AT&T ex­pands un­lim­ited wire­less op­tions

Com­pany of­fers two more plans, with ben­e­fits for those with pay-TV ser­vices

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Ed­ward C. Baig @ed­baig USA TO­DAY

You didn’t re­ally think the “un­lim­ited” plan wire­less wars were over now, did you?

The lat­est salvo comes from AT&T, which an­nounced two new op­tional plans Mon­day.

The first is called Un­lim­ited Plus, and it re­stores some kind of ben­e­fit to AT&T wire­less cus­tomers who also sub­scribe to one of the com­pany’s pay-TV ser­vices: ei­ther DirecTV, or U-verse TV.

Cus­tomers who opt-in to Un­lim­ited Plus re­ceive a $25 credit on their monthly video bill. But DirecTV Now cus­tomers, who weren’t pre­vi­ously eli­gi­ble for an un­lim­ited wire­less ben­e­fit be­fore, can also get the bill credit, which can lower the monthly cost of that ser­vice to as lit­tle as $10 a month once the credit kicks in.

It was only a cou­ple of weeks ago AT&T dropped the re­quire­ment for cus­tomers who wanted un­lim­ited to tether it to their DirecTV or U-verse sub­scrip­tions.

Un­lim­ited Plus cus­tomers can also get 10 GB of teth­er­ing per smart­phone (af­ter 10 GB, max speed 128Kbps), plus the op­tion to con­nect a tablet and other de­vices for $20 a month and the abil­ity to add pre­mium video through DirecTV. The com­bined price (as­sum­ing you get a dis­count for au­to­pay and pa­per­less billing and af­ter the credit) is $115 a month to start.

Cus­tomers who still want un­lim­ited wire­less on AT&T with­out ty­ing it to a TV sub­scrip­tion have that op­tion.

The sec­ond new plan, Un­lim­ited Choice, is aimed at more bud­get-con­scious cus­tomers, and it’s the of­fer­ing wire­less an­a­lyst Roger Ent­ner of Re­con An­a­lyt­ics refers to as the “di­a­mond in the rough.” It gives cus­tomers un­lim­ited data for $60 a month (for a sin­gle line) or $155 a month for four lines. The catch: there’s a max­i­mum speed of 3Mbps.

AT&T claims the cheaper plan is ideal for cus­tomers who want to surf the Web or to stream stan­dard def­i­ni­tion (about 480p) video at a max of 1.5Mbps. The plan in­cludes un­lim­ited talk, text and data, and the pric­ing also fac­tors in an au­to­pay and pa­per­less bill wire­less dis­count.

“This is what AT&T at­tacks with,” Ent­ner says. “Yes, it lim­its you to 3 Mbps, but the real-life im­pact of that speed dif­fer­en­tial is small. I think this is the one where value buy­ers will perk up as it matches Sprint and beats TMo­bile by $10 per month.

“I am sure there will be a lot of scorn re­gard­ing the 3 Mbps and 480p video, but if 480p video was great for cus­tomers un­til two weeks ago, what has changed to­day be­sides Ver­i­zon of­fer­ing HD? Our phones haven’t be­come big- ger, and our eyes haven’t mirac­u­lously got­ten bet­ter.”

Adds wire­less an­a­lyst Jeff Ka­gan: “AT&T is rein­vent­ing the tra­di­tional tele­vi­sion space and wire­less space, and they’re bring­ing them to­gether in ways that no other car­rier has be­fore and cre­at­ing a new mar­ket­place.”

Ver­i­zon ig­nited this re­cent wave of un­lim­ited-ma­nia Feb. 12, when it be­came the last of the four ma­jor U.S. car­ri­ers to of­fer a fresh un­lim­ited data of­fer­ing. Be­fore then Ver­i­zon was an un­lim­ited hold-out, hav­ing last of­fered un­lim­ited data op­tions to cus­tomers in 2012.

Once Ver­i­zon moved, all its ma­jor com­peti­tors acted in kind, in­clud­ing AT&T when it re­moved the pay-TV re­quire­ment. The na­ture of the busi­ness be­ing such, it is un­likely T-Mo­bile, Sprint or Ver­i­zon will sit on the side­lines for long.

KENA BETANCUR, AFP/GETTY IMAGES AT&T serves up new op­tions.

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