AT&T is reintroducing a wireless pricing plan that lets subscribers guzzle as much video and data as they want for a flat monthly price — but only if they also pay up for DirecTV or U-Verse TV service from the telco.
The unlimited data-usage option will be available starting Tuesday to eligible customers, nearly five years after the company dropped all-you-can-eat wireless data pricing in 2010. The new strategy is straightforward: AT&T is bundling unlimited data-usage pricing with TV and other video services so users won’t have to worry about much they’re streaming.
“AT&T is going to be a major player in being able to mobilize entertainment,” said Brad Bentley, chief marketing officer of AT&T Entertainment Group.
There’s more coming on this front from AT&T: The telco plans to roll out additional integrated video and mobility offerings in 2016, as well as a “wide range” of new video entertainment options later this year.
Last fall, T-Mobile made its own push into video entertainment with the launch of “Binge On,” which provides unlimited streaming of Netflix, Hulu and several other services. But T-Mobile has been criticized for downgrading the quality of video traffic delivered over its network, and some have questioned whether the carrier’s selective exemption of partner services from usage caps violate the FCC’s network neutrality rules.
Bentley insisted AT&T’s launch of the new unlimited wireless data plan wasn’t a response to T-Mobile’s Binge On. AT&T claims its approach differs because it’s not throttling any third-party services, although the telco says that after a customer uses 22 gigabytes of data per line in a billing cycle “AT&T may slow data speeds on that line during periods of network congestion.”
In any event, the moves by AT&T and others could accelerate video viewing over wireless networks, which historically have been pricey ways to watch live TV, Netflix, YouTube and other bandwidth-intensive video content. VideoNuze analyst Will Richmond said in a blog post. “(W)ireless carriers look like they’re eager to change the equation and enable a dramatic increase in mobile video use,” he wrote.
The new AT&T Unlimited Plan, which also includes unlimited calling and text messaging, starts at $100 per month for one smartphone (not including the price of TV service). Families can purchase unlimited data for four lines for $180 per month.
The telco currently has 21 million wireless customers who don’t have DirecTV or AT&T U-verse TV, while 15 million of DirecTV’s subscribers do not have AT&T wireless, according to Bentley. “We think the combination (of unlimited data with TV) will make a very compelling cross-sell,” he said.
Among the signup incentives, AT&T is offering new or existing DirecTV and U-Verse TV subscribers a $500 credit if they switch to the AT&T Unlimited Plan with an eligible trade-in and buy a smartphone. Meanwhile, AT&T wireless customers who aren’t DirecTV subscribers can add a TV package beginning at $19.99 per month for 12 months, with a two-year contract. In addition, users who combine AT&T wireless and DirecTV or U-Verse services will receive an additional $10 monthly discount.
AT&T said it may offer the new unlimited plan only for a limited time to consumers; business customers are not eligible for the unlimited-data option.
Bentley noted that AT&T previous unlimited-data wireless plan was very popular, and customers have regularly asked for the telco to reintroduce the option. The telco currently has between 5 million and 10 million customers who have retained unlimited usage plans after being grandfathered into them dating back to 2010, according to the company.