AT&T Pulling the Plug on Unlimited Prepaid Data!

AT&T LogoRemember the $19.99/month unlimited MediaNet data add-on for AT&T’s GoPhone Pay as You Go (PYG) plans that the carrier launched in April?  Well, it looks like the party is almost over. has confirmed that the widely rumored demise of the plan is true.  November 11th or 12th is the last day that you will be able to purchase the feature. You can currently stack up to three $19.99 packages for 90 days of service. Assuming that that Nov 11 is the last day to buy the feature and that AT&T doesn’t change the rules, it should be possible to keep the service active to Feb. 9th, 2009.

Why is AT&T doing this?  No one really knows for sure, but I lay the blame to the myth of “unlimited” wireless data.  Bandwidth on mobile networks is actually quite limited.   I believe that AT&T determined data availability on the network was being compromised because  too many people were using the package for tethering and with data cards.  Those uses are prohibited by the MediaNet TOS but the restriction is unenforceable given the anonymous nature of US  prepaid and GSM’s easy swapping of SIM cards.  Sure the carrier could revoke a user’s data privileges for tethering, but there is nothing to stop the user from buying  a new SIM on eBay and starting all over.  The option probably cut into AT&T’s sales of $60/month for 5GB  data card plans, too.

If you look around the world, very few carriers offer unlimited data to prepaid users.  What they do offer and what is lacking in the US market are affordable megabyte data bundles.  Italy’s WIND for example, has packages ranging from 244MB for €3.00 ($4.14) to 4.88GB for €30.00 ($41.40). That’s between $0.008 and $.017 per megabyte.  In contrast the prices that ATT still offers PYG users are; ad hoc data at $.01 per KB ($10/MB) and 1MB and 5MB feature packs for  $5 ($5/MB) and $10 ($2/MB) respectively.  These are outrageous rates, between 100 and 1000 times what WIND charges for the same thing.

In the last 5 months I’ve used about 470MB of data on an N95 on a  GoPhone account at a cost of $99.95 ($0.21/MB).  This usage represents a couple hours of web surfing a day, almost all of it using Opera Mini which compresses pages to about 20% of normal size, plus a few videos (about an hour’s worth of video over the entire 5 month period).  I don’t own a laptop so I don’t tether.  Using $10 feature packs this same level of usage would have cost a completely unacceptable $940 ($188/month)!

With the loss of unlimited MediaNet there are no longer any cost-effective prepaid data packages available on any major US GSM network.  T-Mobile does give prepaid users free unlimited access to a walled garden on seven sites, but there is no way to get access to the open internet on T-Mobile USA’ prepaid plans.

The only GSM alternatives are “hybrid” plans. AT&T’s Pick Your Plan hybrid option starts at $29.99/month for 200 minutes plus $19.99/month for unlimited data.  If you don’t actually use 200 voice minutes a month there’s a loophole that lets you get some of the money back after a year. A major drawback of Pick Your Plan for international travelers is that a  US credit or debit card or checking account is required.  I wonder if AT&T will accept one of these prepaid credit cards that are available at convenience stores? Probably not, but if anyone has done that please let us know in a comment.

T-Mobile’s Flex Pay hybrid plan is another posibility at $29.99/month for 300 voice minutes plus $5.99 for proxied data with only ports 80 ( HTTP), 25 (SMTP), 993 (secure IMAP), 110 (POP) and 443 (HTTPS) available through the proxy or $19.99/month for open internet access plus free use of T-Mobile’s 8900 WiFi hot spots.  No credit card is required for FlexPay, you can visit a T-Mobile store each month and make a cash payment

If you are willing to abandon GSM there are some more affordable options.  Verizon will sell you unlimited data  for $1/day (charged only on days used) on their Impulse prepaid plan.  Verizon can control data usage as, unlike GSM, CDMA doesn’t use SIM cards. To change handsets you have to call CS or enter the new device’s ESN on a web form.  Verizon will not allow you to switch to a datacard or even a smartphone on Impulse.  It is at least possible to hack some Verizon phones to allow tethering. This violates the TOS, of course, and could eventually get you device’s ESN blacklisted

There’s also Sprint’s Boost Mobile iDEN prepaid which has a $10.50/unlimited Wireless Web option.  The downsides to Boost are the extremely limited iDEN phone selection and a glacially slow 19.2 Kps data rate.  All iDEN phones are tetherable out of the box and tethering is apparently allowed by the TOS,  but surfing at a fraction of dialup speeds is no fun at all.

I’ll probably load up my Go Phone account with three months worth of unlimited data early in November, When that runs out, it’s back to Boost.

What I’d really like to see AT&T do is to replace their present overpriced prepaid data plans with something reasonable, say 250MB for $5, 500MB for $10 and 1GB for $20.  These rates would be attractive for phone only browsing including streaming media but are signifigantly higher than the data card rate of $60 for 5GB to avoid hurting sales of that plan.  I honestly don’t expect to see AT&T offering anything like that but it would be the smart thing to do in the long run, getting prepaid users hooked on affordable data for a nice boost in ARPU.

20 thoughts on “AT&T Pulling the Plug on Unlimited Prepaid Data!

  1. Am in the need of adding some prepaid credit on my skype account what do i do when i have the at&t prepaid card.Andrew

    • I don’t understand what the connection between AT&T and Skype. You add money to Skype at You can’t use the money on an AT&T card to pay Skype.

  2. I have a Alltel Data card(USB) price tag is good (free), $59.99 mo for unlimited data, set backs are frequent disconnect, at best data rate 163kps, they claim 1.3bps or like DLS speed but it doesn’t happen. I live in Georgia, Verizon didn’t pickup Georgia, Alltel is a stand a lone here…
    Do I like it, its better than dialup, and it almost works anywhere.
    I got it through WireFly.For sixty bucks a month I can live with it, I did manage to download two gigbites of data one day, without my cradlepoint it would never happened…..

    73’s DE Nicholas

  3. I noticed that you mentioned the boostmobile phones. I would like to know if I can use a Boostmobile Sim Card in other phones other than Motorola, for example in cell phones made by LG and Samsung. I guess I need to know how to set up the connectivity in these phones: Access Point, if the Bearer is GPRS, the APN, proxy server address, proxy server port, and browser homepage. Do you have any information on this? You can respond to [email removed]

  4. While on hold w/ AT&T today trying to get technical support for my Go phone, they kept advertising Unlimited data was available again, and to ask the customer support specialist for more details. I was more interested in getting my phone to work so I never got a chance to ask about it, but it appears that it might be an option again.

  5. Pingback: att phones » Blog Archive » prepaid data

  6. I use a couple of “unlimited data” plans when I travel to Germany. These have a cap (daily or monthly) after which the service still works, but at greatly reduced speeds.

    In the US, I need wireless data about 3 or 4 times a year, usually only for a day or two or a long weekend. I could even live with a $20/month plan for those months. Oh well, I’ll just have to travel in Europe rather than the US :)

  7. I started useing the $19.95. unlimited data plane in October and still have it the service rep told me because i was on it before the service was stopped I could keep it as long as I renewed it before it run out but once but it run out I could not get it back.I just renewed it on 2/4/09 for 2 months

  8. WiMax phones will take a PAINFUL bite out of AT&T, giving us pre-pay users a little revenge. :P

    …I imagine AT&T will re-instate pre-pay unlimited data plans as soon as the Android/WiMax/Skype trifecta is pervasive.

  9. So there you go AT&T. SCREW OVER YOUR CUSTOMERS! The sad part is I just bought an unlocked iPhone as I was wishing to use it with a prepay sim. I do not make that many calls, but the data rate plan was very enticing. I bet there are many others that have complained to AT&T, but why would they care. They don’t make squat off of prepay users. Why not sell them an iPhone for $300 and then raise the data rate and possible packages so that not only do they make money, but once the 2 year plan is up, they’ll be taking in what is left after the phone has (technically) been paid off.

    Anyways, I have found a hack that might be employed on t-mobile service for 5.99 a month.

    So look at it this way AT&T, you may have just lost a customer now and forever.

  10. @Earl F. Parrish

    Agreed, someone who only uses 15 MB over five months would be better off with the $10 for 5MB/month plan.

    My point in calculating my cost/MB under the “unlimited” and 5MB plans was to show that even with my rather low usage the cost of the 5MB plan would be unreasonable at $188/month.

    I don’t believe in unlimited plans, they are unrealistic as no mobile network can deliver infinite bandwidth. What is needed to spur mobile data use needs is fair and reasonable data bundles for all users, including prepaid. If AT&T can make money selling 5GB at $60 to data card users they certainly should be able to offer 1GB for $20 to prepaid users.

    Regarding the correction on PYP rates ($29.99 vs $29.95 and $19.99 vs $19.95) you’re right, I was off by four cents. I’ve updated the post with the correct rates.

  11. It is sometimes misleading to give the per megabyte cost for unlimited data if one used very little data. In the example above, the rate would be $6.63 per megabyte if you use only 15 megabytes over that same time period.

  12. “AT&T’s Pick Your Plan hybrid option starts at $29.95/month for 200 minutes plus $19.95/month for unlimited data.”

    should read

    “AT&T’s Pick Your Plan hybrid option starts at $29.99/month for 200 minutes plus $19.99/month for unlimited data.”

  13. “I wonder if AT&T will accept one of these prepaid credit cards that are available at convenience stores?”

    When gophones first started monthly plans, I used a brand new Ace Check Cashing/ Netspend Prepaid Visa Card to open 2 new accounts. They’re much more cost-effective now.

  14. That seems quite a miserable situation for US users.In India,Airtel’s pay as you go plan “Airtel Live” consumes around $1 on more than 3MB data transfer.That is also very costly for an average Indian.Airtel’s “Net on Phone” is a $0.75/week truly unlimited data plan.The only drawback is that it is not tetherable and does not support SSL.These shortcomings are solaced by “Mobile Office” unlimited tetherable and secure data plan on $0.49/day.The good thing is there is no restriction on data usage as compared to US carriers.The bad thing is that speed is slow.Next year,the upcoming 3G might relieve users from this speed problem.

  15. Sprint does an under-the-table Developer Plan. It’s $25/month and offers unlimited data on any Sprint CDMA phone or smartphone, plus 200 messages.

    Only downside is that it does require a two-year contract.

    Verizon also now does no-contract plans, so you can get a smartphone on their data service for $49.99/month with no strings attached.

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