AT&T has really been pissing me off lately with their attitude towards unlimited data plans. Look, if you don’t want to respect your original definition of “unlimited” then stop screwing around and just eliminate the plans. Nothing could be worse than screwing your most loyal customers, first with an opaque throttling definition and now with a transparent definition that leaves your best customers being more poorly served than new customers paying the same price. AT&T grandfathered in Unlimited Data customers to keep them happy, but its treatment of those customers has more than ruined any good will from the grandfathering. Strike One and Two against AT&T.
Of course AT&T is compounding its mistreatment of loyal customers by raising the upgrade fee for new devices when you come off contract. Now let’s see, I can’t really keep my unlimited data plan and it costs me more to get a new phone and stay with AT&T then to go to Verizon? Essentially AT&T has put the question of which carrier I, and millions of other customers, will be on the next time we buy a phone. Pretty dumb given that, other than occasional frustration with coverage, I am a pretty happy AT&T customer and have been for about 8 years. Strike 3?
Now for some reality checks.
I checked my smartphone data usage for the last year and in no month did I exceed 500MB. So on the surface I really have no reason to maintain an “unlimited” data plan and if I do I’m in no danger of being throttled. Part of this is that I frequently carry a tablet with me that has its own 3G data plan, so a change in usage habits could drive my smartphone data usage up. But would it go up from 500MB to over 3GB? Doubtful.
There are three other factors that likely will keep me with AT&T even though I’m annoyed with them:
First, no other U.S. carrier has a decent selection of Windows Phone devices. Verizon and Sprint are mostly ignoring the platform, though that might change this fall. T-Mobile is focused on the low-end of the market. Only AT&T has the high-end devices from the top 3 Windows Phone manufacturers, Nokia, Samsung, and HTC.
Second, we do not have great coverage at our house from any of the carriers and AT&T gave us a free Microcell. So our AT&T coverage at home is effectively quite good now and I can give out my cell number with confidence I can be reached. With another carrier we’d have to find a way to address this, possibly by purchasing a Microcell if that carrier offered one. But it is both an issue and a cost that would need to be addressed in any switch.
Third, I do enough international travel that I favor staying with a GSM carrier such as AT&T or T-Mobile over CDMA carriers Verizon and Sprint. In other words, not only would Verizon and Sprint need better Windows Phone offerings to capture my attention, they’d have to be Global (dual CDMA/GSM) phones.
So while I think AT&T’s treatment of its loyal customers is just awful, and I sometimes envy the better coverage my Verizon-toting friends have, there are more reasons for me to stick with AT&T than to leave. That’s the reality.
Now I do have one device where AT&T’s policies leave me confused. My iPad also has an unlimited data plan. I’ve seen nothing out of AT&T that indicates what happens when an iPad user exceeds the old 5% mark or the new 3GB mark in data usage. There are months where I’ve exceeded the 1.5-2GB that some where reporting caused AT&T to throttle their Smartphone unlimited data plan usage. But I’ve never been notified I was in the 5% and never noticed any throttling. Moreover, since my next tablet is likely to be a Windows 8 tablet and the iPad data plans won’t carry over to that, and my other reasons for sticking with AT&T mostly don’t apply, I’m open to a carrier switch for the new device. I know you are asking about my international roaming problem, and the truth is that there pretty much isn’t international 4G data roaming. So I’m likely to focus on the best domestic 4G offering for a new tablet and just rely on WiFi when traveling internationally.
Bottom Line: AT&T is making it hard to stay a customer, but as each individual re-evaluates their carrier choice most may end up sticking with them. Still, customers will remember how badly AT&T screwed them. And when circumstances change they’ll dump AT&T out of principle.