes used. In other words, if you go nuts one month, you could get socked with overage charges.

The other option is $25/month for 2 gigabytes. If you go over, you pay $10 per each additional gigabyte used. If you are a current iPhone user, you can still elect to keep your $30/month unlimited data plan.

Like always, however, there is an incentive to switch. If you downgrade to the $25 data plan for an additional $20 you can use your iPhone to tether an internet signal to your laptop or other device. In all, you would pay $45/month to have 2 gigs shared between your iPhone and whatever other devices you want.

How much data do you use?

Most attorneys use their iPhones to check email and surf the web. Maybe once or twice a week you will take a look at a YouTube video. For the most part, the usage is limited to web-based applications that do not suck a lot of data.

You can easily check how much data you use by going into Settings>General>Usage. Scroll down to Cellular Network Data and look at Sent and Received. Add the two numbers together to get your total usage.

At the bottom of the screen, it should show “Last Reset.” To estimate your monthly usage, divide your total usage by the number of months since your last reset.

I use my iPhone a lot, and in five months, I have used about 3.7 Gigabytes, so roughly 800 megabytes a month.

Should you switch your iPhone data plan?

The $15/month plan does not provide enough data, and it would be fairly easy to surpass that limit in a month. The $25/month plan provides a lot more, and most users are unlikely to surpass that usage. It would be nice to have the tethering option, but $20 is a little steep just to share the data without additional megabytes.

In terms of attorney-usage, you can do nearly everything from your iPhone, so using tethering seems fairly unlikely. In other words, either stick with the data plan you have, or downgrade to the $25/month option, but do not bother with tethering unless you have some compelling reason to use it.

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  • With AT&T, you can also go online to check your data usage. Their website lets you see your data usage for the past 6 or 7 months in a chart form. That was a pretty handy tool for me. I recently decided to make the jump from Blackberry to iPhone when the new one comes out at the end of the month. My plan is to start with the 2gb plan for the first month or two, see how it goes, and see if I should downgrade.

  • Great article, great recommendation. I was very curious about whether or not to make the switch. Additionally, thanks for the tip below.

    “You can easily check how much data you use by going into Settings>General>Usage. Scroll down to Cellular Network Data and look at Sent and Received. Add the two numbers together to get your total usage.”

  • Randall Ryder

    @ Josh – good tip, you can check that after you login into your account, my account>usage and recent activity>data usage.

  • Helen

    I would like to know why you recommend against the iPhone tethering. I used a tethering application from June Fabrics for my Treo phone and was very satisfied. The only way I can use it on my iPHone is to blackjack it. I did not want to do that. I need something that will allow me to use my VPN while I am on the road. I am hoping the iPhone tethering will allow that. I currently have VirginMobile and it does not support my VPN. I was planning to switch to the $25.00 data plan and purchase the tethering because I don’t need a full-time data card. I am currently paying $45.00 for my iPhone data plan so the switch seems like a no brainer.

  • Randall Ryder

    @ Helen – for the extra price, I am not convinced it is worth it. I can do almost anything on my phone, so paying for tethering (that I am unlikely to use) does not make much sense. If I need to use my laptop, I can just use WiFi. As I said above, tethering makes sense in certain situations–like yours.

  • Kasey

    My data usage according to my iphone has been 3.189 GB for almost exactly a year. Divided by 12 months is 265 mb per month. If I check the att data usage, it shows my past data usage for each month Nov 09 through May 10. I only went over 200 mb during one of those months. Based on att’s data, I should get the $15/month plan, but based on my iphone, I should get the $25/month plan. I think I’m going to go with the cheaper plan, and at worst I will be paying the same as I do now ($30/month). If I use less data in one month, I get a discount. If not, I pay the same. You shouldn’t go with the more expensive plan unless you regularly use more than 200 mb per month.

  • The 4g service is going to radically change the game- service providers will be forced to offer it or go out of business for mobile professionals. With the higher speeds comes more data use and i suspect that the plans will change. Check your bills an you can tell what is the best plan for you at this time.