AT&T has responded to Verizon’s surprise announcement by re-introducing its own unlimited mobile data plan. This most recent move speaks volumes about the state of the mobile industry. In a very short period of time, we’ve witnessed a dramatic market shift ─ from a world where both AT&T and Verizon publicly said they did not need to respond to T-Mobile and Sprint ─ to one that’s become quite competitive.
AT&T’s new model no longer requires customers to buy DIRECTV or U-verse in order to subscribe to its unlimited data plans. It now offers two plans: Unlimited Choice, which is $30 per month cheaper than Unlimited Plus, which starts at $60 for the first line, and costs $155 for four lines. Both plans are available to all new or existing AT&T customers.
The Verizon announcement launched a flood of activity on the provider side and resulted in all carriers moving to improve their offerings. The table below from Consumerist provides a great summary.
AT&T is also adding a second tier of unlimited data service, called Unlimited Choice. It’s worth noting that Unlimited Choice consumers don’t get access to tethering or HD video streams however, and their connection is capped at 3Mbps─a 4G LTE connection can run as high as 100 Mbps. In many cities, connections average between 15-30 Mbps during peak hours.
These moves speak volumes about the wireless market in the U.S., ultimately signifying the premium pricing AT&T and Verizon could charge for better network quality has eroded. This is confirmed in the State of Mobile Networks report by Open Signal which found that Verizon has only a small advantage in network availability (4G LTE), and is tied with T-Mobile for 4G download speed and overall download speed. The report also noted Sprint’s coverage improved from 69.9% in August to 76.8% in February.
As network quality narrowed, customers were proactively switching from providers not offering unlimited data and the cost of providing unlimited data dropped. Recon Analytics reported that Verizon’s cost to deliver a gigabyte of data has dropped by 40% to 50%. Wireless carriers are now seeking to make up for lower prices with more volume.
Moves by AT&T and Verizon to offer unlimited mobile data plans show that the mobile market is becoming more competitive. For enterprises, finding the best deal will require some study. The best approach will depend on how much mobile data an employee consumes each month. With some employees, data pools combined with a mobile policy and reporting that limits unnecessary use will be less costly than an unlimited data plan. For others, unlimited data is best. The good news is that enterprises now have options with all of their providers.