Update: As of Nov. 2008, this package is no longer available! AT&T's $20/moth prepaid data add-on now includes only100 MB. See AT&T Pulling the Plug on Unlimited Prepaid Data! for more details.
It looks like we finally have unlimited data in the US on a prepaid plan, and it includes 3G. ATT is now offering an unlimited data Feature Pack at $19.99 per month to GoPhone Pay As You Go users. This particular option was previously only available to customers on the carrier's Pick Your Plan hybrid offering which, with the data add on, costs a minimum of $50 month plus taxes and requires a US credit card. Pay As You Go is a traditional prepaid that you top up online or with a PIN card from a convenience store making it international traveler friendly.
I haven't seen any official confirmation from ATT, but the new offer has been confirmed by several users at HowardForums who signed up for it, and the story is also on Phone News and The Mobile Technology Weblog. The $19.99 comes out of your prepaid balance so the total monthly cost is indeed a penny less than $20 dollars plus the cost of calls and texts, if any.
Speaking of which GoPhone is still a little pricey if you actually talk (or text) on your phone. Texts are 15 cents each to send or receive although for heavy texters there are bundles of 200 texts for $4.99 or1000 for $9.99 with unlimited texting going for $19.99 per month. Voice calls are 25 cents per minute or $1.00 per day for unlimited "mobile to mobile" calls to ATT numbers plus 10 cents per minute for all other calls. The dollar is only charged on days that calls are made. International calls are more expensive but not terribly so with rates of $0.49/min to the Western Europe and $0.89/min to Asia, for example, on top of the 10 or 25 cents domestic rate.
ATT's terms of service prohibit tethering and "downloading movies using P2P file sharing services" but seem to allow all normal browsing and phone applications including legal streaming. Unlimited 3G data for $20/month on prepaid on any compatible phone is an unbeatable deal. The only other US GSM carriers that offer unlimited data on prepaid all severly restrict you handset choices. Boost Mobile charges $10.50 per month for slow 19 Kbps on IDEN, T-Mobile's prepaid Sidekick-only Plan with Edge is $30/month and Verizon's $1.00/day EVDO, is only available on non-smartphones.
A minor annoyance with ATT prepaid and the unlimited data Feature Pack is that you have purchase it each month by dialing 611 and choosing "buy features" and then "Medianet" from the automated system. When the month runs out, data reverts to .01 cents per KB ($10.00/MB) until you purchase another Feature Pack.
I wonder what this means for iPhone users on Pick Your Plan, will they be able to switch to Pay As You Go and keep Visual Voicemail?
In a bit of related mobile data news, today Vodafone UK announced that postpaid customers on £40/ month and higher plans will get unlimited data (with a 500 MB "fair use" cap) at no extra charge. I like this trend of more and more carriers offering reasonably priced unlimited data. High data prices and price uncertainty are the two biggest deterrents to increased usage of the mobile web and and data centric mobile applications.
I'm also hoping that ATT's new found willinness to offer unlimited data on prepaid with no handset restrictions will spur the competition, particularly T-Mobile, to do the same.
Related: YouTube - Hilarious Meatloaf GoPhone Video Ad