My wireless tip of the day: If your household has multiple smart phones, you should look at the new shared data plans from AT&T and Verizon (screenshots below). I thought I figured out how to squeeze every penny out of our cell phone bill. Both my wife and I have iPhones on AT&T. Last year, I switched to the iPhone and was able to add a line to my wife’s plan for an additional $10 a month. I also opted for AT&T given it supports faster download speeds as well as simultaneous voice and data.
On AT&T, we have the “FamilyTalk” plan which included a pool of shared minutes. No problem there. While each additional line cost $10, the voice and texting plans had to be added separately to each phone. Given we both had WiFi coverage most of the time, I put us both on the minimum data plan (currently at 300 MB for $20). Neither one of us sent many texts so it seemed silly to spend $20 for a unlimited texting plan per phone and pay per text instead.
Reality then set in. My wife discovered the power of texting. While there was no cost for texts we sent each other over iMessage, there was a cost to text non-iDevices or anytime we had to use the cellular network when there was no data coverage. By the way, iMessage texts are colored blue while the ones you are charged for are colored green. Also, apps love data! There always seemed to be some reason why I had to up one of our data plans. There were the inopportune times when WiFi was unavailable and there was a data hungry app or the need for data tethering. At our summer rental, I realized my wife wasn’t on the house’s WiFi after a week (whoops!). What should have cost $100 per month before regulatory fees and taxes was sometimes costing well over $150 some months.
Enter AT&T’s new “Mobile Share” plan: An unlimited number of voice minutes, unlimited texts and a pool of data that is shared among devices. Texting has been our biggest source of extra billing charges so that overage will go away. Also, data tethering is now included in the plan to support any tablets or laptops that need to connect to the Internet. Sharing a data pool should minimize the number of times I need to temporarily up the data plan. Projected cost before taxes is $130 per month for 1 GB of shared data.
Technical note: Unlike adding or switching most AT&T wireless services, it may take up to 24 hours for the new plan to show up on the AT&T website. Switching to Mobile Share also appears to reset the usage for data (i.e. the partial month’s data usage is not counted)
While the new shared data plans are an improvement, it still feels like I’m overpaying at $130 per month. While there’s a lot included for $130, we’re fairly light users on the voice side. Maybe it’s time to get rid of the landline. In a perfect world, I would remove some of the voice minutes and opt for more data.
On the flip side, I can budget better with the new plans. Yes, there are also other options out there such as Sprint or Virgin Mobile. Virgin Mobile has one of the lowest costs at $30 per month but a significant upfront cost as you have to buy iPhone outright without a subsidy ($650 for a 16MB iPhone 4s). Also, the coverage isn’t as good as AT&T or Verizon. Anyway, since you’re probably locked in an AT&T or Verizon contract, what are you waiting for, switch your family plan!